Connor Woodman [CW]: You recently had a meeting with Warwick For Free Education after they held a sit-in at the Finance Office at which you made a number of pledges around their four demands: that the University condemn cuts to maintenance grants, that the University reverse its position on freedom of information, that it comply minimally with Prevent and that you immediately scrap the High Court injunction against occupation-style protests. These demands were reiterated last Friday with their rally, march and road block. There’s also an open letter going that’s been signed by 200 [now over 300] mostly academic staff calling on you to condemn the Green Paper and to comply minimally with Prevent. I am going to ask for updates on the progress of the pledges you made that meeting. So, firstly, what’s your position on maintenance grants, and will the University be publicly condemning the maintenance grants cuts?
Stuart Croft [SC]: So we’ve got a debate about that at Senate next week and we’ve also had a call to have an Assembly and the Assembly is a mechanism effectively for an all-staff meeting, at that Assembly, which we’ll organise as soon as we can, we have motions on both maintenance grants [NB: the motion was actually to condemn the Government’s higher education Green Paper] and also Prevent so what I think we need to do is to let those motion run through and be debated and heard and if they are passed then we’ll take the next steps accordingly. The question that I’ve raised on Prevent with a few people is for definition of minimal compliance: what is it people are really asking for, I asked in that meeting with Warwick For Free Education. I believe that we’ve got an agreement that the Students’ Union is going to run an event on the 10th March on Prevent and I’d said I’ll come along to that and hear the views and come along to that as well. So I think we’re in a bit of a process and we’ve got to hear obviously what the range of student voices are on both those issues, and the range of staff voices, and do it through those mechanisms of Senate and Assembly.
CW: To confirm: the debate on Senate next week is about maintenance grants? With a view to a motion that condemning?
SC: There is a motion, there’s a motion that’s come forward from the SU which calls upon Senate to agree that the move from grants to loans is a bad thing – there’s a more elegant way that it’s expressed but that’s coming forward for Senate next week.
CW: On Freedom of information – I think everyone will probably be an ally with me in this room – we all use it a lot, campaigners rely on it a lot, students overwhelmingly reject Warwick’s position on it, to be exempt from it, and we’ve seen quite a few of the protests which I’ve mentioned which have included that in their demands. Is the University now prepared to change their position and what the status of the transparency review that you’ve pledged?
SC: On the first part, on the freedom of information of course we’ve made our case as part of the response to the Green Paper, we now obviously have to wait and see what the Government says back to that. So once we have understood what it is the Government is going to do with the consultation with the Green Paper we will be able to say something about what we will do next. Transparency review: trying to do some work on that, we’ve got that set up, up and running, so we’re going to look at what are the various dimensions of that over the course of the summer term and want to come back with some initial steps that we’ll be making in that period of time. One of the things as you know I’ve been saying to people is that there is actually an awful lot of information which is contained within a lot of the various committees at work, 72 committees that we have across the institution; we’ve got to find ways of surfacing a lot more of that more easily, make it more searchable, and also make it more time urgent I think, to the kind of enquiries that are being done. And you know I’m not saying that as an alternative to freedom of information, I’m saying that’s a parallel track of work.
CW: I want to talk about Prevent, you mentioned it quickly – massive issue at the moment, nationally and on campus. UCU have put out a boycott call, Warwick Anti-Racism have condemned it, many staff and students are against it, there is the open letter I mentioned. There’s an understanding that Warwick is going above and beyond its legal compliance for example on the training workshops. There was a letter sent to you on February 15 on Warwick’s Residential Life Team which detailed – these people had been given the training, basically, and they considered it to be racist, to be Islamophobic and xenophobic, and they made a number of recommendations to the University around minimal compliance, about transparency, etc. My understanding is you haven’t responded to that letter yet so would you like to say what you would like to respond to them?
SC: So all I will say about that is that there is a formal complaint so I am dealing with that formal complaint through the formal processes. And won’t therefore comment on it other than that. The wider set of points is: I do keep asking people what is it in terms of minimal compliance that we’re being asked to do in detail? Completely understand that there’s sets of concerns that people have about Prevent as a policy, I’ve heard a lot about that as of course you’d expect, but as an institution we are required to obey the law, you will say to me if I just put this piece in, “we are required to obey the law in a minimal way”, that’s probably what you’d say to me, I need to understand exactly what that is. Training is important part of the process, we have to have training elements, so what is it that’s involved? Now why it’s particularly sensitive is for all the reasons that you tell me about the way in which people have heard this and feel about this and makes them feel about themselves but it’s also very important when people say things like “this particular practice is racist”, that in and of itself is potentially an area of legal challenge. We have to really, as an institution, really careful about what we say and when we say it. We will have an opportunity to debate a lot of these things when we come to the Assembly and also the SU event in the next week.
