The position is Vice President (Access and Academic Affairs) and the candidate is Catherine Jones (n.b. I have blogged how Catherine has received my vote). Other candidates for this position have received that same offer, indeed Eden Bailey (Right to Education slate) had her comment piece published online on Tuesday.
At 9:13 pm on Wednesday, the editors of the Cherwell, Ella Richards and Samuele Volpe, sent the following email to Cat;
One of the comment eds has just forwarded an edited version on to us.
Having a look, I'm afraid we can't publish the article in its current form. The original offer was for a 800 word comment piece on a manifesto point over the weekend; this is a bit different.
This election has been notable in its lack of negative campaigning and the current piece in that context comes across as overly aggressive in a manner that Cherwell can't platform. While the sections about your own work are strong, the overall tone is starkly negative and out of joint with the other comment pieces written by candidates thus far.
If you can rewrite the piece to focus primarily on your manifesto and experience then we would be more than happy to publish it and publicise Twitter first thing tomorrow.
Apologies and please let us know if there's anything we can help with,
Ella and Sam
I find this response bizarre for a number of reasons. Firstly, until now, I don't think anyone has been more critical (or as people are so keen to rebrand scrutiny these days 'negative') than me. Yet this afternoon, Ella solicited another comment piece from me for Cherwell. My negativity obviously isn't that bad. Secondly, there's a giant elephant in the room. Ella Richards is a candidate in this election, running for NUS Delegate with the Right to Education slate. A clear conflict of interest, as Eden (the only VP Access and Academic Affairs candidate to have a Cherwell comment piece published at the time I am writing this) is also running on the Right to Education slate.
Before the polls opened, I spoke to Robert Walmsley, Deputy Editor at Cherwell, and also NUS Delegate for the Right to Education slate, asking how the potential conflicts of interest would be dealt with. I was informed that both Ella and Rob would have nothing to do with Cherwell's election coverage.
We now know that not to be true. Ella has asked me to provide comment for Cherwell, but much more seriously, she has made the decision to deprive a candidate of the opportunity to put forward their opinions, because they are 'starkly negative'.
It should be noted that Cats article was over the 800 word limit set by Cherwell, and also that they have given Cat the opportunity to rewrite her article. However this is not very helpful, just 20 hours before the close of polls, and 2 days after Cat's competitor's article was published.
It is because of this that I have decided to publish Cat's article, so that it can be seen. I don't have the reach of Cherwell - nowhere near it - but its my attempt to redress the balance. I hope you will trust me when I say I would have done this for any candidate, had they contacted me with similar concerns. What worries me is that genuine debate and criticism is being stifled because people are too worried about seeming 'negative'. It's also hypocritical. Everyone seems to be more than happy to lay into Cameron, Clegg or Miliband when they have a stupid idea, but to expect the best of our own representatives - well that's going too far. The Oxford student establishment needs to get a grip quickly, and realise how democracy REALLY works. Because the fact is, being nice all the time doesn't give you the best.
Correction: Robert Walmsley has been in touch with me to say that he only intended to refer to the election supplement that Cherwell produced last week, which neither he nor Ella wrote, and that he did not intend to speak beyond that.
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‘Calling out the crap’ - the race for OUSU VP AcAff
Hi, I’m the ‘C’ in teamABC. My name is Cat and I’m one of four candidates for OUSU Vice President for Access and Academic Affairs.
I had hoped live husts and the recording of central hustings would have made the strongest candidates clear by this stage. However, poor turnout and OUSU’s failure to upload anything from central hustings has meant that this is not the case. This position is still too close to call.
To quote Jack Matthews’ recent Cherwell article, “If you haven’t even got the courage to call out your opponents on the policy proposals you know to be hollow and misplaced, how are you going to have the strength to take on a room full of Oxford Dons, and win for students? … Call out the crap, support the superb, and give students a debate they can get interested in”.
There is one day left of this election but here goes…
I would summarise Eden’s policies as well-intentioned, but misleading. Take her recent article in the Cherwell. Eden raises the important issue of the difference in the proportion of men and women achieving firsts, and implies that that the solution lies in changing the curriculum in humanities subjects.
Having had weekly discussions with the main researcher in this area (Dr Jane Mellanby, who sits on the University’s gender panel) and begun my own report on this, I can confidently state that the gender gap is not as polarised as Eden portrays. Eden’s focus on the curriculum in humanities is positive but flawed. The gender gap is an issue in SOME humanities subjects and SOME sciences. The evidence simply doesn’t support her claims. She overlooks and oversimplifies key issues.
