News

Wadham Matriculash out of control

Wadham freshers have “destroyed” a substantial amount of furniture and turned a rental house into a “bomb site” after a house party at a second year residence got out of control. The second year tenants of the house have set up a crowdfunding page at gofundme.com in order to pay for the damage caused, and have raised over £150 so far from 29 people. (more…)

Sheldonian
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Lecturers threaten strike action

The academics’ union, University and College Union (UCU), has threatened “marking boycotts and a refusal to set exams” over pension changes.

The dispute is over Universities UK’s proposed changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), a pension plan for academics at the UK’s “old” universities including Oxford. The changes are in response to deficit in the USS. With nearly 10,000 members, Oxford has the largest number of members in the USS pension scheme.

UCU’s strike ballot closed on Monday. The union reported that 78 percent of voters backed a strike and 87 percent backed action short of a strike. The turnout of 45 percent was the highest seen in a strike ballot since the UCU was formed in 2006.

This development does not mean that a strike will necessarily occur. UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: “UCU members at universities across the UK have made it quite clear today that they reject the radical changes being proposed for their pensions. We will go into talks on Wednesday hopeful that we can resolve the current impasse.”

Hunt added: “However, we will go into that meeting with a serious mandate from members that they need to see real improvements. If the employers do not address our concerns then we will meet on Friday to determine what forms of disruptive action we take and when they would start.”

A UCU statement described the possible consequences for Oxford students: “The ballot made it clear to members that a vote for action would most likely lead to a marking boycott and a refusal to set exams. The action would stop students being set coursework or receiving formal marks and feedback, as well as halting exams.”

The dispute between the union and Universities UK centres on the effect of proposed reforms to the USS pension scheme. Universities UK have argued that the changes are required to solve the scheme’s deficit. However, the UCU argue that the methodology used to calculate the deficit is “too simplistic” and “doesn’t take account of the scheme’s underlying strengths”.

A UCU statement said: “Since 2011, when the last set of detrimental changes to members’ pensions were made, the fund’s investments have grown by £8bn, the number of members have grown by 18 percent and returns on investment have outperformed both average earnings and inflation.

“However, Universities UK want to reduce the coverage of the defined benefit element of the scheme and introduce a riskier defined contribution pension scheme, with those in or aspiring to the highest academic grades suffering most.”

Oxford University appeared to have backed the UCU’s criticisms in a working group paper on  the pension changes. The report characterised Universities UK’s arguments as “misleading”, and claimed a more realistic estimation “would show a much greater reduction of benefits to the average academic member of staff than is shown in the UUK… examples.”

A Universities UK spokesman accused the criticisms as containing “considerable speculation and numerous misconceptions” and said that UUK would hit back in the Times Higher Education supplement on Thursday.

Despite Oxford’s support for the UCU’s arguments, the UCU confirmed that Oxford academics would stop work if a strike goes ahead.

An Oxford spokesperson told the OxStu: “The University will always respect the right of individuals to take part in lawful industrial action. If such action should go ahead, contingency plans will be in place aimed at minimising any disruption or inconvenience to students and staff.”

OUSU President Louis Trup: “OUSU is and always will be a democratic organisation. None of our elected officers have been elected on a platform of support of this UCU strike or marking boycott and there is no existing policy on this particular issue.”

“As such, it would be unfair on the students we represent to take a position on this issue which has valid arguments on both sides. In a personal capacity, I refuse to use this position to voice my own personal political beliefs, so will only speak on this following a vote at OUSU council. If this is an issue students have strong feelings on, I urge them to bring a motion to OUSU council.”

Babylove
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Baby Love and LGBTQ Society reach rapport after harassment claims

Baby Love Bar, home of popular LGBT night Poptarts, is to introduce a code of conduct in response to criticisms of the way it handled an incident of alleged sexual harassment last week.

The allegations centred on an incident last Tuesday evening, which was described to the police as “one gay guy, sat on another gay guy’s lap.” The bar’s bouncers refused to eject the alleged harasser, and allegedly claimed that “it’s got to be physical to be sexual harassment” and that “these things happen in gay bars.”

One witness told The OxStu: “Ok, so this older guy was there, and he was flirting with a lot of people. When they turned him down he would get quite nasty. For example, he asked me if I wanted a drink and I politely said no, then he got quite nasty, asking me if I was a child and a virgin, telling me I shouldn’t be here if I was an immature virgin

The witness continued: “Then he abused my female friend saying she wasn’t really a lesbian and just wanted to have sex with me

Then come and sat down on my lap and wouldn’t get off. He repeated this whole process with another boy, refusing to get off his lap for ages even after he said.”

