A STUDENT group has criticised the cost of a ‘Garden Party’ farewell for departing Aberystwyth University Vice Chancellor Professor April McMahon. Making a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, the group learned that Aberystwyth University spent £843.65 on refreshments, with university staff serving and preparing the party.
The group, calling themselves ‘Ffrindiau Pantycelyn’ (Friends of Pantycelyn), campaign for re-opening Pantycelyn halls and on other university matters. A spokesperson for the group, Jeff Smith, told The Herald: “After the university insisted that money was scarce and this would endanger the re-opening of Neua dd Pantycelyn (Pantycelyn Hall of Residence), it defies all common sense that the university has paid nearly a thousand pounds to hold a farewell party for a Vice-Chancellor who has driven the university to the abyss. This is concerning for anyone who wants to see the university thrive, and we call on the university to invest wisely and keep to its true financial priorities, such as re-opening Neuadd Pantycelyn.”
Professor McMahon’s tenure as VC was controversial. According to Ffrindiau Pantycelyn, it was fraught with ‘accusations of bullying, sackings and a culture of fear’. The group contest that her tenure also coincided with a number of steep declines in the university’s rankings in league tables, along with a decline in the number of students applying to the university. Professor McMahon’s tenure officially ended this summer, with Professor John Grattan becoming the Acting Vice- Chancellor. Interviews for a new Vice- Chancellor are expected to be held on December 5 and 6.
Responding to Ffrindiau Pantycelyn on the subject of Professor McMahon’s farewell party, Aberystwyth University told the Herald: “When a senior member of staff leaves, it is normal practice to hold an event like this to mark the occasion and give colleagues an opportunity to bid a formal farewell. The university monitors all spend closely and these costs were in line with the institution’s guidelines.”
No photographs of the private party were available.
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION
Freedom of Information (FOI) requests have changed the landscape of civil society activism across the board in the UK in recent years. We asked Friends of the Earth’s Guy Shrubsole to explain them. Guy told us that FOIs can be a powerful tool to hold government and others to account. Famously, in 2010, an MP’s expenses scandal was uncovered through an FOI request. Other examples include the FOIs that exposed Defra’s redacted shale gas report, which warned of fracking ‘industrialising the countryside’; FOIs that revealed that climate sceptic, former Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson had turned down a briefing on climate science from the Met Office; FOIs showing that oil giant Exxon have been lobbying the Department for Transport against electric vehicles. After the 2015 general election, the Government set up a panel to review the FOI Act, seemingly with a view to ‘gutting it’. After a public outcry, that threat to the FOI Act receded.
However, Guy Shrubshole told us: “There are other threats to freedom of information – not least the civil service’s desire and ability to actually deliver it. Since Brexit, I’ve noticed a real slowdown in responses to my FOIs. An investigative journalist told me the same. Maybe it’s the added workload of Brexit, or maybe it’s the fact that government remains unwilling to fully embrace a culture of openness.
They maintain plenty of ‘exemptions’ to disclosing information they consider sensitive. Another threat to freedom of information may come from Brexit itself.
Thanks to the EU, since 2004, we’ve had a powerful set of Environmental Information Regulations (EIRs) that allow for particular access to information on pollution, the environment and emissions. It’s unclear whether Brexit will see those regulations slashed or kept.”
NEW VC MUST SPEAK WELSH
Getting back to tensions between Aberystwyth University and Welsh-speaking students, Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (the Welsh Language Society) are demanding that the new Vice Chancellor needs to be able to speak Welsh fluently in everyday work, and to understand the Welsh-speaking community in the university.
They contest that, although learning Welsh is a condition of appointment, April McMahon did not do so. Acting Vice Chancellor John is not fluent in Welsh. Elfed Wyn Jones, Chair of Cymdeithas yr Iaith’s Pantycelyn cell, said: “The only way to ensure that the next Vice-Chancellor is fluent in Welsh is to demand that fluency in Welsh is essential when advertising the job. There is no reason why the Welsh language should not be an essential skill to this job and others.” Cymdeithas yr Iaith students are also question the cost of the recruitment process for which, they claim, Aberystwyth University are unnecessarily using a head-hunting company.
Lecture considers the future of war
INTERNATIONALLY renowned war scholar and military conflict expert, Professor Christopher Coker delivered this year’s Kenneth N. Waltz Annual Lecture on Thursday (Nov 16).
Christopher Coker, Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science, is a prolific author on all aspects of war. He is a former NATO Fellow, a former twice serving member of the Council of the Royal United Services Institute, and a regular lecturer at Defence Colleges in the UK, US, Rome, Singapore, and Tokyo.
In his lecture entitled ‘Still ‘The Human Thing’? Thucydides, Waltz & the Future of War”, Professor Coker discussed war as a feature of what we call ‘human nature’ or ‘humanity’ in general, while focusing on urgent contemporary issues such as possible changes in the nature of war by the blurring of the distinction between humans and machines.
