Today, I take a detour from my normal discussion to write my first non-theatre related post in a long time. It’s not often I do this, as I find it more fruitful to leave the political, literary, historical, philosophical rants to others more qualified than myself, whilst I get on with my slightly-less-unqualified theatrical musings.
But today I’m angry. Not in my usual “annoyed at society and its systems in general” kind of way, but properly, passionately livid. Those who know me are used to my daily rants and general frustrations, but this this time it’s slightly different. This time I actually feel my contribution can make a change. This time I am excited about the possibilities. I keep getting giddy when I think of the power of a blog post. So here I sit, hammering away at the keyboard, clinging on to the idea that these words could make a difference.
On Thursday, a few newspapers (Times Higher Education Supplement, Evening Standard, The Daily Telegraph and The Daily Mail – note the lack of left-leaning publications) reported details of pay increases to vice-chancellors from Russell Group universities, with an average raise of 4.1% during the 2011-12 year. The biggest winner was Nigel Thrift, of my own Warwick University, who ‘earned’ a 21% increase of £42’000, taking his pay-packet to £288’000.
This is at a time when most university staff have been given an extra £150, departments are being cut back and new student are being charged £9000.
Defenders of these wage increases argue that running “complex, multi-million pound organisations that succeed on a global stage” requires a healthy salary. Wasn’t the salary healthy enough already? It has been argued that, since Thrift has had his pay frozen since 2008, he deserves a larger increase now. But this negates the point of that action, turning it from a pay freeze into delayed compensation.
Let’s put that £42’000 into context. As things stand, it would pay for almost 5 students to study at Warwick in a year (an appallingly low number anyway, but that debate’s for another day). It would pay for around 2500 course books for our understocked library or a new space in which societies can hold events. We could buy new equipment for labs, fund more research projects or invest in bursaries for disadvantaged students.
Instead we give it to a rich man.
A rich man who, though he promised Warwick would get into the top 50 universities in the world, let it slip to 58 on his watch. A rich man who prefers to invest university funds in unnecessary coffee bars instead of useful academic materials. A rich man who has claimed over £100’000 in travel expenses over the past three years.
This is unacceptable.
This news almost passed us by. It was reported on Thursday and for the entire weekend no one at the university said anything. On Monday morning, however, the word started to spread on Twitter. George Want wrote a piece at lunchtime. News continued to spread until, at around 10 o’clock, Facebook fired into gear. First came angry statuses. Then news of coverage in The Boar, Warwick’s student newspaper. Finally,a petition was set up calling for answers.
Some kind of valid explanation seems like the best place to start. At the moment, no properly watertight and morally sound argument has been put forward by spokespeople to explain why Nigel Thrift (or other VCs for that matter) has had this rise in wages while other members of staff see no such remuneration and the university stagnates.
If an answer comes through which is logical, considered, fair and truthful, then we leave it at that. Somehow, however, I doubt that will happen. If no such answer is forthcoming, we will continue to demand a lowering of this rise to a more sensible figure or a promise of improved output.
This blog post is only the beginning. In order for this to have any effect, more people need to get angry, sign the petition and voice their concerns. If you have anything to say, please don’t stay silent. For the first time in my short life, I feel like activism in which I am involved can have a genuine effect.
Nigel Thrift isn’t working. He needs to be held to account.