Thomas, duty manager that evening, defended the bar’s handling of the incident, telling the OxStu: “The nature of the nightclub scene lends to numerous allegations being made. It would be irresponsible for unwitnessed incidents to be dealt with with ‘immediate removal’, without trying to establish the facts,  being careful not to diminish the gravity of the situation.

“Both victims and “alleged accused” have their rights to fairness,” although admitting: “Fairness though does not always comes across as fair in the heat of dealing with a sensitive incident.”

However Joel Hide, Social Secretary for OU LGBTQ Society, claims the staff have since changed their position, saying: “The management of Baby Love are completely agreed that the lack of immediate response was wrong, and are working with the LGBTQ society and the police to write and implement an effective door policy. It is of the utmost importance to the Society that Poptarts remains a safe space for all our members, and we will be working closely to ensure that this new policy includes strictly enforced zero tolerance on sexual harassment.”

He continued: “The bouncers’ behaviour was completely unacceptable, however the victim blaming and lack of action taken was less indicative of a problem with Baby Love specifically and more of a broader culture which accepts sexual harassment in clubs as normal.”

Following meetings with senior members of the OU LGBTQ Society committee, Babylove Bar has pledged to work with the society and the police to introduce a Code of Conduct for such matters.

Thomas declined to comment on alleged comments made by the bouncers noting “I am not in a position to comment on ‘these things happen in gay bars’, as I do not know what ‘these things’ refer to.”

ballots
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OUSU apologises for “deeply frustrating” election delays

OUSU has been forced to issue an apology after a number of JCR officers criticised its handling of college elections.

OUSU’s actions were described as “deeply frustrating” after it cancelled its subscription to Mi-Voice – the online voting system previously used in most JCR elections – during the summer. OUSU officials failed to set up a new system in time for the beginning of term, with many JCRs consequently forced to postpone scheduled elections. Wadham JCR has delayed elections for its Vice President and Charities Officer, with Somerville JCR forced to use a paper ballot in its elections on Thursday. OUSU was also criticised for the failure to inform JCRs of its actions.

OUSU cancelled its subscription to Mi-Voice due to weaknesses in the system and the potential for electoral fraud. President Louis Trup blamed the inability to establish a new system in time for Fresher’s Week on “the complexities of the data and its ownership”.

Trup stated: “Our mistake was in not being more transparent about the work going on to make this happen. We apologise to the colleges for any inconvenience caused and will notify you as soon as the elections module is available”. Trup added that OUSU has put “all its available energy” into resolving the issue.

Wadham SU Chair Andrew McKay said he felt “let down” by OUSU. McKay, a third-year Human Sciences student, stated: “It has caused a great deal of inconvenience … we want to know why common rooms were seemingly not informed of this change.”

Aliya Yule, a candidate in the postponed election for Wadham SU Vice-President, commented that OUSU’s actions are “deeply frustrating”, stating: “It would have been nice if OUSU had let colleges know, rather than allowing us to find out when it came to setting up our elections in 1st week.” Yule also voiced concern about the ability of OUSU officials to organise their own elections, scheduled for 6th week of Michaelmas.

Discussing Somerville’s JCR elections, which due to the online difficulties will be held by paper ballot, Returning Officer Joe Smith stated: “I feel that it may actually increase turnout due to the election appearing more visible, rather than simply having voter codes that get lost in people’s inboxes”.

But one Somerville student told the OxStu: “I know my ancestors fought for my right to vote but I’d much rather exercise that right from the comfort of my chair using my laptop than have to make the arduous trek to some ballot box. Think about all those poor Cowley dwellers who will be disenfranchised through laziness”.

Mi-Voice states on its website that it aims to “provide the most cost effective solution for our customers and to increase participation in customer events”.

OUSU’s decision may be related to the allegations of vote ‘rigging’ following the University’s referendum on NUS affiliation held in May. The allegations, which concerned 1,000 seemingly tampered votes, caused the referendum to be voided.

eDL
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Tommy Robinson cancels Union talk after prison recall

Tommy Robinson, founder and former leader of the English Defence League (EDL), has been recalled to prison and will not give a scheduled talk at the Oxford Union on Thursday 23rd October.

Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley Lennon, was jailed in January for 18 months for mortgage fraud but released in June. Robinson’s Facebook page states he “has been recalled back to Prison for responding to a threatening [tweet] […] in breach of his Licence conditions”.

