Point/Counterpoint: the Proposed Relocation of Ustinov College

Durham University Council have recently unveiled plans to relocate Ustinov College to a new development called Sheraton Park. Ustinovians (and others) are being asked for their thoughts on the proposal. Naturally, Ustinov itself is full of substantive argument about the merits of relocation. Here are two perspectives, provided by an outgoing GCP Café Politique member and an incoming one. 

Café organisers Holly and Mika, with Prof. Northcott (Photo: Mahmoud Shalabi)
Mika (Photo: Mahmoud Shalabi)

By Mika Laiho

Following the so-called ‘Town Hall’ meeting organised by our Principal and GCR with invited speakers from the University Executive Committee, my sentiments are a bit muddled. From what I gathered, many students are surprised to hear that Ustinov College is being relocated because of a closure at the Stockton campus of Durham University. Without any prior consultation due to ‘withholding sensitive information concerning planning,’ plans have been approved (but not yet finalised) to move Ustinov to the Sheraton Park area.

To summarise how I felt and to paraphrase William Shakespeare: ‘to move, or not to move’, isn’t a question; it seems like an order: we are off to Sheraton Park, whether we like it or not!

But the real question for me is how graceful we are when we leave. Sure, we can kick up a stink and moan all we like, but I would have preferred to welcome undergraduate students with warm hearts, teary eyes, and camaraderie as they begin to arrive. Given that I am only here for another year at the most, I would prefer setting a noble example for younger student peers. Goodwill may also act as an obvious reminder to the ‘establishment’ that we are a mature and valued postgraduate community, no matter where they move us.

Also, I try and see our imminent move from another’s perspective. For instance, we have all been undergraduate students once upon a time. It was once a tricky, sensitive period for most of us. Imagine being told that your college, which you soon became fondly attached to physically and emotionally, was closing down and you were being told that your future was uncertain.

Then imagine two possible scenarios. A huge, warm, endearing community of postgraduate students welcomed you with hugs and showered you with gifts, displaying photos of their best memories shared in your future home. The bar, the gym, the Café area, which your older peers had once loved as their own would be passed down to you. Would this not feel so bad? In fact, I think I would feel excited and privileged to move in!

Then contrast this with the triumphalist march of older postgraduate students, scary and angry about being ‘evicted’ from their college and home, sending furious complaints to the University Executive Committee because of an apparently scandalous idea to move you and your friends in and the ‘Ustinovians’ out. Oh, dear!

In a recent article in the North East’s Gazette, ‘Durham University confirms plans to pull academic and college-based activities from Stockton,’ Professor Stuart Corbridge, Vice Chancellor and Warden at Durham University, said: ‘We remain committed to both Stockton and Durham and are excited by these developments, following extensive consultation and discussion internally and more widely.’ Obviously, the ‘We’ in this statement didn’t include Ustinovians.

To me, the whole affair isn’t a pretty picture. But I abstained from voting for a ‘Referendum’ to remain at the Howlands site because I feel like the University Executive Committee have made their decision already. Moreover, the prettier picture of a small park, brand new facilities, and a ‘fresh image’ for Ustinov College offers future Ustinovians a lot more at the expense of so much negotiation and hard work put in by these professionals.

My personal reflection is decidedly less centred on downsides and focusing on positives. Maybe this is more a reflection of my blasé attitude towards College life than a rounded, rational critique of injustice and lack of communication on behalf of those who planned to move us. But what do you think about the move? Let’s start discussions!

Pep Mateos Pho
Pep (Photo: Marco Owen Jones)

By Pep Mateos

Saying ‘Ustinov College’ is tantamount to saying ‘solidarity’. As Durham University’s biggest postgraduate community, the place is full of altruism. Not only because the activities happening within its borders rely almost entirely upon the goodwill of its members—check its Graduate Common Room and the Global Citizenship Programme—but also because the work postgraduate students carry out at the University is philanthropic in nature.

Genevieve Shaker, in a recent book about the relationship between the academic profession and the public good, argued that faculty involvement in students’ career development is far beyond of what might be expected from their jobs, and this also applies to postgraduate research (PGR) students, a bunch of people that tend to identify Ustinov College as their stronghold.

As a PGR student myself, I’ve been able to talk with others about our approaches to our part-time jobs as PGR teachers at the University and, regardless the department or the discipline, there is certainly a leitmotif in our conversations: our commitment to our students irrespective of our job conditions.

As PGR teachers, we are usually in charge of delivering seminars/tutorials that are connected to the lectures of a given course. Almost all my peers have, at some point of their PGR study, attended these lectures without being paid in order to provide a more consistent education to their students. Almost all my peers have offered informal ‘office hours’ to their students (even at Starbucks due to a lack of office space). Definitely all my peers have attended training sessions without being remunerated and also, all of them have spent much more time marking and writing up feedback for their course assessments than stated in their contracts.

Thus, it is not by chance that such a community, one that is wholeheartedly investing an unmeasurable amount of emotional and human resources, is passionately reacting against the relocation of its social, academic, and dwelling spaces to Sheraton Park, a privately run site that does not meet the needs of a Durham University college. This is being done in order to free some space up for the two colleges formerly at Queen’s Campus, mostly undergraduate colleges, which will be moved to Durham City—check Ustinov’s GCR webpage or this sincere and accurate account to learn about the details of the relocation.

However, our vivid (and rather justified) rejection of this move must never be interpreted as a lack of solidarity towards other colleges who, like us, are going to be suffering the consequences of the University’s strategy. On the contrary, standing up together must be read as an act of responsible engagement with the present and future of the institution we care about, thus—and with the risk of sounding patronising—setting a good example for our undergraduate counterparts.

Moreover, Ustinov College has also a good record of inclusiveness. A recent survey about the move carried out by Ustinov’s GCR allowed many students to explain that one of the reasons why they love Ustinov is because they felt they could fit in no matter what. This has never been (and will never be) different for undergraduate students should they arrive here. They will not be subject of any kind of discrimination, let alone blamed for the eviction Ustinov may suffer.

On the contrary, constructively and critically disagreeing with Durham University’s strategy, especially when it comes to acknowledging the fact that the Durham colleges’ autonomy and capacity to grow and thrive are being threatened, is a clear display of solidarity to all, regardless of their identity.

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