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Officer update - Management meeting with University

Published on 15th October 2020 at 17:30.

Your officers met with University management today. Here are the main questions and answers from that meeting.

We mentioned the open letter organised by Brighton Banter, in which lots of students had raised the question of being reimbursed by the University.
University management said that the Brighton Banter open letter had been received by them this morning, and they would CC us into the response, but they needed to discuss it.

We asked about students wanting to be let out of their accommodation contracts early.
The University responded that this will have to be passed through Council due to a high cost implication.

Members of senior management said that they were disappointed with us for organising the Renters Rally and felt that some of the claims we made in the promo video were unfair - in particular over unlimited fines and the fact that students were misled into thinking things would be ‘as close to normal’ as possible. They say that it was made clear that things would not be normal.

We responded that, actually, it wasn’t clear if fines were unlimited now, but certainly we had been told by members of other University teams that unlimited fines could be applied (although the top fine would be £100). Also, we felt that students did feel misled, and that University communications were projecting a normality of sorts, even if learning would be ‘blended’: that campus would still be vibrant and fun, and safe. Now many students either have Covid, are in isolation, or are otherwise lonely due to the lack of in-person social provision on campus.

Students have asked: by what power have fines been implemented?
The fines policy was a recommendation from University Council.

Jayne Aldridge, Director of Student Experience said (paraphrased): The only person who can issue a fine is someone in security and the administration comes out the next day. There is an appeal mechanism for that, as well, on the basis of mistaken identity. It’s for security, on the spot, you know clearly there’s fifty of you here, and you’re now going to be issued with a fine. We check in the backdrop if it’s the first or third time which determines whether or not it’s £50 or £100. After the third fine, it goes through to the student discipline process. It’s about what’s reasonable and proportionate. 

There may be another way of appealing a fine, and there is some question over the extent to which fines could be ‘unlimited’ or not, but nobody at the meeting was totally sure about this.

Use of Body Cams by University security teams:
The officers inquired about the use of body cams by university security teams and explained our longstanding reservations with this provision. We explained that this adds to the wider securitisation and surveillance culture on campus and specifically impacts racially marginalised and some faith communities even worse. We asked the university what training and guidance has been put in place for staff to use these cams and what data protocol would they be following. The university has agreed to giving us a run down of how these systems and processes work. This would help us probe and scrutinise better and identify any risks and threats to our student communities. 

Housing Room Reallocation:
Where students are asking to be reallocated to a different flat, in cases where it’s easy and students can be moved within a course bubble, Housing are trying really hard to relocate people. Obviously this has been limited due to the need for students to be isolating recently.

Congrats on the University’s food package for students who are isolating
Members of the University team were pleased that students were pleased with this provision and claimed that they want to earn more ‘thank you’s.

Longer-term loans of computer equipment:
In previous meetings we had discussed the potential for small grants to students to allow them to buy equipment they may need to access online learning. Jayne Aldridge said once again that this was being looked into and she would update Connor on this as soon as possible.

What is the guidance for turning cameras on in class?
There’s no correlation between turning your camera on in class and other repercussions such as not being allowed to continue your course or anything like that. If people are being told this, maybe they can consider getting in touch with us and we’ll help to communicate with the person or investigate further. We can send guidance out to students about how to blur their backgrounds out and things like that. Nobody should be making you feel like you have to turn your screen on - there are no formal repercussions.

Minibus service from the last period of industrial action - update from SEF:
We can’t afford to reinstitute the minibus service which transported students with disabilities during the period of industrial action in 2019-2020, as it cost £240 a day and was hardly ever used during the industrial action period. If you’re on campus, you can use Brighton & Hove buses to get around campus for free - and these are mostly accessible. However, at the moment they don’t go all the way across campus due to the works on Refectory Road. Soon the University will open up a new road past East Slope in December which will be better for accessibility (Refectory Road). This will allow Brighton & Hove buses to get all the way through campus.

See all our meeting updates