From controversy to obscurity: Whatever happened to Whose University?

Anna Carruthers 13 November 2015

As a new student campaign, Zero Carbon, launched last week, The Cambridge Student investigates whatever happened to last year’s big splash: ‘Whose University?’.

The Whose University? Campaign (WU?), founded in November 2014, aims to challenge colleges for their perceived prioritisation of business and conference interests over student needs.

Relying heavily on testimonials, it caused some controversy in the student press and provoked condemnation from King’s College senior figures.

The campaign appears to have quietened significantly in recent months, and receives no press attention. Yet, one of its projects, the ‘Subject Solidarity’ facebook page, is still being used by Cambridge students.

Backed by CUSU Women’s Campaign, WU? last year heavily involved the then women’s officer Amelia Horgan, as well as former living wage Officer Daisy Hughes, who wrote supportive articles for the Huffington Post. However, both have since left office or graduated.

According to a source, WU? is “at present” in a “process of transition.” The current women’s officer, Charlotte Chorley, when contacted by TCS said she was “unsure of the present state of the campaign.”

The last update on the official WU? Facebook page was a change in cover photo on the 1 September 2015.

The last post containing content was on the 13 August, concerning Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner’s response to David Lammy’s criticism of Cambridge colleges’ welfare provision. The post stated: “It's a shame to see our (very likely student-elected) local mp explicitly denying the problems students face with Cambridge's welfare provisions.”

However, WU?’s ‘Subject Solidarity’ Facebook group remains very much active with posts as recent as 1 November. 

In March, Daisy Hughes told Blewswire that these “solidarity networks” allowed students to "offer and seek help and support each other in so many incredible ways we could never have expected.” Hughes remains the sole admin of this group.

The WU? campaign at Oxford University has also seen a lack of interest recently. The last post to its Facebook page was on 12 June 2015.

One of the main focuses of WU? was the variation between colleges on students being allowed to remain in their rooms over vacations. TCS has recently learnt that, at the very least, Christs’, Emmanuel, Magdalene, Peterhouse and Selwyn students are asked to vacate their rooms outside of full term as standard practice.

Magdalene’s policy is in a process of transition, and at their most recent JCR Open meeting the idea of being allowed to leave belongings in rooms was raised by the welfare and equal opportunities Officer. The JCR is investigating alternative policies.

King's College

The WU? campaign proved controversial within the University, especially within King’s College, the subject of several testimonials. Tensions initially arose in December 2014 when WU? set up a ‘Cambridge Holiday Help Out’ Facebook group with the aim of creating a marketplace in which students could offer or request vacation storage space.

This page aimed to help those students for whom moving their possessions back home was not feasible, either financially or practically. In March, Daisy Hughes described it and similar initiatives as “reclaiming this university for people it is currently excluding.”

The Lay Dean of King’s College, Dr Paul Ryan, reacted by sending an email to King’s students stating: “I would like to remind you that […] you are not allowed to store anyone else’s belongings in your room."

“I will take disciplinary action against any student who is found to have ignored the rule.”

Dr Ryan later issued a rebuttal to an article by former trainee History teacher from Cambridge, Adam Robertson, on Open Democracy. He highlighted the fact that income from external events subsidies student costs and that in doing away with them “charges to undergraduates would have to be much higher than at present.”

He called the campaign “ill-informed and tendentious”. WU? reacted by saying “it is not for the privileged to define or deny others’ experiences of marginalisation.”

WU?’s first open meeting also caused a mini media storm. The Tab journalists ran a piece afterwards describing it as “circle jerking” and had a headline comparing “110 minutes” with WU? to “masturbating with a cheese-grater”. The headline has subsequently been changed.

The aims of the campaign were lofty. A campaign statement emphasised that “we will make change. We will hold out university and colleges to account.”

One area in which WU? did find success was in providing past exam papers to students affected by last year’s server glitch.