Balliol vote to support free education march

The Balliol JCR has unanimously passed a motion in favour of a NUS demonstration in support of free education. The motion commits £100 to subsidise buses for Oxford students to attend the NUS demonstration in London on November 19th, and also assigns all three of Balliol’s votes in OUSU council to support the NUS motion.

The motion stated: “1. We face a clear choice in education funding: either our system is going to continue down the road towards an American-style model of private universities with uncapped fees, or we can take it closer to a German model of free, public and accessible education.

2. The German model of free education is preferable to the current UK system of high fees, debt, cuts to staff wages, and privatisation of the education system.

3. That we should join the campaign to fight for a better education system.”

The motion further argued that “tuition fees and marketisation have decisively failed to created sustainable funding for our universities” and that “fees act as a deterrent to access”. 

The NUS demonstration, which will take place under the banner of “Free Education: No fees. No cuts. No debt”, is being held in protest against the coalition government’s higher education policies, including the privatisation of the Student Loans Company and the tripling of tuition fees to £9,000. The demonstration is backed by a coalition of activist groups including the Student Assembly Against Austerity, the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, and the Young Greens, and will follow a trade union demonstration on the 18th.

The passage of the motion was met with praise from JCR President Daniel Turner, who remarked: “Balliol JCR is very well placed to support the Oxford-wide movement for free education.  We have a very politically active student base and the funds to back them up.  It is absolutely right for the JCR to be political: we are the students’ union of Balliol undergraduates, and our stance on free education is unequivocal.

“The motion was not only passed unanimously, but was actually strengthened through a series of amendments doubling the amount of money the JCR is to provide and mandating Balliol’s OUSU votes to follow suit.”

Xavier Cohen, a second-year PPE student at Balliol, agreed, commenting: “Not a single person in the JCR general meeting – and I think there were possibly near to 100 of us there – made a principled stance against free education or the subsidising of buses to the national demo. The motion not only passed unanimously, but was made more radical by amendments. One amendment doubled the money from £50 to £100 and one amendment mandated all three Balliol reps for OUSU council to vote for the OUSU motion.

“I believe people voted to support the motion for principled reasons: we collectively recognised not only that education is a good thing and that people’s development matters, but that all should be able to access education regardless of wealth,” Cohen continued, before admitting: “This also isn’t a purely altruistic move: this is a campaign to make postgraduate education free, too.”

Activists across the university have responded to the news from Balliol positively, with the Oxford Activist Network circulating a draft motion for indivual students to bring to their JCRs. James Elliot, a second-year historian at Teddy Hall who drafted the motion, reported that: “In Oxford I’ve had interest from numerous JCRs, and I’m hoping the demo will be debated across the university. It’s an opportunity to show we’re serious about working with other unions to defend the education system from privatisation.”

Some on the Oxford left have criticized the OAN’s focus on the demonstration, however. Helena Dollimore, a third-year student at St Hildas and former co-chair of the Labour Club, commented: “you might be shooting the OAN/ lefty slate in the foot a bit by all going on the demo on polling day.”

Cohen admitted that the demonstration will clash with the elections, while stressing that “people have several days to vote and can still vote on the morning or evening of the demo. At a time when the Conservatives are thinking about uncapping fees, Labour is thinking about reducing them, and Germany has abolished them, this is a key political moment for the student movement to once again make the call for free education.”

Despite calls for unity within the student movement, it seems that various JCRs are continuing to jockey for the “crown of radicalism.” Cohen suggested that while “Wadham might talk the talk much better than Balliol, it appears that Balliol are the ones walking the walk.”

Turner struck a more conciliatory tone, stating that “we want to support students from all colleges to get involved in the fight for free education.  I’d hope there will be Christ Church Tories sat alongside Wadham Trots on the bus across to the capital.”


