Exeter students are set to boycott hall today in protest against the College’s refusal to listen to student demands during rent negotiations.
The College has refused to reduce the catering fee, which is currently a whopping £840 a year. This is far greater than any other college, and Exeter students still have to pay high meal prices on top of this.
In negotiations with the college, the JCR and MCR proposed a modest reduction in this fee, by allowing for £100 of the catering fee to be redeemed.
This suggestion was not agreed to by the bursar, who instead made the small concession of four free Second Halls a term, worth about £22 in total.
In protest, students have organized ‘hall-ternatives’ for all three meals today which will allow students to eat in college for a much smaller fee than that charged by hall- around 50p for lunch and £1.50 for dinner.
Ed Nickell, the JCR president, stated: “As every JCR Member knows, Exeter is an incredibly expensive place to live. Ever since the last contract was signed, five years ago, the catering charge for students living both in and out of College has been subject to an exorbitant increase.
“But now, as this contract has finally expired, we have another chance to get a fair deal.”
He added: “Currently, Exeter has the largest catering charge in Oxford – in fact it is a whopping £126 bigger than the next largest, New College, and they are able to redeem their charge in Hall anyway. This brings the effective cost of breakfast to £3.09, lunch to £4.12 and Dinner to £8.24. We all agree this is not acceptable, and now, at last, we have a chance to do something about it.”
Current hall prices contributed to its extremely poor performance in a recent student barometer survey where the College was ranked bottom for living cost satisfaction, 2nd bottom for hall satisfaction and 3rd most expensive of all undergraduate colleges.
Sam Perkins, a second year from Exeter, commented: “Frustration has been building for a long time within Exeter, and given that we have finally got this opportunity to re-negotiate the catering charges, it is very important that we do something.
“I think that the fact that we haven’t been given anywhere as many opportunities to discuss things with the governing body is ridiculous, and hopefully by taking some joint symbolic action will make them realise that the student body really does worry about the scale of our living costs.”
The ‘Hall-ternatives’ event was organized after a JCR meeting last night, when the JCR resolved to make a statement before the Finance and Estates meeting due to be held on Wednesday.
In that short time, over 150 people have joined the Facebook group saying they are not going to hall, and many have left supportive messages about the event.
The issues surrounding the catering fee are closely intertwined with issues regarding the student rents for next year, which were discussed in the same meeting between the student representatives and the bursar.
The JCR and MCR proposed that rents be frozen, arguing that the financial situation of students has been fixed in recent years, while the college has benefited from a 12% increase in income from conferences and above-inflation rent increases.
Ed Nickell and Mishra Challenger, JCR and MCR presidents respectively, therefore wrote to the bursar stating that: “Rising costs mean that it is not possible to ensure both students and the College accounts are unaffected. Given that the costs must be borne, they should be borne on a basis of ability to pay. Unless there is convincing evidence that student ability to pay is greater than College’s, College should bear these costs.”
The Bursar responded to these comments in a letter sent to both Nickell and Challenger, arguing: “While I accept that some students do and will always struggle financially, an institution such as Exeter cannot base its rent charges on what the poorest student feels is affordable.
“It is the role of bursaries and other forms of academic grant and hardship funding to deal with genuine need and ensure, in as far as possible, the fairest distribution of limited resources… Any further subvention of resources to accommodation would necessitate a diversion from the funding of academic activities in the College.”
New Exeter JCR president Ed Nickell is leaving no stone unturned in his quest to maximise student accommodation in the centre of Oxford, including a controversial proposal to “evict the Rector” to free up space.
He was recently elected on a manifesto to “Convert the Rector’s lodgings into student rooms” and “move the Rector (who can commute) to a nicer house in North Oxford,” in an attempt to enable more Exeter students to live in college.
Nickell commented that this proposal was merely one idea amongst many, and that: “If I were David Cameron (god forbid) they’d be calling it ‘blue-sky’ thinking.”
This “blue-sky thinking” received a good-natured response from the Rector via Twitter: “Hmm. Our new JCR President’s manifesto promise is to turn the Lodgings into student housing. An imaginative start….”
Sam Perkins, a second year student, who is currently living in Cowley due to housing shortages within college, commented: “A bold move, from a bold President, but I’d say not exactly the most easily attainable of goals.”
However, Perkins went on to support the plans for evicting the Rector, saying: “Though I believe she does spend quite a lot of her time at her home in London anyway, so perhaps it wouldn’t affect her too much.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, however, this plan has not come to fruition and an agreement between the JCR and College has been reached on a less radical proposal to extend student accommodation on a new site on Walton Street, near Worcester College.
