Mayank Banerjee has been elected President of the Oxford Union in a record-turnout election.
Banerjee, a second year at St John’s, defeated Trinitarian Crawford Jamieson by 273 votes.
The contest was the first opposed presidential election in over a year.
Also elected was Lisa Wehden, Worcester, who defeated Rupert Cunningham, Christ Church, 823 to 349 for Secretary of the society.
Mehrunissa Sajjad, Merton, and Roberto Weeden-Sanz, St Benet’s Hall, were elected unopposed to the positions of Librarian and Treasurer respectively.
Banerjee’s victory with 821 votes to Jamieson’s 548 was announced at just after six this morning.
Last night an email was sent to over a thousand people in support of of Jamieson approximately half an hour before polls closed at 8.30pm last night.
The identity of the sender of the email remains unconfirmed. Canvassing via email is outlawed under the stringent Union electoral rules.
Banerjee, who is currently Treasurer, will be President in Michaelmas term next year, pending any election tribunals that may be submitted before the deadline on Sunday.
A significant proportion of students who have suspended their studies for mental health reasons have expressed their dissatisfaction at the level of support provided by their colleges during their period of suspension.
In an investigation conducted by The Oxford Student, 72 percent of students indicated that they felt that they were not provided with sufficient levels of support during their period away from college. This contrasts with the average satisfaction levels of students with regards to the support provided by colleges during the process as a whole, taking into account their actions before, during and after periods of suspension when applicable, which gave a more sympathetic view towards college pastoral care.
21 students who have suspended their studies for mental health reasons responded to the survey. The Oxford Student was unable to calculate the precise sample size that this represents as, due to the decentralized nature of the process, there are no figures for the number of students who have suspended their studies for mental reasons currently at the University. The Oxford Student does know, however, that roughly 200 students per year suspend for both physical and mental health reasons.
Students were given the opportunity to indicate their levels of overall satisfaction with the standard of care provided by their colleges on a numerical scale, 1 being satisfied and 5 being dissatisfied. The average rating was 2.9. The responses to the survey are not, however, indicative of a homogenous experience, but rather highlight the wide disparities in student satisfaction.
The dissatisfaction with college support during the suspended period seems to stem from a lack of contact with the college during this time, leading to feelings of isolation amongst some students. One respondent stated, “I had almost no contact with college during my suspension, and I ended up feeling quite isolated from it. This made me very nervous about coming back.”
Another stated that “I had no contact with college, or my subject tutors, until I had to email my requirements to them, from which point onwards all contact has been largely negative.”
91 percent of respondents stated that no one was appointed to support them during their suspension, whilst 48 percent said that they received little or no form of support whatsoever.
A smaller proportion of students singled out difficulty in accessing college facilities as a reason for their dissatisfaction. 10 percent of respondents mentioned the exact word “unwelcome” in describing how they felt when returning to college during their period of suspension, however the survey reveals the striking differences in access to college facilities during the suspension period.
The survey also reveals the contrasting experiences of students both before their suspension period and upon their return to college.
25 percent of students said that their college was “fairly unsupportive” in re-integrating them upon their return to Oxford, whilst 38 percent described college as “unsupportive”.
A common theme in the responses describes the belief that colleges mistakenly assume that the returning student has completely recovered, sometimes leading to a lack of proactivity in re-integrating the student into their college environment. One student commented that “I think it would have been helpful to have more acknowledgement that I wasn’t completely fine, and that reintegrating was going to be really difficult. To some extent, I felt I had to put on a show of being completely recovered and immediately settled in order to justify my return; medically-proven recovery was, after all, in the conditions of my return.”
The fact that students are often required to be signed off by their doctors to prove that they are “medically fit to study” was picked up on by another respondent who argued that this “was unreasonable given that my diagnosis is chronic.”
43 percent of students said that they didn’t think that their college adequately understood the ongoing nature of their condition; with one commenting “I think that college could do with more education into the severity of depression and eating disorders.”
