Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Exams and Exit

During the exam period The Gown blog will not operate - we wouldn't want to distract you from revision! However, a print edition of the newspaper is due out within the next couple of weeks.

For those of you who still have exams to do, we'd like to wish you every success. If you are no longer going to be a student in a few weeks time, we hope you'll have fond memories of this place and if you are coming back next year the new Gown team is looking forward to keeping you informed.

As ever, if you have stories, or would like to send us a letter, you can email us at:

The reigns of The Gown will soon be handed over and future control of this blog belongs to the new Gown team, who are following in the footsteps of greats. (we are so modest!) They may well post more blogs before the summer, but that will be entirely up to them.

For now, from a team who have served you over the last few years, from Northern Ireland and further afield! Best of luck with the exams and have a great summer.

The Gown Team

Friday, May 19, 2006

Vice Chancellor Admits Drink Driving

Professor Gerry McKenna, former vice chancellor of the University of Ulster has pleaded guilty to drink driving.

The former vice chancellor was represented by his solicitor at the hearing this morning, but the magistrate emphasised that Professor McKenna would have to attend the sentencing in person, if he wanted to be considered for a rehabilitation course that would lead to a reduced driving ban. The minimum ban is normally 12 months.

The case relates to an incident, which occurred last July when police stopped the vice chancellor close to his large University residence on the banks of the River Bann.

The incident occurred following claims by colleagues that alcohol impaired the vice chancellor's work and that he bullied members of staff.

The University of Ulster commissioned a report on the vice chancellor's conduct, which concluded that there were grounds for further investigation. Professor McKenna however did not return to his £190,000-a-year job after taking sick leave in December 2004, and he finally resigned in February 2006. The University had to take 52-year-old Mr McKenna to court in order to force him to leave Knocktarna Manor, the luxurious vice chancellor's residence.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

GOWN Blog in hit 'n' run Spammer incident...

IT emerged today that the Gown blog has been hit by a spammer.

We have therefore had to turn on the 'Word verification' setting.

'The Gown' team apologises to all its regular posters if this may cause inconvenience but hopefully it will stop the unwanted comments.

All the best,

The Gown Team

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

AUT blame University’s Intransigence

The AUT at Queen's say that they offered QUB's Vice-Chancellor a way out of the current exam crisis. The Gown reported yesterday that some exams will not go ahead due to strike action and we have now spoken exclusively to the AUT branch at QUB.

The AUT branch claim that they have been campaigning for a pay increase for 20 years which Vice-Chancellors have repeatedly promised but not delivered. Now that Universities will be receiving their biggest ever cash injection from new government funding and the so-called top-up fees, the AUT claim that QUB have back-tracked on their commitment. "They have tried to deny that they ever made this promise and they have spread misinformation about the dispute among both staff and students. It is this perfidy that enrages staff." the AUT said.

When asked if they did not regard their actions as deeply damaging to their students the AUT said, "As dedicated education professionals, we dislike having to take any action that affects students. But we have suffered twenty years of neglect and we cannot allow this to go on any longer. We believe that students deserve to be taught by, and receive professional support from, skilled and motivated staff who receive a decent wage for their work. If the crisis in pay is not addressed, staff will leave the profession, new staff will not be recruited, and those who stay will be even more overworked and demoralised. We believe that this is not in your interest or that of any student. NUS, USI and QUB Students’ Union understand this, which is why they have supported our pay claim. The sad truth is that the only way we can make Vice-Chancellors listen to their staff is by taking this action."

In an exclusive disclosure to The Gown, the AUT said that they offered to switch to non-marking rather than non-assessment which would have allowed all exams to go ahead. They would then continue to pursue a settlement, and would only have marking to catch up on, which could be done quickly without any significant impact on students. The AUT claim they warned the University that this was the only way to avoid exam chaos. "Instead, QUB management has chosen to cancel many exams and offer dubious assessment as a replacement. Worse still, students may take inappropriate exam papers cobbled together and/or marked by people who do not know the module. We urge you to write to or email the QUB Vice-Chancellor vc.office@qub.ac.uk demanding that employers enter speedy realistic negotiations so that the action can end and you can receive a credible academic qualification." they said.

