Sunday, 25 January 2009

Letters

There was a Student lead meeting to discuss problems within the school.
This letter is as a response to student concerns bought to the executives by Colin.

"Hey Everyone,
I met Seona Reid, Allan Walker and Sarah Clark yesterday evening to talk about their response to the letter I sent. I have tried my best to outline the main issues we talked about, sorry if this seems a bit like a list...
They observed that the issues raised in my letter relate mostly to students in the School of Fine Art, while this is not exclusively the case, it is true that the concerns mentioned in the letter have for the most part been raised by students of the SoFA. It is certainly true that the resources available to Fine Art have been compromised to a far greater extent than resources available to the other schools.
This being the case, Seona and Allan asked why these issues had not been raised at the SoFA student/staff consultative committees and Board of Studies. I told them that they had been, but that these meetings are used predominantly to discuss academic issues, and I guess don't seem like the most natural forum for discussing the central financing of the departments, or the school as a whole. I also pointed out that these meetings took place much earlier in the term, when there were still a number of options being explored relating to (for example) staffing of the technical workshops in the Haldane Building. It seems to me that the concerns we have raised have been exacerbated by the amount of time that has elapsed since they were first raised, combined with a growing feeling that the directorate has not made suffiecient effort to address these concerns.
I also talked about the commonly held perception within the student body that the school's executive group and directorate are faceless and insufficiently accountable to students, that it consists of members of staff who have little or no contact with students or departmental staff, and that this lack of familiarity with the individual members of the executive leads students to question whether these members of staff can possibly act with their best interests at heart.
Seona and Allan seemed to concede that it is problematic for the heads of school to have so little contact with the student body, and that it is hardly surprising that students question the actions of the executive group when the are so unfamiliar with its members.
I proposed a kind of compromised proposal, where I suggested that a meeting is arranged between student representatives and Klaus Jung (both as Head of SoFa and a representative of the executive group) so that students have an opportunity to ask him about the financing of the SoFA, but also so he can answer questions about the central financing of the school as a whole.
I have not had the chance to ask Klaus about this, but I see no reason why my suggestion would be declined, as he met with students of Fine Art Photography earlier this term to discuss some issus that they were concerned about, and he has agreed in principle to meet with students of SEA. I will talk to him about it at the start of next week, and try to arrange a meeting as early in term 2 as possible.
I hope this seems reasonable,
let me know what you think.
kind regards,
Colin"

Students arranged to meet the head of fine art Klaus Jung to discuss more specific problems within there courses.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Student voice

Within recent meetings with the Representative of the student body, Colin McKean, the issues of communication were frequently brought to attention. As a result of these meetings Colin suggested that a good next step towards getting our voice heard would be to write a formal letter to the executives of the art school outlining our fears with the aim being to get a positive response and maybe some answers to our questions.

The two main points that we felt were most important was the transparency of the executive board as well as the accountability of all senior management within the art school. Here is the finished letter sent today before the meeting of the executives tomorrow which will hopefully bring to attention the need for there presence within the student body.

"I am writing on behalf of the student body, to inform the executive group of a number of concerns that have been raised by students over recent weeks and to request that these concerns are addressed. While these concerns have principally been raised by students of the School of Fine Art, they are by no means limited to students from that school, and echo concerns that were raised within the School of Design last year, regarding the decision to cease recruitment to the Ceramic Design pathway.

It has become apparent to students, since the start of term one that owing to a number of predominantly external factors, GSA is currently facing a very significant financial challenge. Students are becoming aware that greater demands are being placed on the school’s resources than ever before and are concerned about how this will impact their educational experience over the coming years.

Over the past months, staff have received two emails outlining the situation, and been invited to a meeting at which they were told the steps that were being taken by the institution to minimise the impact of the current financial situation. Following the last meeting of the Board of Governers, I requested that a similar meeting be held between the directorate and the student body, in order to inform students of the situation, and to answer any questions that they might have about it. This request was declined on the grounds that a meeting between the directorate and student body would undermine the heads of school. I then requested that the Director at least send an email to all students, similar to those addressed to staff, in order to inform them of the situation facing the school. While the Director agreed privately to do this at the time, I have been disappointed that no such email has since emerged.

Over the intervening period, there has been a growing feeling amongst the student body that the quality of the education the school will be able to provide over the coming years is significantly under threat, and that the institution has made no attempt to engage with, or address the concerns that students have raised about this.

Students are genuinely, and justifiably alarmed at a number of recent developments at the institution. They have returned from the summer vacation, or arrived to study here for the first time, to find that technicians have been redeployed in other departments, or are no longer employed by the school, workshops are closed, the school’s buildings are in a worsening state of disrepair and morale amongst the teaching staff is very low.

The concerns raised by students have all been significantly exacerbated by the general lack of information about the current financial situation, and the unwillingness the school has demonstrated to engage the student body over these issues.