Some were sympathetic to the difficulties that colleges face in dealing with such a complex issue, with one respondent stating, “The diagnosis/diagnoses have morphed/multiplied almost constantly since sixth form, so I don’t think anyone can be criticised for not understanding what was actually going on.”
Once again, levels of satisfaction to colleges’ handling of students prior to their suspension was mixed, with some students offering high praise for their college whilst others were evidently deeply unhappy.
Some were keen to appreciate the efforts of college in offering them alternative arrangements to help them cope with their condition. “They put a lot of thought and effort into supporting me, including allowing me to rearrange courses and tutorials as I swapped between medications and tried to maintain a stable working environment. They did their best to work alongside my psyche team at the time and were looking for additional ways to provide support,” said one of the respondents.
Despite a healthy amount of positive feedback, there were still a number of students who were less than pleased with their colleges’ provision of care prior to their suspension. Respondents often cited the fact that colleges fail to initiate discussions even when they are aware that the student is having difficulties as an area that could potentially be improved. One commented, “they worked very much on the basis of me having to approach them. It is often very difficult when suffering mental health issues to reach out for help, and given that College were already aware of my mental health diagnosis, it would have been helpful for them to be more proactive rather than reactive.”
Confidentiality was also often mentioned as an issue, with one respondent stating, “My family were informed of events that I had explicitly requested be kept private. This was done with the very best of intentions, but nonetheless difficult.”
Others voiced their dissatisfaction more strongly. “They had no respect for me as a person at all,” explained one student. “They also played a part in making sure the entire college knew by telling my friends lots of stuff that I didn’t necessarily want them to know – the College head had meetings with them all about me without telling me – and the only reason I found out is because one of my friends told me.”
In response to the findings of the investigation, a University spokesperson stated that mental health care is a priority for the University: “We aim to provide, at both college and University level, some of the most comprehensive support systems of any university.
“Students with diagnosed and enduring mental illnesses can access study support from a team of specialist mentors – all of whom are qualified psychologists, psychotherapists, or counsellors – through the Disability Advisory Service.
“We look regularly at our welfare procedures and systems to see how they could be improved and we welcome all student feedback on their experiences, particularly when they have faced health challenges.
“On the specific question of informing families, students are adults and we have a duty to respect their right to confidentiality. University guidelines clearly state that we would only contact a student’s family, without a student’s permission, when that student had been assessed by a medical professional as lacking the capacity to make the decision for him or herself.”
What is most evident from the responses to the survey is the extreme differences in student experience and satisfaction across the University. Charlotte Hendy, OUSU Vice-President for Welfare, stressed the discrepancies apparent in the standard of care provided by different colleges. “This survey highlights the disparity between colleges when it comes to the facilities, services and support offered to students who suspend for non-disciplinary reasons. OUSU is currently working on this as a priority.
“On Tuesday, Rachel and I held a successful information and equipping evening for over 60 students who wish to begin conversations around this topic within their college. We are also currently talking to relevant staff from across the collegiate University to begin a dialogue around this issue, and to highlight areas where provision can be improved.”
The wide range of personal experiences and differing levels of support provided by colleges was an issue also recognised by the respondents themselves. One respondent was appreciative of their own experience but admitted that others may not have been quite so fortunate: “Overall my experience of college support during my rustication has been incredibly positive, and though I understand that some other students at my college have not had quite as much support as I have.”
Oxford University students have published an open letter to senior University figures criticising their response to harassment allegations surrounding the death of student Charlotte Coursier.
Coursier, a postgraduate philosophy student at Teddy Hall, tragically committed suicide in June last year after a split with her boyfriend. The subsequent inquest also heard claims of her ongoing harassment from philosophy tutor Dr Jeffrey Ketland.
The 135 students who signed the letter attacked the way that the university dealt with the issue. The letter criticises the University for allowing Dr Ketland to remain in employment whilst the investigation of the allegations Coursier made in May 2013 was taking place. Dr Ketland is still employed by the university.