Somerville JCR amends ‘Thatcher Thursdays’ happy hour motion

An attempt by Somerville JCR to rechristen Thursdays at the college bar ‘Thatcher Thursdays’ has been defeated. The motion, proposed by JCR President Shyamli Badgaiyan, would have instituted two-for-one drinks on Thursdays at the college bar under the banner ‘Thatcher Thursdays,’ but the title was amended in the face of opposition from the student body.

The motion, noting the underuse of Somerville’s college bar, asserted that ‘We should do more to encourage people to come to the bar,’ and that ‘Cheaper and discounted drinks would increase business in the bar.’ Pointing to widespread ‘Happy Nights’ at other colleges, and the success of Somerville’s own Happy Hour in fresher’s week, the motion resolved to ‘mandate the President to talk to college about instituting “Thatcher Thursdays”, with cheaper or 2-for-1 drinks.’

Reaction from members of the Somerville community was not entirely positive. Recent Somerville graduate Olivia Arigho Stiles tweeted @SomervilleJCR: “WOT THE F*** WHAT IS THIS???? I implore everyone to think carefully about this please.”

When informed that the motion was simply about a drinks deal for the college bar, Stiles then responded: “ah ok that’s quite sweet. good idea! Ergo ‘Thatcher Thursday’ poor choice of name, utterly ill-suited.”

Samual Billington, Sommerville Secretary, told The OxStu: “Thatcher Thursdays’ actually passed as a motion, however the Thatcher bit was amended so that the name of the happy hour would be decided at a later date. This is the second time such a motion has been amended, and the reason given both times was the same – Thatcher is a divisive figure, and is possibly not the best choice of alumnae to name an event after, especially if you’re hoping to attract people from other colleges.”

Billington added: “ I don’t think the aim of the motion was to honour Thatcher – it was simply to come up with a catchy name for a happy hour (after the success of our first one in Freshers’ Week – which was unnamed.) Although she is definitely one of Somerville’s most famous alumnae, I agree with the JCR in the choice being misguided. Personally, I thought the suggestion of Margery Fry-days was a brilliant one. “


Mansfield and Magdalen crack down on smoking inside College

Mansfield’s Governing Body has banned smoking in college and Magdalen’s Health and Safety Committee is considering the same move.

Mansfield’s Bursar, Allan Dodd, sent an email to all Mansfield students saying: “Please be aware that, following a Governing Body decision on 2nd October, smoking is no longer permitted within the College grounds.  This is with immediate effect.”

A student immediately emailed back, asking: “Is there any way we can appeal this decision and is there any reason that this action has been taken?”.

Dodd responded: “As for the reason, the unanimous view of GB was that smoking should be deterred on grounds of health and the unattractive nature of smokers’ detritus.” 

The Bursar added: “It is also worth pointing out that with the new terrace we have a space that has to be non-smoking as it opens into an eating area, and it is therefore increasingly difficult to set boundaries for smoking and non-smoking areas, so we prefer now to restrict smoking to public areas outside the College.”

One Mansfield student told the OxStu: “I understand that smoking can cause issues but a ban is just draconian. I resent the lack of student consultation beforehand”. The OxStu understands a survey of JCR opinion might lead to a JCR motion calling for Mansfield to reconsider its decision.

Magdalen’s JCR President sent out a copy of the letter he received from the Home Bursar which stated the Health and Safety Committee is considering “a complete smoking ban on the College premises”.

The letter identifies a number of problems caused by smoking: passive smoke getting back into college buildings from external smoking areas, the unpleasant smell of smoke for those around, and the mess created by butts and subsequent blockages in drains.

The letter also cites inequality with different college, inequality between uniformed and non-uniformed staff and the lack of approved staff smoking areas as reasons to restrict  smoking in college.

The Bursar emphasised that a final decision has not yet been made and that the college will consult the student body.

Student reaction has been mixed. Will Forrest, a second-year Magdalen PPEist, commented: “It’s just a really bizarre idea – during exams I bet some students smoke well more than 20 a day.

