Students and staff have roundly condemned the recently-disclosed cutbacks to the University’s portering provision, promising a strong and immediate campaign across campus.
JCRC Chairs, YUSU Officers and parents of first-year students have joined staff members in denouncing the University’s “dangerous disregard for student welfare.”
Porters have reacted angrily to the decision, claiming “to cut costs and put students’ lives in danger is shameful,” while YUSU have described the “blatant disregard” for student welfare as “shocking”.
Students are encouraged to join the campaign to reverse the decision, which has seen portering hours slashed in addition to staff reductions.
Derwent Vice-Chair Anna Claire Younger, who is co-ordinating the campaign, called on all students to support porters across campus: “We’ll be doing everything we can to ensure the continuation of a safe and necessary portering provision on campus. They do so much for students and their welfare and I personally could not imagine life at University without these integral people, and the tireless work that they put in for all of us.”
As a result of the cuts, Derwent and Vanbrugh college lodges will not be staffed overnight or at weekends from Week 3 onwards this term.
Parents who accompanied their children to the University this weekend had not been made aware of the cuts, with many voicing their concern at the news.
“I don’t really think that this has been thought through, certainly in terms of looking after the interests of students,” one mother told Nouse: “Do I feel comfortable with nobody here to provide assistance to my daughter at the dead of night? Not really.”
“From a safety point of view this is a dangerous situation,” stated another parent, who added: “Just look at all these posters of Claudia Lawrence around,” referencing the disappearance of the University chef last March.
The University has provoked increased anger amongst porters and students by denying that the cuts will affect student safety, claiming that porters have no role in the “extensive welfare network in place” on campus.
“How can they tell us that we have nothing to do with welfare? Protecting student welfare is our primary role. Those in Heslington Hall that have thought this through have absolutely no idea what our job involves. They need to spend a year working nights in these lodges to appreciate what we do,” one porter told Nouse.
“I’d love to see one of them stand up in a room of students and tell them that the porters have no importance in protecting students’ welfare, and then see the reaction,” another stated.
Despite University Press Officer David Garner outlining a six-man increase in security staff by October next year, porters have ridiculed the idea of security-focused personnel providing a welfare service.
“Who is going to look after students when we aren’t here? Security services don’t know students, they aren’t looking out for them,” stated one porter.
While the University has blamed the cuts on a shrinking budget, YUSU Welfare Officer Ben Humphrys criticised the decision to sacrifice student welfare for financial gain.
“Even under tight fiscal restraints the University has a duty to students’ well being and it has clearly failed in this duty,” he said.
Halifax College President Roberto Powell rubbished claims by the University that the number of beds served by each 24-hour lodge would not increase: “It’s not all about numbers at all. Proximity is an important factor and I wouldn’t like to see a distressed or attacked student have to make it all the way from the edge of new Vanbrugh to Langwith porters lodge.”
Multiple porters have stated that they were not made aware of the cuts, which mandate a reduction of staff, until long after the decision was made.
“We were taken by surprise completely. What Keith Lilley (Director of Facilities Management) did was get Provosts, academics and the students’ union to sit down and then he brainwashed them. The first we heard about it was from close colleagues who couldn’t tell us the details but warned that it would be bad news,” one explained.
Porters were offered the opportunity to accept the conditions of a severance scheme that would enable participating members of staff to take voluntary retirement.
Garner explained that the severance scheme is “part of a process of restructuring to make the institution better able to meet the challenges of the future.”
“While some staff are taking voluntary redundancy or early retirement, the number of people employed by the University has been steadily rising in recent years. We expect this trend to continue,” Garner contended.
A petition, which was signed by over 250 parents and students in Derwent on Sunday, calls on Vice Chancellor Brian Cantor to reverse the ‘appaling’ decision, citing its ‘detrimental impact on student security, safety and welfare.’
‘Porters are so much more than just security. They are a familiar face, a friend when you need one, but most importantly are one of the most essential parts of our college welfare system,’ it adds.