They pointed out that the alleged harasser had had “institutionally mediated contact with students since the university began its review.”
Dr Ketland has been teaching as a philosophy tutor at Pembroke College during this academic year.
It was also highlighted that the university had failed to provide adequate information to students who worked in Dr Ketland’s department. Graduate students in Philosophy, many of whom largely led the campaign for the open letter, were concerned that “the lack of comment [from the University] created a difficult atmosphere in the Philosophy Faculty.”
The letter also raised the concern that “some students now fear that harassment
charges are not taken seriously”.
Luke Brunning, a DPhil candidate in Philosophy, said that “many students felt unsafe to be around [Dr Ketland]”.
“The Department of Philosophy has held a meeting with graduate students to inform of the outcome of the inquest into Charlotte’s death and to discuss any questions arising.”
However students spearheading the campaign, Jacob Williamson and Rachel Fraser, said: “The University’s statement is potentially misleading. The meeting referred to did take place, but students were given no details not already in the public domain concerning any review or investigation undertaken by the University. Details of the coroner’s inquest were given to students during the meeting. The results of the coroner’s inquest were, at the time of the meeting, a matter of public record. No one representing the Department or University attended the inquest. All questions concerning particular cases were met with an insistence that no comment could be made.”
The letter also raised the concern that “some students now fear that harassment charges are not taken seriously”.
Luke Brunning, a DPhil candidate in Philosophy, said that “many students felt unsafe to be around [Dr Ketland]”.
Many students and faculty members were not fully, if at all, informed about the events. Some learnt of the situation from colleagues abroad, whilst others only discovered the truth when it was published in the Daily Mail.
“Something has gone seriously wrong when members of a University faculty are not aware when one of their graduate students commits suicide after reporting one of their colleagues for harassment,” said Brunning.
Jacob Williamson, who led the process behind the letter said that the written protest “began with an informal meeting of students in the Philosophy Faculty last Thursday evening. I guided a discussion and the desire to form a letter was clearly widespread.”
He said that the students had felt “obliged to act because of the lack of openness about this case and because we feel the University has not fulfilled its duty of care.”
The undersigned urged “the swift adoption of a suspension policy” in future cases of harassment reviews.
Sarah Pine, OUSU VP for Women, was a signatory of the letter. She said that “all students should have the right to live free from fear of abuse and sexual violence. Regardless of whether or not Ketland was guilty of anything, the University should have taken greater measures to protect students whilst they were investigating.”
Pine added that “the University has many options available for them to improve their current system”. She suggested that they could strengthen harassment policies to allow for anonymous complaints, train tutors to recognise behaviours that are abuses of power, train harassment advisors comprehensively, and prompt the counselling service to provide group sessions on relationship abuse.
She also called on students to “engage with groups like WomCam and It Happens Here who can highlight what constitutes abusive behaviour.”
The letter predominately was signed by graduate philosophy students, but included members of the OUSU Women’s Campaign, It Happens Here, and alumni of the University.
It was first published on the Feminist Philosopher’s blog on Wednesday morning.
“A University review concluded in October. Its purpose was to inform senior members of the University of the circumstances of Charlotte’s death and to advise on any future steps. The findings of the review remain confidential but University is continuing to consider the most appropriate action as a consequence.”
A 66 per cent increase in funding has been allocated to OUSU by the University, prompting celebration from sabbatical officers.
£200,000 will be awarded immediately for the financial year 2014 –15. It will also receive a further £15,000 for the financial year 2015-16, and a final £50,000 for the year after.
President Tom Rutland said that he is “delighted to have successfully negotiated a massive increase in OUSU’s funding”.
“When I ran for OUSU President, I spoke about how years of underfunding for OUSU prevented it from being the Student Union that Oxford students deserved.”
He added: “This much needed funding uplift will propel OUSU on its journey from being a surviving student union to a thriving one.”
