The Dean of Worcester College resorted to threats of collective punishment over the weekend following damage to the College’s cricket pitch.
Dr Ben Morgan, the Dean, announced the closure of the bar and the cancellation of all JCR events when those involved in a “skidding game” on the cricket pitch failed to come forward.
The game was alleged to involve students sliding across the pitch on their knees, resulting in damage to the surface.
Dr Morgan sent an email to the JCR on Wednesday saying he had “tried informal channels to encourage those people involved to come forward, but to no avail” and claimed that he now had to “take sterner action”.
“If the people involved haven’t e-mailed […] to take responsibility by 9am on Friday then the bar will be closed and all JCR events cancelled until further notice”, he said.
When this deadline passed he confirmed the punishment in a second email to the JCR, apologizing that “closure and cancellation couldn’t be avoided.”
Dr Morgan later revesed the decision, but not before it was met with anger and frustration amongst the College’s student body, particularly as events that weekend included an alumni football dinner and a charity event.
The charity event due to take place that weekend was “Pink Drinks”, an unlimited cocktails event described as “infamous” on Worcester JCR’s website. The event takes place every term to raise money for the College’s adopted charities, which this year include Against Malaria Foundation and Oxford Poverty Action Trust.
Students who emailed Dr. Morgan to complain received a reply within an hour informing them the decision had been reversed.
The reversal was confirmed to the wider JCR several hours later in an email thanking “those people who have been in touch since my last message.”
The email did not clarify whether this decision followed the perpetrators of the damage coming forward, or rather multiple complaints from members of the JCR.
One undergraduate student believed the Dean’s approach to the matter had been “far from…constructive”.
The student said: “I feel this is him trying to pass off a blatant lack of judgement as a clever ploy to get people to email him.
“Even if this was his original intention, which I think you have to question, it is far from a constructive way to go about things.
“All he has done is to needlessly damage the relationship between the JCR as a whole and his Decanal team; using collective punishment is such a patronising and disrespectful way of treating students.
“There are even claims that the students who did the damage weren’t from Worcester at all, which would make Dr Morgan’s threats utterly pointless.
“All in all it’s a massive over-reaction that has backfired: the only positive outcome is that the Dean at least might think twice before trying to pull the same stunt in the future”, they said.
Another Worcester student, a second year Physicist, added that “group punishment is never a good solution, especially when it’s not clear that the perpetrator was part of the group. Fortunately it was sorted out before any entz were cancelled.”
Worcester’s Decanal Office, when contacted, claimed that “Dr Morgan does not comment on decanal matters”.
Students at Worcester who don’t have the latest computer software will be unable to access the college’s online network.
As of April, PC users running Windows XP will no longer be able to connect to the Worcester college network—only students with Windows Vista, Windows 7, or Windows 8 will be able to do so.
Any system running before OSX Mavericks (OSX 10.9) will be unable to connect. However, a “free upgrade” from Mac X 10.6, 10.7, and 10.8 will be available.
Worcester is not the only instution to call time on the beloved classic, with Microsoft itself saying that it won’t be providing support for XP users beyond April this year.
In an email to all students, Dr. Karen Wells, the college Computing Manager, said: “The current online network registration system is being replaced with a Network Access Control system”.
The new network will “actively enforce” the college’s current policy of only allowing access to computers with operating systems that receive security updates.
Charles Walmsley, a Worcester College student, said: “I doubt many, if any, people are running XP, although I don’t know enough about Macs to say people won’t be affected by it.”
Wells urged students not to wait to ask for help: “Please do not leave contacting the IT department for help until the last minute. We want to be able to help everyone who needs our support, and that will be difficult if everyone contacts us when they return from the Easter Vacation,” she added.
The new network system will “go live” shortly after the Easter break.
Exeter’s construction of controversial new accommodation is causing distress at Worcester.
Worcester students have complained that Exeter’s building at the Ruskin Development is noisy and disruptive.