The University will be under pressure to explain how students will now be assessed and if their degrees can truly be considered comparable to those that will sit their exams this term and have done so in previous years.

Monday, May 15, 2006

AUT Forces Exam Cancellations

IT was confirmed today that Queen's University, Belfast will have to cancel examinations due to the ongoing industrial action by some lecturers.

The Vice-Chancellor has confirmed that 6 percent of exams will have to be scrapped because lecturers have not set them. Special arrangements will have to be made for students’ whose exams have been cancelled, some assessment marks will only be taken into account after the AUT action ends and lecturers have returned to work.

Most examinations will be unaffected and Mr Gregson insists that graduations will continue as normal, emphasising that Queen’s will do all it can to minimise the effect of the strike on students.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Peter Gregson said: "Queen's students can be assured that arrangements are in place to minimise the impact of this industrial action.

"Graduations will take place as normal, and first and second year students will be able to progress to the next year of their studies."

In a statement the University appealed to the Association of University Teachers (AUT) to call off its industrial action saying that students must come first. The University also criticised the AUT for putting additional pressure on students about to start their examinations.

All students have been written to assuring them that the AUT action will not stop them progressing to the next stage of their academic careers, or graduating in July.

In the statement Professor Gregson said the University had invested millions in pay, and Queen's academic salaries were competitive nationally and internationally. Queen's was among one of a small group of universities which had introduced a revised salary scheme one year ahead of the rest of the sector, at a costof almost £3 million this year on top of the annual pay award.

He said: "Queen's has implemented a 6.6 per cent increase in salaries this year. Nationally an offer of 12.6 per cent over the next three years hasbeen made, and I am surprised that the AUT executive are not putting this totheir members."

A spokeperson for the AUT, on a national level have released this statement:

"We have made it very clear from before this action took place that if adecent offer was not made to members then we could have a situation where students' graduations could be in jeopardy. We are extremely considered, frustrated and bemused that the employers have allowed the dispute to rumble on as long as this. We first tried to get the pay claim addressed in October. The employers have been fully aware of the potential consequences of our action since then. Quite why they decided not to act during the last six months only they will be able to explain. We remain committed to resolving this dispute at the earliest opportunity and will meet with them whenever and wherever they like. We can only hope that they do value their staff and students enough to come back to the table to thrash out a deal."

NI Briefing: 'Shadow Assembly', by any other name!

Today Northern Ireland's 108 assembly members took their seats in Stormont for the first time since October 2002. The MLA's were elected over two and a half years ago, and for 40 of them this will be the first time they have taken their seats.

The session began with a minutes silence for Michael McIlveen, the 15 year old boy, murdered in Ballymena.

The MLA's then listened to a letter from Peter Hain, read by the new Speaker Eileen Bell. Ms Bell, an MLA for the Alliance Party, also made clear her intention to refrain from making any political statements in her new role.

Assembly members signed the register, stating whether they were Unionist, Nationalist or other.

No other business was conducted, and most members are expected to attend a rather wet garden party, hosted by Peter Hain at Hillsborough Castle. The dull skies added to the mood of foreboding, no-one quite knows if this assembly will be ready for devolution by the November deadline. Some believe this assembly will be no more than a 'talking shop' and will lend itself to political grandstanding, rather than constructive debate.

Ian Paisley says he will refused to accept Gerry Adam's nomination as First Minister, and Sinn Fein, are reluctant to be involved in any discussions which are not directly aimed at restoring devolved power. The Assembly is due to debate the NI economy tomorrow and it is not known if Mr Adam's and his party will contribute to this debate.

Since all previous negotiations to find political compromise have been conducted in private through intermediataries, it seems somewhat unlikely that the local parties will take the initiative to find a way forward. The onus is on Sinn Fein and the DUP to lead this process over the next few months. The question is can such polarised political entities ever be reconciled and if they can't, what is the alternative?

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Council Watch - Protests arouse over "British" Queen & IRA Hunger Strikes

By 'The Gown's' Frank Talk

TELL me, what do the Queen and Ian Paisley, and Hunger Strikes all have in common? Well this question was attempted to be answered by Student Councillors on Tuesday 9th May.

