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"

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?


walker44444 said...

Maybe Seona Reid could send an email to students explaining why she gave herself such a large pay rise last year and how this is offset by redundancies for technicians and tutors as stated in tbis interview. Perhaps its time for old fogies like MacKenzie to step down gracefully as they cannot seem to spear the fundamental targets when given interview inches.


walker44444 said...
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