The Langwith bar saga: students have the power

With YUSU emasculated before the University students must take action.

The University is boss. YUSU, regardless of Matt Burton’s entrepreneurial fantasies, is not. Langwith bar – yes, the saga continues – may not be open for Freshers Week after the University withdrew its support for the October start date. Surprised? I thought not.

There are reasons, of course. Many parts of campus – including the Langwith walkway – are being renovated this summer. The project to redevelop the bar is not seen as ‘high priority’. The bar’s new opening date will be in January 2009 because, as the email sent to Burton revealed, the Directors of Facilities, Management and Estates are under a lot of pressure.

What makes a project a high priority? At university, students should come first. But we have learnt that York will often look to the long-term, ignoring those who currently study here. To our detriment, high priorities for Heslington Hall are therefore future students and potential financial gain.

So, it’s time for demonstrations. Let’s chain ourselves to fences and occupy Heslington Hall. Let’s make things happen, and look to our 1970s forbears for examples. The university is the oppressor and we are the oppressed. Come the revolution!

Or, we could be shrewd and play to the University’s weaknesses. YUSU, we know, has no decision-making power – if the University won’t redevelop the bar over the summer, the student body can only apply diplomatic pressure. But that shouldn’t stop effective campaigning. Reputation, reputation, reputation – it’s all that matters. The University of York is a brand and we, the students, are its ambassadors.

The most effective way to place pressure on the University is for the students to prove that we – not they – own the York brand. In other words, we don’t just make a big fuss, we actively assert our right to a voice, a voice to be listened to.

Oliver Lester, Derwent College Chair, posted a brilliant video on YouTube that showed the substandard kitchens and accommodation in blocks E and F of his college. If you Googled ‘Derwent’, high up the list of search results would be his well-constructed documentary. The University, red-faced as well as surprised, quickly sorted things out. The mould in the bathrooms disappeared and plans were made for kitchen renovation this summer.

The motion to mandate an active YUSU campaign for an October opening will undoubtedly be passed. It will also lead to student protests – Burton thinks if the Vice-Chancellor realises ‘we care about this’ things will change.

But to achieve this we need an active web-based campaign. Protests on campus are all very well but the Vice-Chancellor must realise that by letting York students down he is putting the university’s reputation in jeopardy. Who’s boss now?

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