Way, way back in the misty, distant past of 2009, a bunch of students got together and stripped D-Bar of all its furniture – the tables, the chairs, everything – and dumped it on the pavement outside. Their reason? They were protesting against the removal of 24-hour portering, since they felt porters were necessary for student safety, and to hold off a myriad of minor inconveniences.
Anyway, the rebellion won, Robert Baratheon got the throne, Luke Skywalker managed to hit the exhaust port and blow up Central Hall and most importantly, since it actually happened, 24-hour portering was reintroduced to all the colleges. Bar one.
Now it’s 2014, and there’s another protest looming – students are putting together a petition to get Vanbrugh to take up 24-hour portering. They still don’t have porters after 6:30pm, nor do they have porters on weekends: instead, students have to go to Wentworth and use the porters there, dragging them over to Vanbrugh if they have to.
If the porter’s busy with matters in their own college, then tough luck – you have to wait. If someone in Wentworth needs a porter but they’re off dealing with affairs in Vanbrugh? Same thing.
It’s a system that, ultimately, needs some fixing. The whole point of the D-Bar protest was to demonstrate why porters are necessary throughout the day – to protect against dangers to university property, and more importantly dangers to the students who live on it. In the case of a genuine emergency, should students really have to run to Wentworth and drag a porter out?
And then there’s those minor inconveniences. Groups that have booked rooms in Vanbrugh have found themselves unable to access them, due to locked doors. Again, a Wentworth porter usually has to be called out for up to an hour to open the doors and then ensure they are locked again. All this serves as a blow to student societies, many of which are funded by the university – being unable to hold events arguably negates this funding.
On an individual level, students are left unable to collect post after 6:30pm on a Friday, exacerbating the glut of post that can form on the Monday afterwards. Lose your key on a weekend night out? Need the porters for access to a room? Again, it’s off to Wentworth – but not everyone knows that, especially not freshers (the majority of campus-dwellers).
But this all ties into a bigger debate. The Sunday Times’ League Tables touched upon it at the start of the month – York has one of the highest ratios of students to staff, and at the same time, spends practically the least on staff when compared to its competitors. We can’t just conscript porters off the street – they need to be hired, and more importantly paid. At present, it’s entirely possible Vanbrugh just can’t do that.
So what can be done in the short-term? Asking porters in other nearby colleges to pick up the slack, such as Derwent or James, helps but ultimately just deprives another college of their porter, and would lead to the same wait-time if those porters had jobs to do. Provided unused rooms were kept locked and secure, leaving the nucleus open would allow societies to access the rooms – however, further solutions would need to be found for the problems of keeping students safe, and for problems that required personal interaction with a porter.
The best, and perhaps only, solution to all these problems would be to follow the lead of every other college on campus, and introduce 24-hour portering. With each student paying £3000 into the system per year, surely we can manage it. If we can’t, then as our campus gets larger and larger one question starts to materialize – who’s going to staff it all?