As passionate as I believe she is, she is inexperienced. Read her manifesto carefully - she has done no access work at all. Her inexperience is leading to her making false claims. Take the hust at St Johns. She stated that Reach scholarships are not income assessed, and wants to ‘change’ this. She also offered, at Corpus Christi, to introduce meetings of Access Reps. These would be great policies. However, they already happen.
Her manifesto also states that she will support candidates from ‘flagged’ backgrounds. For those who don’t know, being a ‘flagged’ candidate means that you have either attended a low achieving school, live in a deprived postcode area, or have been in care. Eden outlines that in 2012 and 2013, 41 offer holders from these backgrounds withdrew before making it to Oxford. Like Eden, I want to support these offer holders.
However, in previous husts, Eden suggested that the main reason these candidates withdrew from the application process was due to perceptions that they are not ‘wanted’ by Oxford. Her solution? Send welcome e-mails and packs to these candidates. These pupils have had multiple points of contact with the university, including several days here during interviews and many colleges already send welcome emails. They are not withdrawing from their offers lightly. Whilst I respect her concern for this issue, I feel this superficial remedy is well intentioned but naïve, verging on patronising towards disadvantaged pupils facing huge barriers.
Greg’s idea of updating and increasing the accessibility of the underused alternative prospectus, and collating more admissions information online is great. However, Greg has misled voters, by falsely claimed on his campaign Facebook page that ‘Rustication has not even been mentioned by the other candidates in this election. Among thousands of words of manifesto pledges and 15+ hours of hustings, I'm the only candidate talking about students suspending.’
Sorry but no. Rustication policy is in my manifesto and is something I am fiercely passionate about. I have already taken steps to try and address this in my own college as part of Pembroke’s rustication policy working group last year. I thank him for correcting his post at my request.
He also rightly highlights mental health as a key issue in rustication. This is something I have personal experience of and it is a key focus of my team.
To her credit, Flora has been involved in lots of Access work in Oxford. However, like Greg, Flora has misled voters, with her claiming in our hust at St Peters to be the only candidate promising to stop and review the current situation.
Again, no. Greg promises to ensure our outreach is evidence based, and I pledge to review best practice. Whilst we have all identified this as important, I believe I am the candidate with the experience and skills to conduct the research most effectively. I am currently Monitoring and Evaluation Officer for tutoring charity Jacari and have lots of experience of data collection and analysis. I will be playing a similar role for my own Uganda based scholarship charity assessing what works and what doesn’t.
Flora and I both pledge lecture recordings and an extension of library opening hours – these are ongoing battles and need someone with a track record of winning through committees. I have been on the Pembroke Development committee, academic committee, the Target schools committee and the Jacari committee. I have established Pembroke’s first ambassador scheme and increased the access budget. On lecture recording in particular, I am in a position to present strong evidenced arguments as I report on the benefits of technology in education later this term. As I hope this article demonstrates, I am not afraid to cut through hollow arguments and will therefore be able to advocate strongly for students on the 30+ committees the winner of this election will sit on.
I will provide resources for common rooms to run road trips to their access regions and create a university-wide database to match volunteers to initiatives by subject and region. Year 12s need subject specific information, ideally from local students they relate to. The current system makes this difficult by dividing volunteers by college. This is irrelevant to most access-background Year 12s, who often don’t know what a college is.
There are huge disparities between colleges in terms of how long students are permitted to stay during the vacations. St Johns’ students are entitled to twenty-one days’ vacation grant for academic purposes, whilst Pembroke grant nothing.
I am not going to claim that you should vote for me because my ideas are unique. There is a lot overlap in our pledges because they are things that need to change at Oxford. I am going to ask you to vote for me because I have the experience to do the best job with these pledges.
People who are voting because of personal contacts have already done so. Let’s not make this about who can knock on the most doors. If you haven’t yet voted, or weren’t planning to, please think carefully about who will make the strongest representative and successfully implement the changes discussed.
Polls close at 6pm today
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N.B. I don't actually agree with everything Cat says in her comment article, and it does not represent my views or opinions.
Eden Bailey's comment piece can be found HERE on Cherwell.
Out of fairness, I will also publish or link to Greg and Flora's comment pieces if and when they are put on Cherwell.
*** GREG'S COMMENT PIECE ***
I'm Greg – the independent candidate running to be your VP for Access and Academic Affairs.