I was pleased at the start of term that the Head of Fine Art agreed to meet with student representatives from Fine Art Photography to discuss a specific concern they had about their department. While there was never any possibility of revisiting the decisions that had been reached, students appreciated the opportunity presented to discuss the situation, and left the meeting satisfied that the action taken by the school was justified, if undesirable.

As the term has progressed, I have reported further concerns to the Head of Fine Art, relating to facilities used by students of the Sculpture and Environmental Art Departments and MFA. During a conversation between myself, the head of Fine Art and the UG Programme Leader I suggested that the head might take an opportunity to engage more broadly with the students of the Fine Art Department, to describe and explain the financial situation that has been adversely affecting their studies this year.

I was disappointed that this suggestion was rejected on the grounds that the head of Fine Art was reluctant to engage the student body in a situation that might invite questions regarding the central financing of the school.

I cite this example simply because it illustrates the central issue that this letter seeks to address: with whom can students raise concerns they have about decisions taken at a management, executive or directorate level within GSA?

There is a perception amongst the student body that decisions made by GSA’s most senior management are taken without due consideration for those currently studying at the school, and that the school’s executive and directorate do not operate with sufficient transparency or accountability to the student body, the school’s most significant stakeholders. Students are concerned that long-term strategic imperatives are considered at the expense of those who are currently invested in the institution, and are worried that an excessive institutional emphasis on long-term objectives is compromising the current student experience.

You will be aware that most recently the concerns of students have manifested themselves in a spontaneous protest on Open Day, and the publication of Mammogram magazine, which has asked questions about the way in which GSA operates. What these activities illustrate, is an increased awareness of, and desire to engage with the politics of education amongst the student body. At a time when resources are under threat, students are becoming more aware of how they value their education. When they know that greater external demands are being placed on the fees they have invested in the institution, they will become more demanding and critical of the way in which their fees are used by the institution internally. It is vital at this time that the student body can have faith that their money is being used wisely by GSA, and with their best interests at heart. At present students feel they have no such guarantee.

I would suggest to the Executive Group that the current situation can be used as an opportunity to find new ways for students to engage with the institution in a meaningful dialogue that might avoid repeats of the Open Day protest. I would propose the formation of a liaison committee between GSA’s executive group and the student body, comprising a small number of staff and student representatives, which meets once each term to inform students of issues discussed by the executive group, in order that students can feel better informed about decisions made by senior management and the operation of the institution as a whole.

In the school’s promotional material and strategic plan, GSA frequently celebrates its status as a small, specialist institution, its dynamism, courage and sense of community. I would request that the Executive Group consider the issues that students have raised, and find a way of addressing them that capitalises on the qualities, instead of perpetuating the negatives with a wall of silence. Students are demanding a greater sense of ownership of their education, and a greater influence over it. I would argue that this can only been seen as a positive and desirable thing, and that it should be accommodated and encouraged by the school.

Colin McKean
1 December 2008"

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Whats going on in the art school?

Mammogram magazine is a great format to help improve communication between students within the art school and help to get us all organised. In the current issue there is an article titled 'Whats going on in the art school'. This article encapsulates the growing need for a unified voice to get ourselves heard by the management that are, at present, detached from the students that their choices eventually affect as well as bringing 2 tutors views too the table. Here is the article for you to read if you haven't been able to get hold of the second issue of the magazine (There will be more copy's available next week in the vic, library and the ref).

"

What is going on in the Art School?

There is, although I usually try not to admit it, a small sense of pride in being part of the Art School. As places go, there’s definitely a brilliant range of characters. But by the end of last year, I started to think that something was missing. It’s not that we’re not political, or that we don’t care. It just seems that there isn’t (or if there is, I haven’t found it) a space in which students can come together to voice their opinions.

Last year we experienced the closure of the Ceramics Department. This year technicians and other valuable members of staff have been made redundant. We’ve been told that the School has to cut corners to cover the cost of electricity and gas bills. Fair enough. But I think it’s important that we know what’s going on at the School and have a chance to participate in the internal politics of the GSA. It’s quite na├»ve, but I see this place as a bit of a haven. We’re working in relatively free time, in subjects that we’re interested in. For me it’s a bit of a shock to realize that decisions concerning our courses can be made by people or circumstances outside the immediate framework and without the input even without informing those it concerns, among others, namely, us, the students.


An Interview with Ray McKenzie.

In three years the bulldozers will arrive and everything apart from the Mac will be resituated in one new building on Renfrew Street. How do you feel about this?

The Mac will still be the focus of the campus. 50 million pounds have been secured for the new building, so we now have to come up with the designs and get planning permission. One option is to demolish everything on the other side of the road: the student union, the Newbury tower and the Foulis building. They haven’t made up their minds yet whether to keep the Foulis, and it will be a major decision because they did a lot of work on it recently.

There’s no need for anxiety about changing the campus. It will be a vast improvement. One of the arguments was, that with the School campus being as dispersed as it is now, in the long run it will cost us more money if we don’t invest in major improvements now.