He also considered how, as Artificial Intelligence becomes ever more a fact of life, the traditional functions and forms of war could change, discussing such questions as: will we still need war and will war still need us?
Talking ahead of the the event, Professor Ken Booth of Aberystwyth University said: “Chris Coker is a very imaginative, interesting, and controversial thinker. Intellectually ambitious, he always addresses the biggest questions. The titles of some of his most recent books attest to this: Future War, Can War be Eliminated?, Warrior Geeks: how 21st Century Technology is Changing the Way We Fight and Think about War, The Improbable War: China, the US, and the Logic of Great Power Conflict and Men at War: what Fiction tells us about Conflict. We can be sure of a fascinating and challenging lecture about a supremely important area of human behaviour.”
The Kenneth N. Waltz Annual Lecture brings distinguished scholars to Aberystwyth to talk about issues that were central to the concerns of the late Ken Waltz, the leading theorist of international relations over many decades.
Hosted by the David Davies Memorial Institute and the Department of International Politics, this year’s lecture was held in the Main Hall in the International Politics Building on the Penglais Campus.
Youth Service invited to international training event
TWO Youth Workers from Ceredigion Youth Service have been selected to represent the UK on a week’s training opportunity in Horažd’ovice in the Czech Republic.
‘The danger of a Single Story’ is a training course funded by Erasmus+, that combines stories, media, global education and active citizenship to empower trainers, educators and youth workers with the tools to educate young people on issues such as cyberbullying, hate speech, and online harassment.
Elen James, Head of Youth Engagement and Continuing Education, said: “We are extremely proud of both Rebeca Davies and Guto Crompton, 270 people had applied, for 24 places, 2 were allocated for the UK and both places have been assigned to Ceredigion Youth Service staff.
“This is an excellent training opportunity for them, which will inform them and encourage them to reflect on the evolution of media and the consequences that it has on the formation of stereotypes and prejudices. We wish them all the best in Prague!”
Rebeca Davies and Guto Crompton will join 22 other Youth Workers from Cyprus, Czech Republic, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain and Turkey. The week will be hosted at the PROUD Environmental Centre approximately 120km from Prague, from Sunday (Nov 19) for a week.
Rebeca Davies, School Based Youth Worker said: “I’m really looking forward to visiting Prague, and meeting other Youth Workers from across the World. It will be a fantastic opportunity to learn new tools and techniques to encourage and empower young people back here in Ceredigion.”
Guto Crompton, School Based Youth Worker added: “I’m looking forward to learning more about different Youth Work methods and approaches. I’m also eager to develop a greater awareness around education, active citizenship and democracy.”
Cabinet member for Learning Services, Children and Young People’s Partnership, Councillor Catrin Miles, commented: “As a Council, we are very proud of the hard work of our Youth Service to the young people of the county. This will be a very important and worthwhile opportunity for Rebeca and Guto to represent Ceredigion and Wales and we wish them all the best at the event.”
Pot Noodles bought with theft proceeds
ON WEDNESDAY (Nov 15), Aberystwyth Magistrates’ Court heard that a 23-year-old man stole an HDMI cable from a store and sold it for a tenner to buy ten Pot Noodles.
Joel Alexander Owens, of Portland Street in Aberystwyth, pleaded guilty to stealing alcohol to the value of £24.96 belonging to his hometown’s B&M Bargains on June 29. He also admitted stealing an HDMI cable to the value of £14 belonging to Tesco in Aberystwyth on September 24.
Prosecuting, Helen Tench said a staff member at B&M was notified by a member of the public about a male who left the store without paying for items.
CCTV footage was checked, which showed Owens select a number of alcoholic items and leaving the store without making any payments.
Police officers later viewed the footage and identified the defendant.
On October 14, a member of staff at Tesco was informed of the incident at B&M. The Tesco CCTV footage was viewed as a result and the defendant was seen removing an HDMI cable from its box on September 24 and leaving without paying.
Ms Tench said Owens was interviewed on October 19, where he admitted committing the offences in his personal statement.
The defendant also admitted he sold the HDMI cable for £10 in order to buy ten Pot Noodles.
Defending, Katy Hanson said Owens pleaded guilty at the first opportunity and admitted to stealing beer and cider from B&M.
Probation officer Julian Davies stated that the defendant was currently serving a 12-month community order for two previous offences of theft and a breach of a conditional discharge.
Aberystwyth magistrates revoked Owens community order and imposed a 12-month community order with 20 rehabilitation activity requirement days and a four-week curfew.
Owens was told to pay prosecution costs of £85, compensation of £14 to Tesco and compensation of £24.96 to B&M Bargains.
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