At the sixth statuatory meeting of Student Council motions were put before its members requesting that the Union speaker and the President of the Students' Union write to both the Queen and the Rev'd Ian Paisley congratulating them on their 80th Birthday's.

To mark the occasion a motion was also put before members for the singing of the National Anthem, 'God Save the Queen'.

Union officals and disgrutled Councillor's were saved from the singing attempt as the motions did not carry as Council ran under quorum and business was suspended. This did not however stop the controversy as accusations of hypocracy were made by Queen's University Sinn Fein against the DUA's (Democratic Unionist) Edward Hanna, accusing him of being hypocritical with the comments he made on the Hunger Strike exhabition.

In reaction to the Hunger Strike exhabition, Mr Hanna said:

"This type of event only causes segregation between the student population as it fails to promote peace and reconciliation," and added: "Many young students view these sorts of memorials as degrading and unacceptable, wishing to move on from the past and look forward to a brighter future."Students' within the unionist community feel that it is wrong for the university to support any event which glorifies terrorists who were involved in the killing of innocent people."
Sinn Fein's Andrea O'Kane after the meeting of Council said:

"It is interesting to note Edward is in opposition to an exhibition with claims that it is allegedly divisive and did nothing to promote inclusivity but is this not the same Edward that attempted to mandate Student Council to send birthday wishes to the British Queen and by singing the British National Anthem after Student Council in an attempt to provoke provocation by blatant sectarian and exclusionist actions.

Ms O'Kane concluded saying: "This is clearly an attempt to prevent republicans expressing their culture beliefs in a non- threatening way and a refusal to accept that we have every right to honour the sacrifice and bravery of the men and women who challenged the British war machine in Ireland and won. These people shook the foundations of Irish politics and changed them forever."

Motions were put at the meeting by both the DUA and QUUA (Queen's Ulster Unionists) in opposition to the exhabition condemning it and declaring it an act of 'triumphalism' and 'glorification'.

I suppose many students' will be asking themselves - 'What is this all to do with me?', as elections loomed some 2 day's later, the lecturers strike continues with the threat of examinations not proceeding and with variable 'top-up' fees coming to force shortly ... but hey, some things will never change in local student politics.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Non-Sabbactical election results

AFTER yesterday's election poll the following candidates have been returned:

Cultural Affair's officer: NATALIE SIMPSON;
International Students' officer: LIANG YOONG CHIA;
Mature Students' officer: CLARE BAILEY;
Student Community Action officer: EDWARD HANNA;
Women's officer: JENNIFER HILL;
Postgraduate Students' officer: MICHAEL CURRIE.

All the above posts, except for that of Postgraduate officer ran against Reopen Nominations (aka RON).

Michael Currie is a second year undergraduate student and took victory over his two postgraduate student rivals; Ciara Burnell and Chris Odgen. He ran a campaign under the 'Campaign for a Better Union' banner along with his colleagues Ed Hanna and Jennifer Hill. The 'Campaign for a Better Union' swamped to victory last year winning the same posts with the exception of Cultural affair's which ran uncontested this year. Mr Currie succeeds Graham Barton.

Natalie Simpson succeeds Mark Hill. She was active during the Deputy Presidency of Patrick Hughes, who threw the Union into much controversy during his time in office. She is associated with Queen's Sinn Fein and advocates much interest in Irish Lanaguage and Culture. At a Council meeting earlier this year she proposed that the Union go bi-lingual in the form of English and Irish. The meeting did not however meet quorum, partly because members refused to enter the Council chamber in protest.

Jennifer Hill who succeed's Sinead McGuinness has been an active Council member during her time at Queen's and has assocations with the DUA.

Apathy and disinterest from the student body seems to have affected this election with 5 of the 6 positions running practically unconested, be it against RON. Figures for turnout are not yet available but it is predicted to have been poor.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Industrial Action - Update

AS the lecturers strike continues Queen's Students' Union has issued advice to the student population.

The Union has advised that students' continue to study and revise for their exams and e-mail the Vice-Chancellor to highlight their concerns.