“If the ban passes they’ll be running in and out of Magdalen. For a college so concerned with our academic performance it really is biting off your nose to… well for no good reason at all to be honest”.

However, one Magdalen third-year disagreed, stating: “Smoking is an unhealthy, dirty habit that has health ramifications for fellow members of the college community. It should hardly come as a surprise to smokers that their actions should be regulated by college”.

Fabian Apel, JCR President, told the OxStu: “The College has entered initial consultation with all Common Rooms and staff to discuss the current smoking policy.

“This has become necessary primarily because of problems with the disposal of cigarette butts on the College grounds.

“In discussions so far, a ban has not been advocated by any party; so I am very optimistic that all stakeholders within the College can find an intermediate solution.” 

Many colleges restrict where students can smoke but thus far Mansfield is one of the few to have fully banned it.

Oxford : Brasenose College

Brasenose women recognised

Brasenose JCR is to celebrate forty years of co-education by commissioning “large, good quality and permanent” portraits of female students and alumni, after a motion passed on Sunday by the JCR.

The motion, proposed by French and Italian student Margherita De Fraja, resolves to “invite various female alumni, fellows and maybe even tutors to have photographs of them hung around the walls of the JCR with details of their names and achievements under them.”

Motivated by the fact that “very little has actively been done in college and the JCR to celebrate this anniversary or the women who have been graduates and active members of this college since then”, the motion goes on to note that: “this forty year anniversary is an excellent opportunity to showcase some of the many things that female Brasenose Alumni have achieved since graduating and also celebrating how much of an integral part of college life women have become.”

Henry Zeffman, JCR President of Brasenose, remarked: “I’m delighted that this excellent motion was passed. I think everyone at Brasenose is proud that we were at the vanguard of co-education in Oxford, and it is great that the JCR wants to celebrate it.” De Fraja’s motion follows in the footsteps of Hertford College, which celebrated the milestone last month with a similar scheme that replaced pictures of ‘dead white men’ with those of female students and fellows. Alice Nutting, a second-year English student at Exeter and contributor to feminist magazine Cuntry Living, commented: “I think it’s great that Brasenose is following Hertford’s example of recognising the achievements of women in the college in this way. Oxford colleges are cluttered with centuries-old portraits of men, which is not representative given the fantastic contributions that women have made to our university.”


Christ Church welcomes New Dean

Christ Church’s new Dean, The Reverend Canon Professor Martyn William Percy, was installed in a ceremony last week.

Professor Percy is replacing the outgoing Reverend Christopher Lewis, who has been in the position since 2002. Percy officially took up the position at 6pm, 4th October, following the retirement of Reverent Lewis.

Professor Percy commented that the job was “exciting and challenging”, stating: “I am very much looking forward to serving the unique foundation that is Christ Church – a college of the University and the Cathedral of the Diocese. I am particularly looking forward to working together with colleagues throughout the College and the Cathedral, as well as with the senior staff of the Diocese.”

Professor Percy has been the Principal of Ripon College, Cuddesdon since 2004, and is married to Dr Emma Percy, Chaplain of Trinity College.

He also holds the distinction of being the only real-world theologian to be quoted in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.

Christ Church has a unique status as the only academic institution in the world that is also a cathedral. As the Visitor of Christ Church is the reigning monarch, the Dean of Christ Church is one of the few academic positions that must be personally approved by the Queen.

David Nowell, Senior Censor at Christ Church, commented: “Martyn is an excellent fit for the Deanship of Christ Church in a number of important respects: he is an active academic, committed to the importance of teaching and research; and he has experience of college life at Cambridge and at Cuddesdon. Martyn also has wide experience as a priest.”

A second year philosopher at Christ Church commented: “We are happy to welcome the new Dean to Christ Church and I am sure the dean will enjoy his time here. Christ Church often attracts media attention for all the wrong reasons, and I hope he will be a good figure to attempt to challenge this.”

