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Monday 7 December 2009
Letters: University funding
University chiefs in funding row must resign now
On 20 November, the Higher Education Funding Council for England delivered this ultimatum to the governors and several senior managers at London Metropolitan University: you have six days to consider your positions. The deadline for their resignations has now passed, but the governors and executive all remain in place.
The executive members' obduracy comes as no surprise, but the governors' failure to serve the institution's interests by resigning aptly demonstrates their lack of moral integrity and their abdication of institutional trusteeship.
These are the people, remember, who failed to temper the university management's dictatorial style and allowed them to get away with providing false data to HEFCE concerning student completions. This resulted in the overpayment of £36m to the university. The situation regarding the inaccurate data provided to HEFCE is so serious that we wonder, along with at least one MP, whether there should be a legal investigation.
As a group of London Met academics, administrators, and union officials, we very much welcome the appointment of the new Vice-Chancellor, Malcolm Gillies, but his position is undermined until responsibility is assumed for the catalogue of incompetence identified in the reports. The governors, the executive group members identified by HEFCE – and some of their colleagues – must go, and go immediately.
Dr David Hardman, London Met UCU City Campus Branch Chair; Peter Cambridge,
London Met UCU Health & Safety Officer;
Mark Campbell,Chair of London Met UCU;
Veronica Diesen, UCU rep for Sir John Cass Dept of Art, Media, and Design;
Dr William Dixon, UCU rep for London Met Business School; Yaz Djebbour,
London Met UCU North Campus Branch Chair;
Dr Jane Holgate, London Met UCU City Campus Branch Secretary;
Professor Peter Leyland, Human Rights and Social Justice Research Institute
Rob Murthwaite, London Met UCU City Campus Branch Equalities Officer
Richard Payne, London Met UCU Environment Officer; Allan Pike,
London Met UNISON Branch Secretary;
Dr Cliff Snaith, London Met UCU Secretary;
Max Watson, London Met UNISON Chair
Dr Nicholas Watts, London Met UCU Vice-Chair North Campus Branch;
Dr David Wilson, UCU rep London Met Business School
Desperate days for climate deniers
What an excellent summary by Johann Hari (4 December) of the state of the arguments on global warming.
As the scientific evidence is now so comprehensive, those who are unconvinced ought to look carefully at the company they are keeping. The hard core of deniers is a mixture of conspiracy theorists, under-educated bloggers; hardline conservatives; apologists for fossil fuel industries; and people whose addiction to high-carbon lifestyles has overwhelmed any sympathy for the rest of humanity.
It is a particularly wild suggestion, found in deniers' blogs, that there is some kind of conspiracy of governments to falsely promote the idea of man-made global warming in order to tax or subdue their citizens. Any rational person must realise that there can be hardly a government in the world that does not profoundly wish that the global warming theory was wrong. If greenhouse gases were not an issue we could simply get as much energy as we need from the cheapest sources. Governments would be spared many difficult and unpopular decisions about energy and transport pricing, nuclear power and siting of renewable energy installations; and would get lots of revenue from a modest tax on the large amounts of energy that would be used.
The UEA/Hadley Centre hacked emails "scandal" is being manipulated by the deniers as a last-ditch attempt to distract public opinion. But if this is the best evidence of a conspiracy they can come up with, it is actually pretty pathetic. Saudi Arabia's climate negotiator is claiming the emails weaken the evidence that human activities affect climate. But come on, this is Saudi Arabia talking – hardly an unbiased source, and an evident case of clutching at straws.
East Horsley, surrey
We will never get absolute certainty about the science of climate change; but one thing is unarguable. A lot of very eminent scientists believe there will be a very big problem one day if we do not do something about it soon.
Let's say there is just a one in ten chance that the worst of the projections comes to pass. Which of us would do nothing about it if we knew of a one in ten chance of total disaster in our own lives? But perhaps in that question lies the answer. The worst will probably not happen in the lifetime of those debating the issues now. It's another problem we can leave for the kids.
Fossil fuels will run out one day, and we have to do something anyhow before then. Many of the things that are suggested are at least as much opportunities as threats, both economically and socially. Can't we stop carping about who said what about what to whom and when, and move on to adult discussion about what we can do to ensure the worst does not happen?
In fact the word "adult" there is a slur on our young. They seem to understand the importance of the issues far better than we adults. But then they are the ones who are most likely to be affected.
Steeple Aston, Oxfordshire
I suspect that the "warmers" may be right, both in that there is a natural cycle raising temperatures and carbon emmission is marginally amplifying it. What I do not believe is that there is the slightest chance of us changing our ways sufficiently to make a material difference.
After the First World War, when a huge proportion of the German people had been killed, and the stupidity of war was irrefutable, these highly educated, highly civilised people did it again. The whole western world was working in close agreement that there must never be another war, and treaty after treaty was signed. But the human being, en masses, is not rational.
We will agree in international conferences, we will sign and campaign, but nothing will change. Whatever is happening will happen. If we want to do something that will make a difference then we must prepare for the massive movement of people that has already started, and we must start to plan to live in those parts of the world that are now frozen and soon may thaw.