JCR President, Alfie Hinchliffe, emailed undergraduates to warn them of “the potential […] disturbances to everyone living in the accommodation on the north (Ruskin Lane, 24, JTM, Worcester Place, Gloucester House) side of college”.
John Bates, Worcester Provost, agreed: “It’s not going to be easy for our students to have a massive demolition operation taking place so close to their rooms”.
However, Bates added “Exeter are now consulting us fully over the logistics of their ambitious project, which is about to begin […] we’re really grateful for the assurances Exeter are giving us that they will take Trinity term exams into account as they timetable the work.”
Bates appears to be more amenable to the project than he was last year when he encouraged Worcester students to complain to Oxford Council in an effort to prevent planning permission on the site.
Exeter’s Rector tried to strike a conciliatory tone, stating: “We are consulting fully with Worcester College on the logistics of our building works on Walton Street. We are fully aware that their students, like our own, will be working for exams in Trinity Term, and we will do what we can to minimise noise and disruption.”
In Trinity Term 2013, Worcester students tried to pass a JCR motion condemning Exeter’s expansion but it fell due to an unwillingness to prevent Exeter making accommodation available to more undergraduates. Worcester was also accused of hypocrisy as it plans on renovating its kitchens and building a new lecture theatre next year which will also cause noise.
Charles Walmsley, a Worcester third year, commented: “‘I think it is important to support the development if it will help fellow students combat the continued rise in rents across the University.”
Walmsley continued: “Hopefully the rights of students to study in Trinity term will be respected by the construction works, and any noise complaints will be addressed immediately. As long as Exeter are considerate of Worcester students then I’m sure there will be no issues.”
Exeter College is to go ahead with Jericho building plans that were subject to strong opposition from Worcester college.
The move comes after the colleges had a public disagreement last May, with Worcester’s provost Jonathan Bate describing the plans as “inappropriately garish” and said they threatened to overshadow the college’s orchard and city views.
The building will be on the old Ruskin College site on Walton Street, which dates from 1913. Oxford City Council gave outline planning permission in December last year, but final permission was given last week.
Frances Cairncross, Rector of Exeter College, said the building would provide “exceptional” facilities.
“The College and I are delighted with the news that we now have planning permission for our building on Walton Street, which will provide welcome accommodation for Exeter undergraduates and exceptional teaching, learning and social facilities in the heart of the city.
“We are in the process of negotiating with contractors. We look forward to working closely with Worcester College, which is also planning a new building in its gardens, very close to our site,” she added.
According to plans published in December, the new building will have 90 study rooms, a set of teaching rooms and also facilities for a library archive. It will be four stories high.
Worcester Provost Jonathan Bate said the college is “now working closely with Exeter.
“Worcester has always been committed to the robust debate and democratic decision-making that underlies the planning process; we are now working closely with Exeter to assist them with their project in any way we can whilst ensuring the minimum possible disruption to our good neighbours in South Jericho and to our students, especially in the lead up to exams,” he said.
The development has proven controversial since it was first proposed. Ms Cairncross said at the time that the college agreed to lower the roof line and alter the cladding of the proposed building.
“We do not feel that colleges should go out of their way to deprive undergraduates of affordable accommodation,” she said.
“We have been on our very constrained site since 1315 and are desperately short of student housing, especially for our third years and in the heart of Oxford.”
Professor Bate told Worcester students at the time that action was needed to “help us to reduce the level of intrusiveness upon the College – something for which thousands of students in future generations will thank you.”
Worcester also offered to sell four large houses – containing 24 student rooms – to Exeter, although it is understood this offer was not accepted.
National preservation group English Heritage also waded into the row, claiming last year that “the street elevations of the 1913 building should be accorded more respect than in the current submission”.
The head of the firm of architects behind the proposed submission – Alison Brookes Architects – said last year it was looking forward to starting work.