Nationally, the new Secretary of State for Education, Alan Johnston has advised the Union to accept the pay offer describing it as "very generous." On Monday the Lecturer's Unions turned down a pay increase of 12.6% which is just over half of what they are demanding.

As the exams come closer students' fear that examinations may not be set and this will prove particularly difficult for the final year students who would be due to graduate at the start of the summer. In a worst case scenario the strike could cause graduations to be delayed, however lecturers remain confident of a resolution to the situation.

YES, another election

- By 'A' Correspondent

FLIES, Bumble bee's and Wasp's replace voters as Queen's University students' face another poll.

Turn-out by 4 p.m. has be seen to be poor but Returning officer, Brian Heading awaits the final day's results before he casts a final judgement.

Today, as blogged earlier in the week, sees the non-sabbactical elections take place with only one position contested, not by only one person but three, plus RON. All elections in SU polls allow for the option of 'Re-open Nominations' to offer voters a choice but it appears that voters have decided to forfit that choice in unanmiously agreeing to allow the candidate with a 'pulse' walk in victory.

The question remains as to why this is and has been the case. Previous SU Presidents' and Executive's have sought to improve turnout but with few results.

This election has seen less of a 'buzz' with candidates appearing confident and seen doing little major campaigning or poster painting. It has been reported that by 12.30 pm only 12 votes had been cast at the David Kerr building, Stranmillis Rd. Similar scenes could be seen elsewhere with most votes cast in the MBC building and PFC.

The only interesting result from this election will be from the position of Post-graduate officer with three candidates running and only two post-graduates. Watch this space but with most results predictable I suspect that the only 'losers' will be the bookies.

Monday, May 08, 2006

AUT strike rumble's on...

AS talks continue over the lecturer's pay dispute Queen's Students' Union has organised a meeting aiming to inform students about the on-going industrial action.

The meeting will be held on Wednesday 10th May 6.00 pm, Room GO6, Peter Froggatt Centre.
Dr Paul Hudson (QUB AUT) and Professor Ken Bell (Pro Vice Chancellor) will be in attendence.

As talks resumed today in London between the lecturer's Union - the AUT - and the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association; the talks however have been reported to have ended in failure, with an offer of 12.6% made by the University association.

It has however been reported (according to BBC News online, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/4983898.stm) that the offer has been turned down. The Universities association had previously made an offer of an increase of 3% for this year and next.
The offer was described as "way below" what was needed to end the on-going examinations boycott.

As Queens staff waited today to hear the outcome of the talks, it is thought that staff have incurred a pay cut for the work they're supposed to be doing, beginning today.

The strike continues ...

Nomination's CLOSED

ANOTHER election looms for the student body at Queen's as nominations closed for the six non-sabbactical Executive posts last Wednesday.

As reported by The Gown current cultural affairs officer, Mark Hill failed to return his nomination form on time, missing the deadline by minutes. New information emerged today as a source revealed to The Gown that the candidate had infact only started to fill in his nomination form approximately 5 minutes before the deadline. In speaking to us on Thursday Mark Hill had in fact indicated that he had his form ready in advance but failed to return it on time. He suggested that he was to receive a nomination from a prominent SU figure, who told him to come back on Wednesday. The individual then declined to offer their support on their return. We have not yet received comment from Mr Hill.

However the choice of candidates for Thursday's election looks like the following with 5 of the 6 positions uncontested be it against RON (Re-open Nominations):

Mature Students' officer: Claire Bailey

Cultural Affairs officer: Natalie Simpson

Student Community Action officer: Edward Hanna

Womens officer: Jennifer Hill

International Students' officer: 'Yoong'

Post-graduate Students' officer: Ciara Burnell, Michael Curry and Chris Ogdon.

'Neo', the current International students' officer retires after 2 years in the post; also Graham Steven Barton, PSO is not to contest the election as with his Executive colleague, Sinead McGuinness, Women's officer. Edward Hanna remains the only current officer in their post to run for a second term.

We wish all the candidates well.

Polls will be open 10 am on Thursday 11th May 2006 campus wide.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Items stolen in aid of Project Children

ON Thursday afternoon around 4 p.m. items were taken from a car parked in the Students' Union good's yard. The car was owned by an employee of the Project Children programme and the items stolen were to be used for a meeting due to take place on Saturday.