However, some student voices have been heard to speculate as to the timing of the inflated budget. Tom Ough, a third-year English student at St. John’s, commented: “I’m putting this down to Trup-gate. It’s quite clear that the university doesn’t want a repeat of an election which was a national laughing-stock, and this is a way of ensuring that students have more respect for OUSU, which has been chronically underfunded even in comparison to other collegiate universities’ student unions.
“But the funding increase is a credit to the negotiation skills of Tom Rutland and co., because the Trup debacle could easily have led the University to reduce its support for OUSU rather than give it a much-needed shot in the arm,” he added.
Some of this money will be used to hire a new Student Advice Service manager, who will allow the union to support more students who feel they have been mistreated or discriminated against.
OUSU will also be funding increased student representation across departments. Rachel Pickering, Vice President for Access and Academic Affairs, claimed that “student representatives are often less visible [than their college-based counterparts], and can lack the support they need to fulfill their representational roles”.
“The increase in funding will allow us to hire a full time Academic Representation Officer, whose job will be to coordinate and support divisional and departmental reps, and train them within their roles,” she said.
Alasdair Lennon, St John’s JCR President, commented: “The OUSU funding increase should be welcome news for everyone. However, due to Oxford’s nature as a federal university people will ask why isn’t this funding going to common rooms? The simple answer is that OUSU does things that common rooms cannot. OUSU’s centralised service offers: a free impartial and confidential advice service, assistance with troublesome landlords, coordination and execution of major campaigns, the support that student societies need, and the opinions of the entire student body. I also know that OUSU offer fantastic support and training to MCR and JCR presidents without which we would struggle in our roles. OUSU have an image problem not a relevancy problem, the increased funding is necessary and required.”
One Lincolnite, who did not wish to be named, hailed the new funds as an exciting prospect: “This is great news for students, and hopefully means that OUSU can do more for Oxford students. It is important that the University has increased its pitifully small block grant to demonstrate its commitment to the interests of students. Now, we need to make sure that OUSU spends this money wisely to meaningfully support the student body.”
The increased grant will also be used to improve communications with the student body by hiring a new Digital Communications Officer in Trinity Term and integrating Single Sign-On into its website.
Over the past few years OUSU has secured students the ability to re-sit Prelims and access the Rad Cam on a Sunday, as well as running the Living Wage Campaign across colleges. This year it also ensured that students who suspend their studies have the right to access University facilities.
Rutland suggested that in the past OUSU “has not been properly able to communicate these wins, as well as the services it offers to students like the Student Advice Service”.
The rest of the grant will go towards developing a digital Alternative Prospectus and permanently funding the OUSU Community Wardens Scheme. It also plans to investigate whether they could provide increased support for student non-sport clubs and societies.
Pickering reiterated her hopes that the increased funding will enable students to be “more aware of what OUSU does and how they can get involved.”
Keble’s O’Reilly Theatre played host to Oxford’s most talented last week with the final of Oxford’s Got Talent.
The winning act – Illias, David and Tom, a jazz trio from Balliol – came first. Illias said: “I think our initial bemusement at winning the Balliol competition was only compounded when we won the Oxford competition.”
“We had never performed together before but knew each other from various things. The whole process was great fun and who knows, we might even start playing together regularly!” he said.
Ella Bucknall, who organised the show, said it “was a huge success with lots of money raised for our charities and some amazing performances.”
The money raised will go towards RAG’s newly decided charities. The judges were current OUSU President Tom Rutland and his successor Louis Trup, as well as Cherwell editor April Peake.
Audience members also watched a performance from all-female a cappella group the Oxford Belles.
The final show saw a variety of performances, including singers, guitarists, drummers, a mandolinist and a contortionist, who provided especial amusement.
Bucknall said the contortionist, Tyler Jacobson, was “one of my favourite acts”.
“He was bending his body in ways which seemingly defied all laws of nature, and I was viewing the show from backstage so could watch both him and the audience as they squirmed in their seats.”
