The news that the University is making yet more cuts to our campus porter service is little short of disgraceful. I think it’s fair to say that the majority of York students understand that the recession will bring inevitable budget changes, and aren’t naive enough to think that the serious measures necessary to ensure York’s economic security are optional. However, in planning yet more cuts to a service which has already been drastically reduced, Heslington Hall have shown not only a disinclination towards innovative thinking, but also a serious disconnect with the very establishment they are supposed to understand.
There are two main reasons why porters are, in my opinion, vital to university life at York. Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, are welfare concerns. Whilst most students will claim that they are entirely independent, this isn’t strictly true. Many first years have never lived away from home before, and porters are a crucial step to helping them on their way to self-sufficiency safely. Yet another drunken and dazed sop who’s lost his room key for the enth time might not seem like a concern. Indeed, some might argue that he deserves every freezing moment he sways about outside, struggling to turn his jean pockets inside out. But the alternative of having vulnerable, disorientated students wandering around a cold, dark campus is actually pretty bleak.
The University would at this point argue that Security Services is still available for emergency situations. The fact is though, that porters and security guards are far from interchangeable. Students won’t want to burden security staff with what they believe to be a trivial problem, and will end up placing themselves in far more dangerous situations instead, giving real cause for concern.
Night porters are easily accessible and reassuring to the majority of students, who know that whatever situation arises, there is always someone close by to act as the first port of call. Whilst day porters are necessary for the smooth running of colleges, 9-5 services are clearly insufficient for a body of students that are equally active in the night as in the day, if not more so. Already there have been serious security breaches by non-students in Derwent due to the lack of any constant staff presence at night, and these are almost certainly due to increase.
In any event, expecting a highly limited number of security staff, and those from the remaining colleges with porters working night shifts to man our entire campus seems impractical and unreasonable.
Yet welfare is perhaps not the main reason we should be fighting for our porters. Many college bars, facilities, and events have already received severe restrictions or closure, which begs the question, if you take the porters out of a college too, then what’s left? What the University seems to miss is that for many people, porters are the life and soul of the college. As my friend just put it “they always seem to know what’s best”, and it really is as simple as that I think. Porters act as a permanent link between students, the college, and the University, and in my experience, always warmly, patiently and effectively.
Obviously Heslington Hall need to make serious expenditure changes, but they really do seem to be doing it in all the wrong places. In cutting back on porters and other services like this, they are effectively undermining the college system on which this University is wholly based.
In addition to this, many porters have voiced their disappointment at the lack of clear, honest information they have received from the University. Those I have spoken to are unaware of which hours they will be expected to work, where, or even if they will continue to have a job. Whatever the future holds for the porter system and current porters, they surely deserve more respect, time, and appreciation than the University is currently giving them.