CW: Just quickly on that, I’ve got these – I just wanna clarify something – I’ve got these minutes from a Steering Committee, which you chaired, on 11th January. Which says that the University’s Prevent plan – here, “the University’s Action Plan on Prevent is approved” – my understanding is that that might be taken as the final decision on Prevent: does this mean that the consultation is more of a window-dressing exercise or is this decision – have I misread the decision or is it subject to reversal?
SC: What you’re referring to is the Action Plan I think – so the Action Plan was at the Steering on whenever you said, 11th January, was then at Senate on the 24th or there abouts, that Senate debate which was a fairly lively debate, we will go back to some of those issues again next week at Senate on the 8th March, we have to complete our Action Plan by the end of March or the beginning of April – forgive me I forget the exact date but around that period of time – which is why it’s important if we can to make sure we get the Assembly debate in before that as well as the SU debate.
CW: So this isn’t the final decision on the action plan?
SC: So this is the Action Plan as it stands at the moment. It has gone through the steering and Senate processes, if there are strong voices for particular areas of amendment there is still time to do that.
CW: You asked “what can we do now” [in response to question from another journalist], I actually have something for you: you can scrap the High Court injunction –
SC: I thought you were gunna say that –
CW: It’s authoritarian, these instruments have been condemned by Amnesty International and Liberty when they’ve been used by universities before. As I’ve said to you, there’s good things at Warwick that wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t have been for use of the this tactic: the Union building, divestment for apartheid linked shares etcetera. You said at the February 4th meeting that you would take it to the rest of management and have discussions. There’s been quite a lot of time for you to have that, so as a gesture of good will, as something you can do now, will you now pledge to scrap the High Court injunction?
SC: No, because as I’ve said to you before it’s the context of the IPCC report, so that’s a process which I know has taken a long time to be completed, but I do think it’s important that it’s completed before we reflect on that whole episode and the future.
CW: But regardless of the outcome of the IPCC report, these instruments are illegitimate.
CW: I’m sorry I’m gunna have to go back to this injunction thing, because I can’t let that response stand. Firstly, the IPCC is – there’s quite a lot of research into its institutional bias towards the police, right. There was a parliamentary committee which has condemned it for being essentially not fit for purpose because it’s staffed by lots of ex-coppers, it tends to place a lot more systemic weight on what the police say rather than the protesters. So the report might not be valid on its own. Secondly, even it did come out and – the report itself is about complaints that are being put forward by protesters against the police. That’s what it’s about – assault charges or assault complaints, those kind of things, improper conduct. So I’m really struggling to see what the connection is between an injunction which bans sit-ins and occupations, in an authoritarian manner, and outcome of IPCC report –
Peter Dunn [PD]: Stuart has answered your question Connor, if you’ve got another question you want to ask –
CW: I did, I want to come back –
PD: Have you got another question you want to ask?
CW: Stuart, do you want to respond to that?
SC: I don’t have much to say to it –
CW: to this point, specifically.
SC: Yeah, yeah, but specifically we’ve talked around this a few times before, we’ve got a process which is ongoing, you may make a judgement about the nature of that report, but I’d quite like to see it before I make a judgement about that report. And at point –
CW: I’m trying to understand what the connection is between –
PD: RaW, now then.
CW: So you mentioned Assembly, there’s going to be two motions, one on the Green Paper, one on Prevent. How will you be voting?
SC: Well I’ll be chairing so I won’t be.
CW: Can I ask another one then? We have a BP Archive on campus, it’s generally considered to be quite restrictive in its access policy, not really what you’d expect when it’s on an academic campus, masquerading as an academic archive. BP say they use it to “enhance their reputation”, that’s their words. This is a company obviously implicated in serious human rights abuses, being sued over complicity in the kidnapping and torture of a union activist in Colombia in the early 2000s – Fossil Free recently had a meeting with senior management about the Archive, and it was pledged that Warwick would initiate conversations with BP over access arrangements. Can you update us on that front and give us your personal view about the demands of the Fossil Free campaign.