Trinity College

Gendered Trinity marriages come under fire

The random ballot system used for college marriages at Trinity has come under fire for being “antiquated”, “heteronormative” and contributing to “oppression”.

According to a meeting agenda posted on the College JCR’s website, from Trinity Term, “the Fresher Marriage Ballot will be drawn” at a meeting in 3rd week. The system sets up “arranged marriages”, in which one name of a man and one name of a woman are drawn from a hat and paired.

The JCR post acknowledges the gender-binary nature of the system, pointing out that in “the majority of cases, in a very heteronormative way, men will be paired with women”. It confirms that College marriages between men are rare, stating that “there are slightly more men than women and as such there will be one marriage of three men”. The author of the post is unclear.

One Trinity student told The Oxford Student: “In Trinity we are not allowed to choose our spouses. The process is: towards the end of term when it comes for the College children to be allocated families, there is a marriage ballot. The whole event is peculiar and antiquated.

“What happens is that there are two hats on a table. Each hat contains the names of all the freshers of one gender. The JCR president then picks a name out of one hat and matches it with the other. And there you have it, an arranged marriage.

“As you can see, the whole thing isn’t exactly LGBTQ-friendly nor does it take into consideration of how we, the freshers, feel,” they added.

The JCR claims that the system means nobody feels excluded by the process. On this, the student speaking to the OxStu says: “This is supposedly meant to bring College families closer, but what ends up happening is you get paired with someone you either don’t know or haven’t spoken to, or actively dislike. So you can imagine the treatment the children will get in those cases.” 

NoHeterOx co-editor Annie Teriba criticised the system, saying: “I recognise the attempt to make sure everybody is included in College marriages; they can certainly be a social minefield as a fresher, but beyond recognising the bourgeois construct of marriage, we needn’t buy into its heteronormativity too.

“I’m firstly concerned by the implicit suggestion that non-binary and agender people do not exist and secondly, by the incessant need, it seems, to gender all aspects of College life. I guess whoever is responsible probably didn’t mean it but then that’s how most oppression works isn’t it. As a suggestion, maybe just pick some names out of a hat?”

Another Trinity student commented: “I think although the system was designed to promote fairness, it’s unfair for new freshers to have parents who don’t know each other and so are very reluctant to socialise or organise family dinners.”

“Ultimately, it means that the college parents system becomes useless because when parents feel awkward about seeing one another they rarely make time for their college children.”

In a statement, JCR personnel at the college said it was “in no way the intention” of the system to be heteronormative.

“We accept that the titling of the ballot as a ‘marriage’ unfortunately has the potential to be interpreted as heteronormative. However, this is in no way the intention, nor is there any aim to be exclusionary,” said President Eleanor Roberts and Equalities Rep Celia Stevenson in a joint statement.

They claim that the system gives everyone an “equal stake in the ballot regardless of sexual orientation”. 

“Furthermore, the random nature of the sorting process ensured that everyone is included in the ballot, and no one is excluded. Potential for feelings of exclusion are not limited to LGBTQ students, and could affect students who disagree with marriage as an institution in general.” 

Roberts and Stevenson admitted that “retitling may be a future possibility to avoid suggestions of exclusion.”

They added: “With regards to the claim that the ballot can lead to welfare problems because parents who are forced into marriage will quite possibly… lack the inclination to spend much time with their college kids and thus be poor parents: responsibilities for ‘parents’ are not huge; while they may not be friends, this in no way entails that they will be unable to work together or that they will make poor parents. It is advantageous if ‘parents’ can co-ordinate together to provide advice to new freshers, but they are not ‘forced’ to do so. Parents are entirely able to fulfill their roles independently.”

Roberts and Stevenson hit back at their critics, arguing that “the assumption that welfare issues might arise from a ‘bad’ combination of parents is heteronormative itself, as it assumes that two parents are better than one.”

The Oxford Student

Oxford's Newspaper since 1991