Alison Brooks said the firm is “delighted to have this opportunity to work in the heart of Oxford with Exeter College.
“The Quad’s combination of residential, academic, social and cultural spaces wihin a scholarly and urban context is every architect’s ‘ideal brief’.”
Exeter bought the site in 2011, and is aiming to turn it into a “third quad” for the college.
Parts of the original Ruskin College building will be demolished and the existing roof will be removed. Window openings will also be altered, and replacement windows and new gates will be added.
Construction work on the site can now begin.
Reigning champions Worcester overcame a half-time deficit to beat Premier League newcomers Balliol in a game that should be remembered for a laudable act of sportsmanship by the Balliol captain Alex Hawkins-Hooker, who allowed Worcester to use rolling subs to prevent them being reduced to 10 men.
It was also a match that, despite the final result, proved that Balliol will be no pushovers this season, as the Jowett Walk side pushed their opponents to the limit with an impressive passing game and tireless work ethic.
Displaying the sort of discipline that comes from having retained the bulk of last season’s Division One-winning side, Balliol started the game the brighter of the two sides, with Freshers Du’Aine Davis and Loz Warner contributing to a fluid possession game that Worcester seemed unable to cope with.
Despite all Balliol’s good work, however, it was a Worcester error that led to the first goal, as Jack Hostick stole the ball from the Worcester defence before rounding the ‘keeper and slotting home. It was a composed finish that showed every sign of Hostick being able to make the step up to the top division, having ended last season as college football’s leading scorer.
The goal made little difference to the flow of the game, with Tom Phelan unable to make much headway against Balliol’s five-man midfield, and although neither goalkeeper had much to do, Balliol’s extra pace on the wings meant that they would possibly have been disappointed to go into the break only one up.
Worcester came out the stronger in the second half, but they were helped by a sporting gesture from Alex Hawkins-Hooker. After a combination of injuries and unexpected player departures left Worcester facing playing the majority of the second half with ten men, the Balliol ‘skipper allowed them to bring on an already-substituted player so they could finish the match with their full contingent.
The current league and Cuppers champions took full advantage, and it was Tang-Wright who proved the inspiration. After a sustained spell of Worcester pressure, the winger powered past George Colenutt and, with two men in pink waiting in the middle for the cut-back, instead drove the ball low past Balliol ‘keeper Adam Laycock at the near post.
That was the break Worcester needed, and they made it two not long after when the Balliol defence failed to deal with a long punt forward, and the Worcester forward slotted.
Balliol were not to be fazed, however, and they drew themselves level when some composed play from Hawkins-Hooker at the back started a move that ended with Jack Hostick, who was clinical as ever in when put through one-on-one.
It was not to be for Balliol however, and the winning goal came with 10 minutes to go. A Worcester corner was headed home by Tang-Wright for his second of the game, and despite some sustained Balliol pressure late on, Worcester held on.
Balliol vice-captain Adam Laycock was proud of his team’s performance, despite the result: “The fact that we’re disappointed having lost to last season’s best side shows how well we performed.”
The record books will show the final score was 3-2, but Hawkins-Hooker’s gesture to Worcester, encapsulating the spirit of college football, should also be remembered.
Worcester students have expressed outrage at dramatic increases in rents and charges proposed by the College.
Students claim that the proposed rent increase of 8.6 per cent is significantly above inflation. Another rent rise of a similar scale was justified last year using figures which the students now claim are misleading.
The JCR has already accepted 15 per cent rises in hall food prices as part of the proposals, including a rise in the cost of formal hall from £3.70 to £5.
A straw poll in last Sunday’s JCR meeting revealed that students are unanimously, with just two abstentions, in favour of boycotting the annual fundraising telethon if College go ahead with the rent proposal.
A rent increase of 7.2 per cent above inflation took place at the college last year, and the Committee explained in a letter to the JCR that this was a “measure to deal with the poor state of College finances.”