I suspect anyone at the many hustings this week struggled to pick a clear winner for the position. Cat, Eden, Flora and myself all have plenty of relevant experience, so it's tempting to claim that any of us would do a great job. But I’ve just read Cat's snappily entitled “Calling out the crap”, and it's time for me also to scrutinize my competitors a little more closely.
I genuinely appreciate much of what Eden has to say. Her manifesto pledges barely overlap with those the rest of us have made and I'm glad she has presented these different ideas. But her statistics can be misused and not fully understood, for example in a headline policy related to flagged offer-holders, she quotes a different figure to the University’s official statistics (pages 41-46), further rendered meaningless by the lack of a comparison figure for non-flagged students. Cat points out she proposes introducing meetings between JCR access reps that already exist. These together lead me to question her ability and credibility in arguing persuasively and accurately on behalf of students.
Cat’s article focused extensively on Eden, so I’ll now turn the spotlight onto Cat and Flora. I think they offer little in the way of new suggestions, and of what is original, there’s good reason it’s not done already. Bold claim? I'll start with access.
Cat’s big new idea is to create a way to contact students studying from a certain region who study a specific subject, to help organise access events. So essentially, another mailing list, subdivided in a special way. It would be good, but all it will do is streamline existing processes. Students involved in access already receive emails asking for this kind of help.
Flora envisions a “digital access scheme”, where presentations about studying at Oxford will be delivered live over the internet to school groups. This addresses a real issue where those unable to travel to Oxford miss out on crucial information. However, in my manifesto I suggest filming open day talks and putting them online, accessible to all at any time. My proposal thus eliminates the problem which Flora’s addresses, but without presentations having to be repeated for each individual school.
An advantage of live online conversations would be the ability to ask questions. However, my proposed 'Ask a Student' feature within a new Alternative Prospectus website would enable questions to be asked at any time, not just during the presentation. The new Alternative Prospectus website is one of my big ideas, whereby the current pdf is replaced by a easily findable website with more information and features. For example, I’d put more interview questions online, with an indication as to the imperfect sort of answer expected. Currently schools with lots of applicants build up large banks of past questions, giving their students an advantage I wish to level.
A bolder policy of mine relates to the many gifted individuals who simply don’t consider applying to Oxford. It's unrealistic to assume schools will direct towards us the exceptional students they see only every couple of years. I would lobby the government for access to the information that would enable Oxford to directly contact outstanding students from schools/areas/backgrounds from which students rarely apply - for example we could personally invite such students to the UNIQ Summer School.
Onto academic affairs. Both Flora and Cat want us to believe they might succeed in extending library opening hours, something previous incumbents have already pushed strongly for. When campaigning for increased vacation residence (one of Cat’s policies) it’s hard to see why colleges would listen to OUSU more than they do their JCRs. Flora has given no indication of how she’d persuade tutors to give ‘more concrete academic feedback’, while Cat also recognises issues in the quality of some teaching, but her ‘report on best practice’ even sounds fluffy, and my experience of writing such a document as JCR Academic Affairs Officer is that tutors will rarely, if ever, change on account of generic advice.
My approach is to make departments publish both feedback received and actions taken as a result. This visibility would create accountability to student feedback, as departments will not want to be seen as unresponsive, and if they do nothing, there’d be evidence to be presented to higher university authorities.
Finally, rustication. Each year one thousand Oxford students suspend their studies. Each of us would continue campaigning for the rights of students suspending, on which there’s a long way to go. However I'm uniquely proposing that OUSU also investigate the root causes of intermission. This can't be done in colleges because the numbers are small, but across the whole university I anticipate clear trends would emerge. Only then could we take effective preventative action, confronting the underlying issues so that fewer students are forced to rusticate.
So that’s policy, but there’s something else important. A massive part of this job is representing students on around 30 university committees. Most people would dread it, but not me. I am (to the best of my knowledge) unique among the candidates in reading minutes of the University’s education committee. See too my research on the Norrington table’s correlation with college wealth from before I even arrived in Oxford - it’s this sort of nerdiness and drive to present persuasive and reasoned arguments that would enable me to win the biggest gains for you in these committees.
I think this is going to be a close election. And with very likely a very low turnout, your vote counts very much. Voting takes about 60 seconds at http://ow.ly/EvgZb, closing 6pm today. Over to you.
Eden Bailey’s manifesto.
Cat Jones’s manifesto.
Flora Sheldon’s manifesto.
*** END OF GREG'S COMMENT PIECE***