In any case, I’ll be long gone and you’ll be long gone by the time its finished in 2014. But it’s a move that’s got to be made. What kind of impact this is going to make on the student experience is worth thinking about. I can only speak for myself, but this [the Mac] is an incredible building, and I can’t imagine a more stimulating architectural environment to work in. All the more recent buildings feel like municipal architecture ­­– soulless, bland corridors and little white boxes as studios. It’s hard to stimulate an art school ethos in a place that looks like that.

How do you feel about all the tourists coming into the Mac and the extension of the museum?

It’s a serious problem, but I don’t want to be too critical. Some of the choices that were made recently are intelligent. We get a lot of money through tourism and some would even say because the Mackintosh is so revered in the history of architecture, the world has got a right to see it. It’s a question of balance. If you’re in the Mackintosh Library, the tourists are very intrusive, but in some ways this is the price we have to pay for working in such a brilliant building. There will also be the Visitor Centre in the new building, so there’ll be less disruption. It shouldn’t intrude on student life too much, but we will always have to make compromises.


How do you think the art school changed in the time that you’ve worked here?

Oh, now I’m being cast in the role of the oldest guy in the place! It’s definitely changed for the better, though it seems to me that some of the changes have been less desirable. Most obviously, the school is bigger now. I started in 1976 and that was the tail end of a period when everybody knew everybody. Now I go to staff meetings and half the people I’ve never seen before. My biggest complaint is that our educational goals are coming after purely managerial considerations. Obviously there has to be management, but we have gradually become managerially top-heavy, and that is not necessarily a good thing.

The party line you’ll get from management is that they’re here to support teaching. But now jobs are on the line, and one by one we’re loosing academic staff. It’s a process of attrition – a lecturer here, a technician there – and suddenly we find the undergraduate programme has deteriorated. Two or three years ago there was a document that gave a breakdown of staff statistics, and for the first time there was more non-academic staff than academic staff. That seemed to indicate a shift in the priorities of the school. Undergraduate teaching has become a second-class activity under-staffed, under-resourced and working in an environment where water dripping through the roof is something that has to be put up with as a matter of routine.


Does the teaching staff have any power?

Well, they ought to. We have our own staff union. Until recently we were members of Educational Institution of Scotland (EIS). We felt that they weren’t doing as much as they could for us, so a huge bunch resigned and joined the University and Colleges Union (UCU). In doing that we are not the recognized union for the school. Even though the EIS is tiny, it is still the official union. A couple of years ago we had a dispute where we boycotted any marking during degree time. We’d done the marking but withheld the results. In the end we got a pay rise linked to the Retail Price Index (RPI), which has drastically increased, and that has put another strain on the School. With the increase in bills this has been a bit of a double whammy for the school.


How do you think students could gain more political initiative?

It’s really difficult because it’s part of the post-Thatcher legacy that seems to have induced an amount of apathy. About 15 years ago there was a guy called Richard Jobson, he’s a broadcaster now. He had already achieved minor celebrity as a member of Scotland’s only punk band, from Dundee, I think, called The Skids. Now he’s a broadcaster and cultural ‘commentator’. Anyway, at that time he made a film in which he said: “I’m going round interviewing people to find out what gets young people out of their beds, and I have to report there’s not much evidence there.” He looked at it squarely in this Thatcherite context. Dismantling of industry, privatisation of education, and all the rest. He came to the School and interviewed students in the Vic, and somehow managed to present them in a way that confirmed his view that the dominant mood in the student population today is apathy – that Thatcher did such a good job of dismantling the social cohesion that used to energise people to take action, that people now just shrug and say: ‘We can’t change anything – what’s the point in trying. We just want to get on and get our degrees, and to hell with everyone else.’ I was livid when I saw how he had twisted the interviews to prove his point, and yet in some ways he was right. We are still living with the Thatcher legacy and all the damage it has done to education and community and all the old ideas of political empowerment. But there are student who refuse to accept it and these are the ones we should be supporting.


The plan

What we originally proposed to do was to organize a meeting or discussion with Seona Reid and the executive group who make the decisions. In response to our request Seona said that, instead of having a meeting, she would write an email to all students discussing the economic situation.

Sending students an email is a positive first step in communicating with students but does not address student concerns. Such as how the school is run, the ambitions of GSA and how they effect us all.

I expect that an email out lining the difficulties that the school is having will ultimately lead to more questions. We have our own concerns and require an opportunity to ask and discuss what we want from the undergraduate courses. The next step for students, is to talk about what we want. So on Thursday 13th November, at 5.00pm in the Vic we will be having a student meeting in which we can discuss concerns. What we aim to get out of the meeting is a proposal from students to all members of the executive group requesting some sort of discussion or opportunity to have our questions answered. We will be organizing a representative from the UCU teacher union to come to our meetings and sending a representative to theirs, so we’re kept up to date with what is going on. If you are interested in helping out with any organising or want to know more before the student meeting, please email mammogram at mammogram@gmx.co.uk"

Please think about leaving your comments and views on this article and your opinions about how the art school is being run. What changes do you think need to be made? What would you say to management if you could have the chance?