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27th September 2016

Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell’s disrespect for the student body

After his interview with Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell was pulled from last week’s edition of The Mancunion, Jacob Nicholas argues the case for our independence from the university

Last week, The Mancunion intended to publish an interview with the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell. As has been covered this week, this article was pulled less than 45 minutes before the paper went to print, leaving the Features section of the paper with just two pages of adverts. We didn’t even get to print an explanation of the situation.

The Students’ Union was threatened with a lawsuit. That this was thought to be acceptable is insane. If the university had actually sued, the fallout—for the University’s reputation in particular—would have been catastrophic. It appears that the root of the situation was that Professor Rothwell was not happy with her own words in our interview, and felt it could be retrospectively changed to suit her own ends. If she did not want an honest interview, she should not have agreed to one.

But then, this sort of behavior is now commonplace. For example, the other day my friend gave me a beer. I drank it, only to be told that actually he wanted it after all, and if I could excrete it out into the nearest cup pronto that would be great. And, come to think of it, if I didn’t do it right now, he would accuse me of theft and call the police.

Indeed, last semester I got assigned an essay on Chinese politics, emailed the question and a deadline, and told to get on with it. I finished it and submitted it with plenty of time, only to get an e-mail saying I’d answered the wrong question, and that the actual one was on Russia. If I didn’t send a quality essay in the next hour I’d fail the module. When I complained, I was told that the lecturer had deleted their copy of the original email, and so there was clearly no proof that the question I’d answered was the right one.

Except neither of those things actually happened—they would have been silly occurrences.

And yet Professor Rothwell and her staff feel that it is acceptable to send such transparent nonsense to any student publication that has the misfortune of interviewing her. It is pure arrogance, and shows contempt not just for student media, but also of the entire student body of the University of Manchester.

In the interview the Vice-Chancellor said, “freedom of speech is one of our core values.” And yet, when Professor Rothwell forgets to mention the sponsor for the business school, and can’t remember how many of her own staff she’s got rid of over the last few years, this freedom of speech flies out of the window to be replaced with what appears to be attempts at turning the interview into a PR stunt. The Vice-Chancellor has made herself look like she doesn’t have the slightest interest in the truth, instead looking to tend carefully to her image as presented to the student body and third party investors.

What was the worst part of this whole ridiculous exercise? The interview was, frankly, not incredibly exciting. There are certainly some interesting responses (the giving away of university land to private companies, in particular). I went into the interview not wanting to ask too many tricky questions—hoping to maintain a healthy relationship with the University.

Instead, it seems as though the Vice-Chancellor got her script wrong. Now, any chance of us getting along has been thrown out the window, run over by three Magic Buses, and eaten by a dog, who will later dump its remains in a ditch somewhere in Platt Fields.

The university has backed itself into a corner and made an absolute fool of itself in an attempt to change an interview that would have offended very few people in any case. Certainly, some of Professor Rothwell’s statements were concerning—such as the aforementioned private land grab—but the majority of the changes simply made her come across worse: More cynical, and concerned with reputation over people.

This mess has made Rothwell look utterly self-serving, manipulative, and exploitative. Bigger media outlets such as the BBC and the Manchester Evening News do not have to send interview copies to her beforehand, let alone even consider changing quotes retrospectively, because she knows they would complain and cause public outcry. It seems as if we are treated differently because the Vice-Chancellor feels she can bully us into spouting her desired party line.

We have no reason to do that. The student body is owed the truth from the person whose (almost £300,000) salary we pay. The Mancunion is not a PR company for the University. We are part of the student body. To treat us with contempt, to go back on her own belief in free speech, to try to and distort the truth (despite us having proof to the contrary) shows her to be a hypocrite, with little respect for the student body. For £9,000 a year, we deserve an awful lot better.

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