An email from the Oxford Union to its members on 20th October confirmed that Robinson will not speak on 23rd October but, “having spoken to his lawyers” they “still hope to host Mr Robinson […] later this term”. The Union hope Robinson will appear after his recall, which they say is fixed at 28 days.

Claims have been made on Robinson’s Facebook page of a police cover-up. A post, apparently from his assistant Helen ‘Hel’ Gower, alleges that he has been recalled to prison due to the fact that the police “didn’t want him to speak at the Union […] because he was about to reveal some of their little secrets”.

An image reportedly of a text message written by Robinson shows him saying he was due to reveal “police persecution […] including bribery and blackmail” and claiming his return to prison is “to prevent [him] exposing the facts on Thursday at the Oxford Union”.

When approached for comment, Gower, who currently has control of Robinson’s Facebook and Twitter pages, confirmed that Robinson will not attend the Union.

She also stated her belief that his recall was due to Robinson “challenging Bedfordshire Police about their lack of action over all the threats […] on Twitter against him and his family,” labelling the recall an “excuse to stop Tommy attending [the Union]”. 

Bedfordshire police declined to comment on Robinson’s and Gower’s claims.

Robinson’s appearance was controversial in Oxford: Oxford Unite Against Fascism (OUAF) had written an open letter calling on the Union to withdraw his invitation. They were also organising a protest outside the Union which was scheduled to coincide with Robinson’s talk.

In the open letter, published online, OUAF criticised the Union for “contributing to a climate of Islamaphobia”.

Mayank Banerjee, President of the Oxford Union, defended the move to invite Robinson: “The Union stands by the invitation to Mr Robinson and we would like to reiterate that an invitation from the Union is not an endorsement of any particular agenda.

“The Union believes in the principle of freedom of speech and we would encourage all members who disagree with Mr Robinson to question him on his views at the event later in the term.”

While he was leader of the EDL, Robinson “organised and lead [sic] violent racist demonstrations and waged a campaign of demonisation of Muslims”, OUAF claims. Although he is no longer involved with the EDL, OUAF say he “continues to incite racial hatred against Muslims”.

The open letter had received support from Billy Hayes, General Secretary of the Communication Workers Union (CWU), who signed OUAF’s letter according to the Unite Against Fascism campaign’s Facebook page. The CWU is the major trade union for those working in the communications industry and Hayes therefore represents over 200,000 people.

Robinson left the EDL in 2013 and now collaborates with Quilliam, a counter-extremism think tank. However, when contacted, OUAF said they “do not believe that Robinson has changed his fascist views” and “remain opposed to any future invite”.

St John's College
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St John’s Gender Equality Festival accused of libel by OUSU campaign leader

The committee for the St John’s Gender Equality Festival have been accused of libel in a circular email sent by Sam Galler, co-chair of OUSU’s “Mind Your Head” campaign.

The accusation centres around the statement released by the committee on Saturday evening, which apologised “unreservedly” for a “trans-exclusionary” article written for the festival zine by former Magdalen LGBTQ rep Elsa Field.

The committee’s apology, which disowned the practice of “platforming views [...] that contribute to a culture of oppression and fear’ was released following a flurry of criticism on social media, most prominently from the Oxford University LGBTQ Society trans rep Rowan Davis, who labelled the article “transphobic”.

Field has since resigned from her post as LGBTQ rep for Magdalen JCR, citing her “personal political views” as irreconcilable with her position.

Galler, who described himself in the circular as an “OUSU welfare campaign leader” slammed the committee’s statement as “inappropriate” and “libellous”, claiming that it both “negatively mischaracterises” and has been used to “demonise” Field, the author of the original piece.

“As someone responsible for promoting mental health at Oxford, I feel strongly that there have been mistakes made that are damaging to student wellness, and that these need to be corrected,” Galler continued, before requesting a full apology from the committee.

When contacted by the OxStu, OUSU VP (Welfare) Chris Pike stressed that Galler’s email does not represent an official OUSU position. Pike noted that, while “the feelings and wellbeing of all students are important, I do not believe that individual wellbeing can be used to excuse systemic oppression, including transphobia.”

Anna Bradshaw, OUSU VP (Women), took a similar line, commenting: “Within OUSU we are totally committed to the representation, inclusion and liberation of trans students.

“Our policy means that we define a ‘woman’ as ‘anyone who self-defines wholly or partially as a woman and/or as transfeminine’.”

The Oxford Student

Oxford's Newspaper since 1991