The rise was justified using the figure that Worcester students paid rents 24 per cent less than that of the University median. This has now been disputed using OUSU figures included in the letter, which “indicate that over the last two years, no college has had an average rent of more than 12% below the median.”
The intent under the original figures was to hold three consecutive annual rent rises of approximately 10 per cent per year to bring Worcester rents up to the University median. However, JCR figures indicate that the current median undergraduate rent at Worcester is now just 3.76 per cent below the median, not the 24 per cent originally cited by the college.
The College still plans to go ahead with an 8.6 per cent rise in rent and utilities including inflation. This is despite JCR President Will Valori’s claim that “a 5.6% rise would get us about to the median level of rent across the university.”
Additionally, the JCR are calling for a change from the Oxford measure of inflation, the Van Noorden Index, to the “fairer and more transparently created” Consumer Price Index. They note that “whilst the CPI stands at 2.7%, the Van Noorden Index has historically hovered at approximately 5%.”
The JCR Committee claim that students could save £75 off the rent increases next year if the College switched the index they used.
Students, whilst understanding the college’s financial difficulties, feel it is unfair that undergraduates “are being asked to shoulder an unfair proportion of the [college’s financial] burden.”
Condemning the college, Environment and Ethics rep Rosie Ryan Flinn said: “Students are being made to pay for the faults of previous management – it is unavoidable that students will have to pay the price to some extent, but the burden currently being placed on the undergraduate body is unreasonable.
“It would be nice to think that the college will be swayed by the strength of the arguments we have on our side. I fear, however, that they will only be persuaded by drastic measures on our part to express how seriously we intend to fight our battle – boycotting the telethon, for example.
“It would be a shame, but the undergraduate body should be prepared to stand as firm as members of the SCR if they hope to achieve anything” added Flinn.
Also emphasising the potential rent increase’s effect on Worcester telethons, an anonymous third year said: “”If the college want to raise my rent again, I guess I’ll have to pay, but they can consider the extra money as a substitute for any alumni donations they expect me to make in five years time.”
Discussion in the JCR meeting also brought up the issue of SCR ‘perks’, such as free lunches and free parking, which persist despite prices increasing for students.
Flinn noted this was unfair “especially in light of the fact that no obvious commitments have yet been made by the SCR to do their bit, not to mention the fact that the figures initially provided by college were incredibly misleading”.
Additional acrimony was focused on the failure of College to fulfil promises made in return for last year’s rent increase. These include a pledge to reduce 0th week accommodation prices from £18.25 to £10 a night.
The JCR Committee claim that the college, “citing accounting problems… have not achieved this, costing some students almost £100 this year alone.”
Many highlighted the fact that because student loans are fixed payments and do not vary with inflation, the rent rise will leave many students poorer in real terms. The JCR claim that proposed rises could leave students £432 per year worse off.
JCR President-elect Alfie Hinchcliffe expressed his concern: “A rent increase that puts termly battels above student maintenance payments will price many out of rooms.”
He emphasised: “My main concern is about access. This means that existing students may be forced to move out, damaging the Worcester community, and will dissuade applicants from poorer backgrounds from applying here.
“Given Worcester’s already relatively poor bursarial system, and now proposed rent increases that would make it one of the most expensive in Oxford, it runs a serious risk of alienating these potential applicants who will have to apply to a more affordable college that offers better value for money.”
Some students also noted the fact that potential applicants should be made aware of how much rents are likely to increase year-by-year- something which is now in a state of uncertainty. They also highlighted the fact that students have already committed whether or not to live in college next year and thus are unable to move out if rent increases are unaffordably high.
Such worries were echoed by other members of the JCR, with the main Committee letter citing the potential damage to College life, with a danger that more students would opt to live out if the rents rise further: “Worcester prides itself on possessing a friendly and inclusive atmosphere. If a significant proportion of the undergraduates opt to live out rather than in, we are at a real risk of losing that.”
Negotiations with the College regarding rents are still ongoing.