This was also pledged in the election manifesto where Nickell wrote that under his leadership the JCR would: “Demand more student rooms in Walton Street. More than the paltry dozen that will cost us millions of pounds.”
This idea has received support from the Rector, who commented: “Ed and I are in complete agreement on the need for more rooms for Exeter students in central Oxford, but we have come up with a better idea.”
“The College plans to build new accommodation on the large new site we have acquired next to Worcester.
“We plan over 90 new rooms there, many more than could be squeezed into the lodgings.”
This increase in rooms will be a huge bonus to many students at Exeter who have to find their own accommodation for both second and third year.
Numerous colleges in recent years have begun providing accommodation for all three years and it seems that Exeter will be the next college to offer this to students.
Nickell said: “Many students privately renting become stressed and distracted by housing issues, whether it be a boiler breaking or a 30 minute limp from Cowley to College on crutches. Never mind a walk of shame, for some of us it’s a trek!”
He added: “It’s important for the JCR to press for every possible improvement, hence even the most seemingly outlandish solutions should be discussed.”
Students have been told their fortunes through pigeon post over the past few days as Exeter College distributed hundreds of Ball-related fortune cookies.
The new method of guerrilla marketing has seen the Exeter College “Carnivalia” Ball-branded fortune cookies appear in pidges in several colleges. Five messages, personalised to the Ball, have so far been gathered, inviting students to buy tickets for the event in Trinity Term.
Freya Hadrill, Committee Member for PR and Marketing, said: “The idea is inspired by one element of our theme – the Carnivalia Ball is rooted in the idea of carnivals from all around the World and the Chinese Carnival area particularly represents one of the most vibrant and well known aspects of global carnivals.”
“With so many balls out there and competition to draw attention to your own ball and sell tickets, it’s important to do something a little different. Promotional gimmicks can not only be entertaining and surprising but also a talking point – and that’s what we want – to get people talking.
“Even if someone who finds a fortune cookie in their pidge isn’t drawn in, they’ve got a free biscuit, so nobody is complaining.”
Vicki Arnott, a second year at St. Anne’s, said: “I think it’s a good idea. It gets people talking and it’s quite a novel thing to do.”
However, a first year at St Hilda’s commented: “It seems a bit gimmicky. You can’t deny it will raise awareness and it will get people talking for a while, but we’ll have to wait and see whether it gets translated into ticket sales.”
Exeter College is set to implement an “unprecedented” set of vetting measures for organisations hoping to hold events at the college.
The decision comes in the wake of the controversy sparked by the College’s decision to allow the Wilberforce Academy to hold a conference there during the coming vac.
Students were angered that the Academy, which is organised by the anti-gay Evangelical pressure group Christian Concern, might be able to use the college’s prestige to legitimise their own beliefs.
A meeting of the College’s governing body came to the decision to set up a Working Group which will include both students and fellows, and will deliberate on a new set of regulations concerned with private bookings of college facilities.
The College Bursar, William Jensen, explained that the aim of the group will be to bring around a set of regulations which would in future ensure that groups holding conferences at the college would be “appropriate” to the ethos of the college.
When asked if any decisions had been made regarding the Wilberforce Academy specifically he said that “the matter hasn’t arisen” and that no specific decisions have been made. However, he did comment that he thought the Academy was “unlikely to want to come back”. When asked to give his opinion on the original decision to allow the Academy to come to the college the Bursar declined to comment.
The Chaplain of the College, Stephen Hearn, who also attended the governance meeting, confirmed that the college would be “reviewing all future applications for bookings”.
The decision has been applauded by the college’s student community, with LGBTQ rep Ed Allnutt commenting: “When Exeter JCR first became aware of the Wilberforce Academy’s upcoming conference, there was a righteous level of indignation. We were worried that people with homophobic views would be sharing our living space, and, worst of all, would be able to use the college and the university as a whole in their publicity.
“Following the uproar and your article on the issue, College have now promised us a vetting process for the future, which I would say, in agreement with the governing body, will be a precedent-setting move. We as students were right to feel angry about the conference; the OxStu was right to raise publicity about it and the governing body has been right to take such swift action.” Allnutt then went on to say that although no decision concerning the Wilberforce Academy had yet been made, he was “confident that these new proposals will mean that the Academy will not be allowed to hold any events at our college in the future”.
