Recently, the University of Manchester’s Student Union has passed a vote of no confidence against Vice-Chancellor Nancy Rothwell; the vote elicited a strong 89% agreement that the student body has “no confidence” in the Vice-Chancellor, and other leaders. With an 13% turnout (roughly similar to Newcastle SU Election turnout), this accounts for 4,590 students who expressed concern with the university's senior leadership.
The campaign #NoMoreNancy was instigated in November, when over 400 signatures were obtained to trigger the referendum, urging Nancy Rothwell to step down over her “complete failure of management”; this is the first time this motion has been taken in Manchester’s 200 years of history.
Manchester University’s board of governors retorted to the vote, expressing their “full confidence” in Nancy Rothwell and senior leadership. Frustratingly, the vote is non-binding - whilst it applies pressure on Rothwell (and other leaders) to resign their positions, ultimately the vote has no concrete legal impact. This said, rather than just apologising (its tactic so far), Manchester's management will be under extreme pressure to introduce real reform. In the week since the vote of no confidence, Manchester students have been organising sit-ins on campus, applying further pressure.
#NoMoreNancy goes beyond kicking Rothwell and other scheming staff out of Manchester: it makes very overdue democratic demands, including for the positions of Vice-Chancellor, Faculty Heads, School Heads, and Department Heads to be elected by students.
It’s looking more likely that this crescendo of pressure on Rothwell may cause her to leave, however the effects of these recent actions are yet to be seen. This recent news may also cause students at other universities to consider action against their own institution's leadership, including at Newcastle.
Newcastle students have expressed anger and disappointment at how their institution has treated them, particularly over the course of the past year, and much of this disgruntlement is aimed at the notorious Vice-Chancellor Chris Day. We are still angry over October’s Cyber Attack, the university’s inaccessibility, and their blatant disregard for students’ mental health, among a myriad of other issues.
Should Newcastle University Students Union be pressing for a vote of no confidence in Vice-Chancellor Chris Day? I'd be confident that such a vote would trigger a high proportion of 'yes' agreements from students. As Newcastle's issues over the past few months haven't had the same level of notoriety as Manchester's have, does that make them less significant? Perhaps, but this shouldn't stop students everywhere demanding for more democratic and accountable university management teams and systems.
It feeds into the question as to what extent these problems have been exasperated by or even occurred because of the pandemic, and how much we slack we offer senior leadership as a result. Though COVID-19 certainly had an impact, I still believe the ineptitude of Newcastle's management had a significant hand in the issues students have contended with over the last year.
Regardless of if we see NoMoreNancy prevail, Newcastle students should still consider holding a no confidence referendum against Chris Day and fellow senior leadership staff.