When Vice-Chancellor Brian Cantor began searching for his first ever Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Students, deep down under the happy smiles and confident handshakes, he must have known that the job was essentially a poisoned chalice. Now Jane Grenville, who was ultimately Cantor’s choice to juggle the irreconcilable forces of student demands and the administration’s desires, is under siege.
Following the B Henry’s saga of last year, the recent decisions regarding porter numbers and Derwent Bar have again placed Grenville at the mercy of angry students, as she single-handedly waves the adminstration’s flag while the condemnation flies.
Grenville describes the intentions of her position as outreach and engagement. If Cantor et al are the high and mighty, secluded in their ivory towers, Grenville is the campus extrovert. With more column inches than most student representatives, she’s easily the most recognisable of the Hes Hall powerful – and therefore the most exposed.
The more bullish JCRC officers strive to paint her as a Mandelson character, pushing the unpopular policies while attempting to deflect criticism by blaming those above or around her. This is almost certainly false. The attempted self-vilification of declaring herself ‘PVC for closing bars’ last year looks now to be more of a gaffe as she finds herself angering a growing list of campus figures as DFM’s patience with diminishing footfalls rapidly shrinks. Unfortunately, even JCRC chairs who have benefited from Grenville’s support in the past now find it easier to join the ever-growing legions of critics than to speak out in her defence. The poorly publicised Grenville Fund was a huge boost for college finances; one wonders how many of those who blindly criticise her are aware that their rugby training sessions or quiz nights are funded by the current public enemy number one.
Her relationship with YUSU, too, is far from cosy. One would imagine that the Union would jump all over a PVC with a loud voice and a strong hand on many important committees, but Grenville’s influence has often been met with indifference or otherwise by Union Officers. The explosive stand-off with former Officers Matt Burton and Rory Shanks over The Courtyard’s licensing hours was well-documented in this newspaper exactly a year ago. Grenville – with her University jacket firmly on – held her ground. YUSU retreated screaming foul play, and reportedly Shanks and Grenville never spoke amiably again.
In essence, those that she is employed to assist don’t trust her to fight their corner, as she struggles to balance both sides of the equation. Critics who actually think she wants to pull the plug on campus bars like a social-space Thatcher are frankly mistaken.
Unfortunately, in admirably forging relationships with students that others in Hes Hall can only dream of, Grenville has become the primary port of call for disgruntled students, and as such may well be seen as doing an excellent job by her fellow University executives. Keith Lilley, Director of Facilities Management and perhaps the real villain of the bar massacre, and Ken Batten, the Head of Security that most porters will reference as the mastermind of the recent staff ‘reshuffles’, remain virtually unknown to the average angry student.
Ultimately, Grenville’s job of pushing Hes Hall policy while pleasing students may prove to be impossible. When agendas come into direct collision, the opinion of the administration will almost always prevail. But Grenville is the only voice we have at the very highest levels, and if we are to affect the decision-making process, we need to support her. Shooting the messenger helps no-one.