The train crash has probably started to happen; we must now take action to live in the new conditions. We cannot put the wheels back on the track.
After reading comments by a number of Tory MPs (2 December), I still fail to understand why anyone would want to deny the science of climate change.
Why do these climate-loonies choose to ignore the overwhelming scientific evidence? Their position is no less ridiculous than if they were to claim the Earth were flat or that Aids/HIV is merely a media fiction.
The only possible reason can be that they perceive a gain in votes from people simply unwilling or too old to care about the damage mankind is doing to the planet.
Even if, and it seems an unlikely event, the climatologists are all wrong and we have nothing to worry about, surely it is better to err on the side of caution. Caution – an approach the traditionally cautious Tories would usually advocate, except that in this instance it means giving up some of their luxuries and, worse still, advocating that their voters do the same.
A United Nations report in 2006 found that livestock cause 18 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. However, the environmental group World Watch says this was an underestimate and the figure for meat and dairy's share of total greenhouse gas emissions is a staggering 51 per cent.
The digestive processes of animals and animal slurry both release methane gas, which is 23 times more powerful at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. Huge areas of the Amazon are cut down, which releases carbon dioxide, to grow animal feed crops. Animal manure decomposition, and fertilisers for the vast amounts of animal feed crops, create nitrous oxide gas, which is 296 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
This is yet another reason to switch to a meat and diary-free diet.
The debate about what is causing our earth to become steadily less habitable is, tragically, pointless since it seems pretty clear that even if we are technically able to reverse the processes the political will to act will never materialise until far too late.
The next round of Darwinian prizes will be awarded to those communities who figure out how to survive the horrors that are coming, and keep remnants of the race going until better times come (if they do). Any suggestions? I'm thinking of making a start by setting up a minefield around my allotment.
South Harrow, Middlesex
Brown's cynical shift on fair votes
The report "Ministers force debate on voting reform" (2 December) tells us that most ministers back a referendum on changing to the alternative vote (AV).
This is rich coming from a Government that has during 12 years in office shown no enthusiasm for electoral reform, reneged on a manifesto promise of a referendum and rubbished the findings of the Jenkins Commission, set up to research this very matter.
The AV proposal is cynical for two reasons: first, Labour stares defeat in the eye using the current system, which is strongly skewed in their favour, and AV is the only reform that would possibly favour them; second, uniquely among possible changes, including AV-plus and STV, AV is not proportional.
After 30 years of low-quality government, during which the authority of Parliament has declined, the British people would surely welcome changes which ensure that every vote counts and promote the power of the legislature over the executive. Either AV-plus or STV would help achieve both goals and would, therefore, be feared by Labour and Tories alike.
The statement by Gordon Brown that "there is now a stronger case than ever that MPs should be elected with the support of more than half their voters" demands an explanation. His suggested voting system of AV is appropriate for selecting one person for a single post, but not for selecting a parliament of MPs. It is likely to be even less proportional than first-past-the-post.
The Electoral Reform Society reviewed the 2005 election. Although winning a mere 35 per cent of the vote, Labour, under first-past-the-post, enjoyed a majority of 66 seats. If AV was used, their majority would have been even higher at 77. This insult to democracy brings shame to our country at a time when our soldiers are dying in attempts to instigate democracy in other countries.
Dr Tim Williamson
When is it now?
Here we go again. Peter Harvey (letter, 5 December) says we are "entering the last month of the decade". The last month of this decade will be December 2010. After all, our calendar does not start with year 0, but year 1, and the first decade therefore ended with year 10. Thought we'd covered all this in 1999 – please keep up.
Alex James (Rural Notebook, 2 December) makes a common mistake when he says his barn is a sight for sore eyes "on the first day of Christmas". The first day of Christmas is 25 December, not 1 December. The season we're in now is Advent.
Andrew M Brown
Victims of bankers
Andreas Whittam Smith represents the voice of reason in his thoughtful column (4 December) but for those who have lost their livelihoods over the bankers' behaviour, such as the 1,700 souls in Teesside, the only thing I hear is calls not only for the cancellation of bonuses but for retribution as well. The people who have pushed others into penury and poverty will live comfortably for the rest of their lives on ill-gotten bonuses.
Wakefield, West Yorkshire
Tory teaching plan
Michael Gove's new scheme to reward high-flying mathematics or science graduates who want to teach (report, 4 December) seems to imply that better-educated people make better teachers. I have taught mathematics for 13 years, and feel that personality, creativity and passion are equally as important as subject knowledge. It is worrying to see that my 2:2 degree pass in Mathematics from Oxford many years ago would, under Mr Gove's plan, not entitle me to have my loans paid off.
West Bromwich, West Midlands
Name this child
What's in a name, ask your correspondents. Plenty. My great grandfather was baptised "Eginhard De George Turner Jones Turner" (it's a long story). From the middle of his life, after many years of spelling variants, he simply signed himself "George".
JOHN R G TURNER
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