The items included a rucksack containing two digital cameras and a laptop containing vital information for the meeting. Brian Heading, the QUB Students' Union representative for the programme confirmed that the "car was parked just outside queens" in the Union good's yard. He said that there was "a rucksack containing two digital cameras and a laptop containing information for tomorrows induction." Interviews for the scheme have been carried out over the last fews days and those successful candidates are to attend the an induction meeting tomorrow. Mr Heading said "its going to be very difficult to give students the right information" if the items are not returned.

Project Children is a scheme linking Northern Ireland and America in partnership with Queen's University. It was setup in 1975 to show "Protestant and Catholic kids that they have nothing to fear from each other and much to gain"; it involved sending children from across the Northern Ireland divide to New York for the summer. Several years ago the programme was expanded offering University students summer internships on America's Capital Hill.

Anyone with information should contact the Students' Union or the Police.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Officer fails to seek re-election

It has emeregd that Cultural Affairs officer, Mark Hill was to seek re-election for the post in the elections to happen on May 11th.

He did however miss the closing date by a mere 5 minutes. This gives his would be running mate Natalie Simpson a clear run against RON (Re-open Nominations).

In speaking to The Gown Mark Hill confirmed that it was his intention to seek re-election but did deliver his nomination form "in 5 minutes late" and it therefore was not accepted.

He explained that he was coming from a class, finishing at 12 noon and missed the deadline arriving at 5 minutes past. Mr Hill accepted that it was his own fault but suggested that he may run a campaign asking voters to vote for RON (Re-open Nominations).

RON (or Re-open Nominations) is on the ballot paper to allow voters to vote for exactly that. Whilst people may vote for RON many will wish to see a candidate in the post. It will therefore be very likely that Natalie Simpson will take up the position unopposed. This has happened on a number of previous occassions in recent years, indicating a lack of interest in Union politics. Earlier this year candidate David Smyth was co-opted onto the Executive as the Mature Students' officer being the only person, with a pulse, to submit a nomination form.

Mr Hill suggested that there was some comfort for him in the fact that the position of Cultural Affairs did not hold voting rights on the Executive Committee, a rule which he sought to change during his term. He has however on this blog offered his help to Ms Simpson if she is successful in forfilling the role.

It is believed that another candidate from the DUA was on hand to contest this election, but did not stand as Mark Hill insisted on his intentions to seek re-election.

When a DUA representive was asked if this was mistake on their behalf they responded saying that it was up to Mark Hill to get his nomination form in on time.

The elections for the non-sabbactical posts will take place on Thursday 11th May and the winners will complete the 'new' Executive Committee due to take up their posts in July. For more info see the SU website.


- Whacked Paddy McDougal

THE rather off-kilter topic of British television’s portrayal of ethnic minorities was debated at QUB yesterday. The lecture was an examination of the cultural politics of representation….principally that of ‘Irishness’ within British popular culture.

Visiting Professor Sally Munt entitled her talk ‘Shameless’ and examined the Channel 4 Television serial drama of the same name.

Irish stereotypes have (of course) featured in many of the popular British television soaps over the years and the lecture at Queen’s is part of Sally Munt’s new project: Queer Feelings-The Cultural Politics of Shame.

Whilst some would say Sally should get a real job, I - Whacked Paddy McDougal - disagree. The lecture throws up some very serious questions….how, for example, does the British media really portray Irishness? Do they denigrate Irish culture or simply laugh at ‘us’ (in English / Scottish / Welsh opinion we’re really all the same don’t you know) as nothing more than stew-eating Guinness-drinking Paddies? Alternatively, what do you make of Northern Ireland’s representation in the ‘British / Mainland / Colonial forces of Occupation’s’ media scene – sensationalist or just ignorant?


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Quinn says No to AUT

The Vice Chancellor has claimed that it will be business as usual at the University despite the continuing Association of University Teachers (AUT) industrial action.

But with final exams only a few weeks away many students are concerned that they will not be able to graduate in June as planned.