Another Exeter second year praised the College administration’s initiative but added that: “I think it’s a shame that something like the Christian Concern debacle had to occur to make change happen. But I still feel proud of the way Exeter has responded, and I hope that other colleges will follow this example”.
Exeter Rector Frances Cairncross declined to comment on the new initiative.
Is Exeter College supporting homophobia? Many colleges host conferences; in fact for poorer colleges they’re essential to keep finances afloat. But it can’t be denied that Christian Concern will also profit from Exeter’s decision; the reputation of this ancient institution will give the group an air of respectability and moderation.
This is wrong; Exeter College’s reputation has been built up through tolerance, intellectual freedom and critical thought. Basically, all the things Christian Concern aren’t. While Oxford undoubtedly has Christian roots, we should not pretend that this Christianity is anything like the evangelical, aggressive and uncompromising brand of religion practised by Christian Concern and associated groups.
Do not delude yourself; Christian Concern is homophobic and makes a point of demonising the LGBT community. They advocate “corrective therapy” for a number of students, many of whom are at Exeter. That fact alone should make College officials run a thousand miles. The key point here is that Christian Concern not only holds strong opinions, but during their conference will actively incite hatred against people whose sexual orientation is different to theirs. Free speech in this country was intended so we could freely hold opinions, not so we could cause pain to others.
Nor should religious groups should be exempt from the expectations we attach to each other. Having a strongly held belief does not mean Christian Concern deserves better treatment, and should not be an excuse for Exeter to ignore their extremist views. Would Exeter accept an extremist Islamic Preacher? Would the BNP be welcome to host an event?
The very fact that Christianity can be equated to such appalling people should make moderate Christians wake up and show us the true character of their faith. The culture of silence at the Oxford Inter Collegiate Christian Union must end; by refusing to comment they appear to the rest of us to be tolerating homophobia, and plays to many negative stereotypes about religion. If Christianity is better, then its believers must stand up and say so.
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New College narrowly rejected a motion on Sunday night to send a statement of “strong disapproval of Exeter College’s decision to host Christian Concern’s conference” to Exeter’s Rector and JCR President.
The motion was put forward following anger after The Oxford Student revealed that the college is to host the Wilberforce Academy over the Easter Vacation. The Academy is organised by Christian Concern, an organisation widely accused of holding homophobic views.
The proposal was discussed in heated debate for 45 minutes on Sunday night. The main point of contention regarded the Wilberforce Academy’s right to free speech.
Students disagreed on whether Christian Concern is in fact homophobic, as well as issues of free speech surrounding the subject. It was also noted that Exeter would face up to £150,000 in legal costs for breach of contract, and doubts were raised about the validity of the JCR vote as a sufficiently representative mechanism for expressing the opinions of the student body. Some students also feared that New College would potentially be portrayed negatively in the media as a result.
After an initial move to vote was rejected to continue debate, the decision was taken that as the motion involved an “ethical issue”, a “supermajority” of two thirds would be necessary to pass it. The second move to vote led to a 33-32 majority, which meant the motion was rejected.
Timothy Anderson, who seconded the motion, said he was “disappointed” by the decision, adding: “Ironically, in the very same meeting, a motion was passed without opposition to mandate our LGBTQ officer to request permission to raise the rainbow flag above college on the last day of LGBTQ History Month. From this, it’s clear that there was more at play than a gay rights debate.”
He added that had “never felt discriminated against” as a gay person in college. “What was clear from the meeting to me personally was that even some of those who are tolerant and accepting fail to understand quite how important an issue this is for certain members of our community.”
He continued: “Some of the things said were plainly insulting but very few people seemed to realise this when the debate veered off into a discussion of homosexuality itself. I hoped that the JCR of New College would take it upon themselves to express that this sits outside of the values and beliefs of our community and it’s disappointing to see that we, as a JCR, don’t have enough confidence in values which are so evident in our other activities.”
Many Exeter students felt their college had been unfairly characterised. Edward Allnutt and Ella Mae Lewis said, “on behalf of the Exeter LGBTQ community”: “We would like to highlight to readers that from the perspective of our (very well-established) LGBTQ society, Exeter College is extremely welcoming towards its LGBTQ staff and students.
“We continue to maintain our strong disagreement with the views held by Christian Concern.”
The response from some students at Exeter, however, was nonchalant. Low Xi De, a third year at Exeter, commented, “They’re entitled to their opinion. Free speech goes both ways obviously.”