SC: The update I can give you is that those conversations have started about access, and we will obviously be reporting on them when they are concluded. You’ll not be at all surprised to hear that when you’ve got a private archive, the university and the archivists are always pushing to try and get better, wider, fuller access, so that’s fairly normal part of the engagement and the process. Your second question was, ‘what do I think about it?’ I think that having some access to these archives is a really important thing. We’ve got a very long-term agreement with BP to have that Archive, it gives us an opportunity to have ongoing conversations with them about things like access and activities around it, and I think we should take those opportunities as and when we could. As to when students want to make arguments about Fossil Free, which are entirely appropriate, entirely entitled to do, they can do so, but getting access into understanding the history of, for example, the oil industry around the world, is a really important thing, and that’s what the Archive, in part, will allow people to do.
CW: If I ask a question on Dec. 3 and apologies, will I just get “IPCC”?
CW: I’ll ask another question then. There’s a growing movement in the UK that’s been growing recently that’s being described as a ‘decolonial movement’. It’s kind of like a university-specific branch of the anti-racism movement; groups like Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford ecetera. They’re focused around institutional racism, curriculum reform. Warwick Anti-Racism are actually holding a ‘Decolonising our University’ conference this weekend. A lot of the reading lists at Warwick – for example you come from PaIS, right, I come from PaIS as well – a lot of the reading lists are very Eurocentric, they’re very white-dominated, both in form and content. Do you think Warwick has a problem there and what steps will you be taking to address these, specifically, for example, in heading towards getting the Race Equality Charter Mark?
SC: So, I don’t think that Warwick has, at least to my knowledge, problems that are greater than in other parts of the academy. But are there issues here for the academy, absolutely yes there really are. At one level of course it’s not at all surprising, so where does a lot of this come from? A lot of this comes from building upon what we used to call ‘the Fathers of thought’ in various disciplines, you get all sorts of inequalities embedded there, not only white but male and so on, and that’s the way in which academic study was carried out for several hundred years. So when you go back to various principles or foundational texts you almost inevitably come into that kind of problem. So can all that be easily and readily swept away in the context of keeping and developing the academic content of the courses: no. That’s of course not what’s being asked for, what’s being asked for is to give a lot more space, and giving people encouragement to think more broadly about different sets of perspectives and I think that’s a fantastic project and I hope very very much that Warwick will be in the forefront of that project. It doesn’t mean overthrowing all of our curricula over the course of the next year but it means really thinking about how we can broaden, and engage, and open up and support and I think that’s a fantastic thing.
CW: We’ve already spoken about wages a little bit, but just to kind of drill down, there are anywhere between 240-360 staff members who don’t earn a living wage on campus. My understanding is that there are going to be proposals on implementing the living wage in term 3. Can you give us a bit of detail about what those proposals are going to look like, is it going to be Living Wage Foundation accreditation, and what’s your opinion on living wage as well?
SC: So those are people that you’ve identified who are below the living wage this year, they will have that money made up so they are at the living wage. That decision’s already been taken and that’s obviously a really important first step. The whole debate of course around Living Wage Foundation and their level has been transformed by the Chancellor in the Autumn and the discussion and the decision to implement the national wage. We as an institution have to respond to those two sets of issues: what the Living Wage Foundation is saying, and what the national wage will be doing as it comes in over the course of the next few years up to its “full amount” in 2020, and we’ll be doing that, and we’ll be looking to get ahead of that debate over the next few months. So why don’t I want to say more about it now? Because I want to have that debate in the various groups over that period of time, but we will want to come back and say something to the community as a whole as you say in the early part of the Summer Term.
CW: We reported in the Warwick Globalist last year that West Midlands Police had attempted to recruit an activist to become an informer, on campus, and to report on groups in the University. What’s Warwick’s policy on sharing information with the police, particularly regarding civil disobedience and protest groups, and are you concerned by such reports?
SC: I’m concerned by such reports, yes, absolutely concerned by such reports. It’s, in the way you have just described it, quite an uncomfortable story. So that is not something which a university should be facilitating and encouraging or anything of that sort. Going back partly to a theme of an earlier answer: people are adults, they’ll react and they’ll engage in different sorts of ways and if somebody has responded to some kind of pressure of that sort in some way then that’s the sort of thing that’s gunna happen. I don’t know more about that particular case personally, I’ve had no kind of connection with it, but I think one of the key things about a university and a community is that it’s open and transparent and that’s one of the things we’ve got to support. And the story as you have just described doesn’t seem to fit very comfortably in that regard.