Peter Quinn, Deputy President of the Students' Union has called in the AUT to end their action, he said , "At this moment of time thousands of students are preparing for exams with no knowledge of whether there will be an exam to sit. This adds unfair pressure on students who are already under immense stress in the run up to their final exams. Staff Union’s have no right to use the exam system as an industrial weapon at the expense of students and their future careers. I call upon university staff to consider their students who are potentially the real victims of this dispute”.

When The Gown put this to the AUT, their general secretary, Sally Hunt said "We share the concerns, fears and anger of students that the pay dispute is being dragged out. We are not surprised that they are finding the boycott difficult, so are AUT members. It was, and remains, a last resort in a fight for fair pay. We note and welcome students' continued support for our pay claim and, like them, hope the dispute can be resolved as soon as possible."

Due to the huge costs involved in graduation preparations it seems unlikely that the AUT will continue their action into June, but thus far there is no of wavering.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Ben Preston responds...

BEFORE Easter on March 30th The Gown asked your SU President, Ben Preston, the following questions on the future of QUB RAG:

1. Why has QUBRAG not been running this year?

2. Has any attempt been made to get it up and running?

3. Has the post of QUBRAG officer/co-ordinator been advertised?

4. Has the RAG issue been discussed at the Executive?

5. What comments were made on this issue?

Today, on Tuesday 2nd May 2006 your President has replied, saying:

"I'd be happy to give a perspective but RAG is its own society. It's my view that RAG needs to be kick started again with investment from the Students' Union however I wouldn't want to prejudice the internal RAG review findings for next month."

The Gown understands that a proportion of the profit generated from sales of the RAG magazine (PTQ), due to be released later this month, will be re-invested into RAG as a society. The money will help get RAG back on its feet, and recruiting of new members will commence at the freshers fair this October.

The upcoming issue of PTQ is being produced by the SU Executive and will feature the return of Miss PTQ as exclusively revealed by The Gown in April.

Anger erupts over hunger strike memorial event

ANGER has erupted over a recent Hunger Striker's memorial event held in the Queen's Canada Room.

The event took place last Wednesday running from 10 am to 3 pm. QUB Students' Union Student Community Action officer, Edward Hanna said that he was "disgusted" with the event; in particular that the university was prepared to supply the Canada Room for "Sinn Fein to promote the glorification of the hunger strikers".

The Gown previously reported this issue when attempts were made to hold the event in the Students' Union. Ed Hanna confirmed that the Students' Union executive committee had previously turned down an application to host the event.

Mr Hanna said "This type of event only causes segregation between the student population as it fails to promote peace and reconciliation," he added: "Many young students view these sorts of memorials as degrading and unacceptable, wishing to move on from the past and look forward to a brighter future.

"Students' within the unionist community feel that it is wrong for the university to support any event which glorifies terrorists who were involved in the killing of innocent people."

Andrea O'Kane, spokesperson for the Sinn Fein group at Queen's in explaining the purpose of this event said that it was "to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the 1981 Hungerstrike which saw the death of 10 Irish Republicans in a protest initiated by Republican prisoners to secure their five demands and political status.

"The exhibition has already visited many parts of the country although this is the first visit to Queen's University."

She added, saying that "It was a very successful event" and was viewed "by hundreds of students and staff".

We have asked Ms O'Kane to comment further on the claims made by Ed Hanna and await her reply.

A spokesperson for Queen's University said in a statement: "All recognised clubs and societies within the University are entitled to book rooms within the room booking system. This was the case in this situation."

QUB NI Vs Derry City

MARKING Community Relations week, Queen's University Northern Ireland supporters club played Derry City in a challenge match.

With both clubs member bases traditionally drawn from opposite side of the NI divide the match offered a chance for the two sides to get to know each other a bit better.

Spokesperson Rodney Gilmour, secretary of the NI supporters club said that he hoped this match would be the first of many adding that: "Our club is very supportive of the IFA's Football for all initiative to bring both sides of the community together."

He added that "Hopefully this will encourage some Derry City supporters to come along to Northern Ireland games down at Windsor Park."

A Derry City spokesperson has been contacted for comment however was unavailable. We will post their statement when one becomes available.