The first prize is two tickets to Lincoln Ball, a move which proved complicated when three winners went up to receive them. However, Bucknall said: “Despite the winning jazz trio having to wrestle for the two Lincoln ball tickets on the announcement of their triumph, they were reassured that the third ticket would only be a small amount each if they split the cost.”
“Overall, it was a great night.”
Award-winning social media access scheme OxTweet has come under scrutiny after it was claimed that some of its participants were presenting a negative image of life at the University.
Questions have been raised over the candid nature of tweets published by members of the scheme, ranging from, “Stats was no fun, no fun whatsoever… #horrific #oxtweet”, while another tweeted: “Still so fuckered I can’t walk”.
These were described by one undergraduate as “a bit awkward, considering this scheme is meant to promote a good image of the University”. Another stated that tweets such as, “referenced 27 different academic papers in essay – better be good enough for tutor… oh, this is oxford, your best is never enough #oxtweet” were not the most encouraging for potential applicants.
The online programme, which received funding from OUSU Council earlier this term, sees current Oxford students take to Twitter to post updates detailing their life at Oxford. The accounts are subject-specific and encourage questions from potential applicants. One of the most honest in its depiction of Oxford life is the Oxford Biologist account which regualrly features the after-effects of nights out and the joys of whiskey consumption.
The scheme has proven popular and together the accounts have hundreds of followers. It was described in a recent OUSU Council meeting as a “level playing field for anyone from any background and country to ask questions”, and its founder won a prize earlier this term.
Not all shared this view of the wildness of an Oxford degree, with one of the scheme’s participants claiming that most of its output is “monumentally dull”. The anonymous OxTweeter also claimed that other members of the scheme hold “niche” opinions, and suggested that potential applicants to Oxford could be turned away by OxTweet rather than inspired.
In comments made to The Oxford Student, the OxTweeter said “tweets about essay crises and tea” were unrepresentative of Oxford life.
“If I (and everyone else I’ve spoken to about this) was a potential applicant, and saw most of the twee, inane OxTweets about tea and minor illnesses, I’d run a mile,” he added.
Less candid tweets included “It’s somewhat reassuring to see that the jokes in parliament have changed little since 1628 #oxtweet” and “Having breakfast in the maths institute cafe while working on problem sheets. Resisting urge to get another chocolate brownie #nom #OxTweet”.
OxTweet’s founder and former Magdalen JCR Vice President Jamie Miles, who won an OxTalent Award for Outreach and Engagement for his work on the scheme, said honesty was “vital” to the success of OxTweet:
“OxTweet was created to provide an honest account of Oxford from all perspectives. An undergraduate degree is a three or four year commitment, so having information on all of the potential warts and wonders of university life is vital to ensuring that everyone makes the right choice for them,” he said.
The OxTweeter who made the claims that parts of the scheme were “monumentally dull” also believes most OxTweeters are “part of a small minority of students who don’t really interact with the wider student body, and who hold what might be described as niche opinions.”He claimed his own OxTweet account “presented a much more balanced, representative and honest commentary on student life at Oxford”, and that “a lot of tweets don’t even mention what kind of work the student is doing, so whoever is reading has nothing to engage with,” he added.
The Oxford Guild has been forced to postpone their masquerade ball after the planned site has been affected by floods.
The Business Society had planned to hold their ball at Ardington House, near Wallingford, this Saturday, but were forced to postpone the event after flooding at the riverside site. The Ball will now take place in Trinity term.
The Guild said in a Facebook post on the 1st of March: “The Guild Ball committee deeply regret to inform you that severe flooding in the grounds of Ardington House has unfortunately given us no choice but to postpone the Masquerade Ball until Saturday 3rd of May 2014.”
The site, which is a stately home situated next to Ardington Brook, has been severely affected by this year’s rainfall. The Guild explained: “Recent heavy rainfall has caused the grounds’ river to burst its banks.”
This has left the site a state unfit to host the ball. “Even with no rain until next Saturday, neither the marquees nor the land would be in any condition to entertain; stages cannot be adequately supported, any walkways to avoid mud would sink and there is a danger of marquees collapsing.”
