Pressure on University as Protests begin to mount

THE VOLUME of protest over the closure of porters’ lodges has risen dramatically in recent weeks. An open letter circulated by Nouse has collected over 1,200 signatures from students, academics, support staff, and prominent supporters of the University.

The letter demands that management provide a “concrete assurance” that portering services will be restored by a “pre-specified date” as well calling for “an investigation into the causes of lodge closures.” The letter is the first time an explicit demand for accountability from management has been made, saying “should such an inquiry reveal shortcomings on the part of any individual or organisation then that individual or organisation must be held accountable”.

The message has been supported by the majority of College Provosts and JCRC Chairs as well as YUSU. The letter has also gained the backing of a number of trade unions including UNISON, the Trade Unions Congress, the National Union of Students and the University and College Union.

A number of academics have sent letters of their own condemning the state of portering on campus. On January 17 Professors Matt Matravers and Tom Stoneham, Head of Politics and Philosophy respectively, sent a joint letter to Ken Batten, Head of Security. It stated that “[the University’s] reputation and attractiveness to potential students risk being damaged by your proposals”. They go on to say it is “hard to believe that that if it [the closure] goes ahead it will not be used as an argument to show that the College Receptions are not needed and can be closed.”

In a letter dated February 12, Professor Simon Parker and 52 signatories told Batten as well as Keith Lilley, Director of Facilities Management, that they were “alarmed and dismayed” at the closure of college porter’s lodges. In a second letter they told management: “This is not a situation that can continue for very long without damaging the reputation of the University of York as a first class institution”.

Rich Croker, YUSU President, has taken a personal stand on the porters situation, refusing to represent the University at Open Days and other events in protest at the closure of college lodges.

On 8 February a motion proposed in Union General Meeting (UGM) was passed, mandating YUSU “to campaign against any decision which would mean a cut in the number of hours residential lodges are staffed in relation to the staffing of October 2006” and “if portering does not return to the staffing levels of October 2006 after the period of temporary closure, to boycott University Open Days and, if felt necessary by Union Senate, actively campaign against the University on any such days”. The motion passed with 216 votes, significantly higher than average, and was the only motion of the UGM to reach quoracy.

There have also been a number of incidents in which students have taken direct action outside of the YUSU-coordinated campaign. A logo of a fist with the message ‘Fight for your porters’ was spray-painted all over campus. It was placed in a number of prominent locations including the window of Costcutter, the sign outside the library and the door of the YUSU building. In the early hours of January 14 a number of Derwent students stripped the dining hall of its chairs, hiding them in a nearby residential block.

They left a single chair on top of each of the bar’s pool tables with a note that read “If Derwent porters’ lodge were staffed this wouldn’t have happened.” The next morning Derwent residents were sent an email threatening students with room searches by the Security Department and fines if the chairs were not returned.

The email also carried a message saying, “this is not the way forward, it’s making more work for everyone concerned, especially the porters!” In private, however, porters have said that they were “absolutely delighted” with the stunt and urged further direct action from students.

There is a history of stand-offs between management and students over the issue of portering. In February 2002 a decision by management to try and cut the hours of porters’ lodges in colleges resulted in a massive YUSU-coordinated campaign of direct action. The campaign culminated in a student occupation of Heslington Hall.

The occupation ended after a fire alarm was triggered in the building, forcing the protestors to evacuate. What triggered the fire alarms still remains unclear, with some speculating that they had been set off in order to clear Heslington Hall. Management quickly withdrew their plans as a result of the protest.

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