They added: “We are simply not prepared to compromise the enjoyment of our guests by scaling back the night’s festivities.”
All purchased tickets remain valid for the postponed event, but refunds are available for those unable to attend the new date. Guests have already paid £75 each to attend.
Roberto Weeden-Sanz, President of the Ball Committee, commented: “Unfortunately, due to recent heavy rainfall, the grounds of Ardington House have been flooded and have made it impossible to hold the Masquerade Ball this term.
“We are really excited about what will be a great night and without doubt the best value for money ball in Trinity (and we have also confirmed special surprise guests for this new date) so keep your eyes out for more details soon and get your tickets from theoxfordguildball.com.”
The Ball Committee apologised for disruption caused: “We reiterate our sincere apologies for the unfortunate circumstances. It is through no fault of the committee or the venue that the event has to be postponed.”
The Masquerade Ball is the first ball that the Oxford Guild Business Society has ever held since the Society was founded in 1897. The Committee says that guests can expect “drinks all night, luxurious food, elaborate entertainment and transport to and from the venue.” This is alongside “a range of cocktails, shots and other drinks alongside a hog roast, pizzas, sushi and more! Expect inflatables, magicians, bands, DJs, a Casino tent, Shisha den and much, much more.”
Common rooms across the University have pledged their support for the Exeter hall boycott this week.
At the time of writing, eight JCRs and St Cross SRC (Student Representative Committee) had passed motions in solidarity with Exeter.
The motions come after a request for support was issued on the Exeter Hallternatives Facebook page. A suggested JCR motion, posted on the page, states that the JCR in question will “call on Exeter College to shoulder more of the burden for hall running costs”.
It adds that the JCR will “express support of Exeter JCR and MCR in their struggles”.
Jesus and Balliol have expressed their support by donating money and food to the CTCC campaign.
A motion passed at a GM at Balliol on Sunday means that the JCR will donate £50. Xavier Cohen, first year PPE student and proposer of the motion, commented: “The motion was there to not only declare Balliol’s support, but also to provide real material solidarity with the financially-struggling CTCC.
“This should allow activists in Exeter JCR to buy kitchen equipment and food for the hungry revolutionaries. Even though there’s reason to support the motion out of self-interest, as the outcome of the battels in Exeter College will set a precedent that could affect all other JCRs directly, altruism was in the air at Sunday’s GM.”
A motion of solidarity was also passed unanimously by Jesus, despite the traditional rivalry between the Turl Street colleges. The JCR will be donating the equivalent of one week’s welfare budget to Exeter, in the form of food. Suggestions were made at the GM that this be in the form of fish and loaves of bread.
Jesus JCR President, Leo Gebbie, said it is “fantastic to see Jesus students putting aside our differences with Exeter in order to support their hall boycott”.
He added: “Whilst we’ve done this formally in terms of stating our support for the Exeter cause, we also hope that donating a welfare hamper should help to raise the morale of Exonians and provide them with the energy to continue their lobbying”.
Richard Collett-White, Exeter JCR president, expressed his gratitude for the University-wide support. He commented: “The JCR is delighted that students from across the university are standing by us in our struggle for a more affordable catering system at Exeter.”
“This strengthens the campaign by drawing ever more attention to our undesirable situation – and student living costs more broadly,” he added.
Navjeev Singh, JCR President at St Peter’s, said: “We support Exeter JCR’s movement and believe that they are doing the right thing by acting towards the improvement of the standard of living of the JCR members. We also believe in JCRs supporting each other, especially in cases where certain JCRs are subject to what seems like really unfair catering charges.
“I will liaise with the Exeter JCR President to see if we could assist them in any way. Personally, I applaud the initiative of communal cooking that is taking place within Exeter JCR and think it is an amazing way to boost JCR spirit.”
The Exeter boycott has now entered its third week. An open meeting between students, the Rector and Deputy Bursar took place on Tuesday afternoon.