Rector interview and analysis: John Lindberg

Published

Austen Shakespeare
Reporter
Interview

What makes you qualified for the role of rector?
I have experienced the University much more recently than most other candidates that are running. I have had to climb the 12 floors of the library to fight for a desk when the lifts were broken or full. I have been frustrated when all feedback we get is four sentences of generic blandness. Who is better equipped to represent the views of current students, than someone that just left with these experiences still fresh?

During my time at Glasgow I ran two student societies, giving me first-hand experience of the many problems and red tape that societies face on a constant basis. Mental health is an issue that is very close to me. All Rectorial candidates have stated how important mental health is, and the issue seems to be a buzzword in elections, however, my relationship with the mental health service is much more personal. Having been continuously battling with mental health problems like eating disorders and body image problems, I am uniquely placed in trying to reform the mental health service, which is one of my key driving forces behind the candidacy. I want to challenge the social stigma that is connected to disability and mental health, as it has a detrimental effect not only on my life, but on many others as well. Having used both services, and gone through University recently, I am uniquely placed to lead the change necessary.

Where else would the University get funds from if it does not raise tuition fees?
Students are not cash cows. It is easy to pass on any perceived needs for funding onto students, seeing how skewed the power dynamics are. However, there is a more fundamental question at hand – does the University really need to raise tuition fees, and if so, for what? The lack of reasoning and justification of these decisions is particularly out of order because in what other service would you be expected to pay more for the same product without due reasoning? I am not for one second suggesting that there should be fees for all students, absolutely not, however, how can the University claim to treat all students equally if it discriminates financially in that way?

So in terms of your question, it is the lack of justification, due process, and consultation that is the pressing issue with tuition fee raises in my opinion. The University has an endowment of over £150 million, making it one of the wealthiest in the UK. A review of the usage of this endowment would definitely be needed before management could pass on extra fees onto students, as there are bound to be a great number of efficiencies that can be made.

What stakeholders would you like to see be a part of the Rectorial Engagement Fund and why?
The ‘Rectorial Engagement Fund’ is dedicated to undergraduate, taught postgraduate students and to a limited degree, student societies, to promote the spread of new ideas outside the classroom. The Fund will be used to finance outreach and engagement projects, to allow for students regardless of background, to realise their own ambitions.

Grants will be awarded by a convened panel, which oversees the Fund. This panel will be made up of a mixture of individuals, with different backgrounds, both inside and beyond the University. If elected, I plan to have the first grants awarded spring 2018, to allow for adequate funding to be harnessed. In order to ensure the success of the Fund, partners from across sectors are essential. It goes without saying that the University should be highly involved, and I intend to bring this proposal to Muscatelli himself. Apart from ensuring that senior university management is involved in the Fund, key stakeholders include NGOs, private companies and other representatives from the wider community will play a key part.

Private companies will play a similar role, but also bringing a business perspective to the table, when necessary. The scope for the Fund will be kept broad, as not to limit projects or ideas, however, engagement with society is central to the Fund’s purpose.

What environmental policies do you want to be enacted on campus and how feasible are they?
The environment, especially the climate change challenge, is something I am very passionate about. In a few months time I will be leaving King’s College London with an MA in Climate Change and I currently work on a number of projects aiming to achieve a more sustainable world. As I concluded in my recent TEDx speech at Glasgow University – we live in an unjust and unsustainable world, but if we owe up to the challenge, we can build a very different future. Glasgow University is the perfect place to start.

There are a number of different environmental policies that I will be pursuing during the first period of my rectorship. The redevelopment is also a perfect place for the University to address many of the environmental issues that are attached to its buildings. Whilst retrofitting old and listed buildings is difficult and expensive, a redevelopment such as this is a golden opportunity. Whilst it is unlikely that the University will be changing their fuel source any time soon, I will be campaigning for a change to low-carbon fuel sources, as soon as it is possible.

In regards to the food served at the University a lot has to change. I will work with the SRC and the University to create a sustainable food policy, to ensure that the food is both ethically and environmentally sustainable by, for instance, ensure that any fish served has MSC certification. This is a modest first step, but allows us to create a platform for improvement, by for instance using this policy to ensure that contract caterers adhere to the policy in order to be awarded contracts with the University.

Furthermore, the University of Glasgow is not accredited to an externally verified environmental management system (EMS). This undermines transparency and trust in the University’s environmental work. I will campaign, alongside the SRC and other interested organisations, for the University to submit itself to external environmental audits, to give students a much clearer view of the environmental progress Glasgow is making. Many universities across the UK are already subject to this kind of audit and have been awarded verified EMS’s. If the University has nothing to hide, surely they would be happy to go ahead to this simple action?

How would you tackle the waiting lists for mental health counselling on campus, and how would you restructure the student welfare and support services?
The current waiting times we see at Glasgow University are frankly inexcusable. For me, waiting those three months allowed my eating disorder to get much worse and I felt that I lost control. After the three months, I was told we had eight sessions to sort out a problem that I have had for years. If we couldn’t ‘fix it’, I was advised to self-refer to the service again for more help. Yes, I got some tools to ensure that my eating disorder and my distorted body image wouldn’t take over, but the underlying problem remains. No one should have to go through this. Currently, the University of Glasgow is ranking very poorly on mental health. The University currently spends £20 on mental health per student, in comparison with institutions like Oxford and Cambridge spending £48/£40 per student.

I will work with the University, the student bodies and NGOs on more fundraising campaigns, dedicated to fighting mental health issues on campus. However, only throwing more money at a problem and hoping that it will go away is a schoolboy error. If I get elected Rector on 21st March, I will launch a review into the mental health service at GU, to look at how it can be restructured to work for the people suffering from mental health problems.

I would really like to say that I’ve got a complete plan, costed and all, that would solve all the problems around the mental health service at Glasgow University. I don’t; unless you work in it, I wouldn’t trust anyone saying that they do. Making rash campaign promises is not the way forward, the issue is far too important for that. The full scope of changes that potentially should be undertaken is long and I cannot stress the importance of getting this review right, but during the time the review is undertaken I suggest a number of changes to be made as a matter of urgency.

Mental health issues should never be allowed to stand in the way for us to realise our goals and dreams. A failure to address mental health represents a failure that some will carry with them the rest of their lives. That is unacceptable, and I will work on these issues as hard as I possibly can, so that the problems I faced will not be faced by others!

Analysis

John Lindberg, an environmental activist, has more than eco-friendly policies to offer in his prospective role as Rector. Although, naturally it does feature heavily.

As an example, Lindberg wants to see environmental factors implemented into the University’s redevelopment. One such feature is combined heat and power cogeneration, which provides heat and warm water simultaneously. However, Lindberg appreciates that this may be a difficult and expensive process. In addition, he acknowledges that the University’s reliance on gas may also be difficult to change. His policy on sourcing environmentally friendly and local food for the University seems far more feasible and will likely attract little backlash or problematic issues.These kinds of policies will most likely be popular, especially with the SRC’s new environmental officer.

Another hot topic is mental health. This has been a major consideration over the course of this year’s student bodies elections and it remains a big issue here. Lindberg proposes a huge review of the University’s mental welfare structure. Lindberg criticised the waiting list, claiming the length of it may lead to “irreparable” damage, citing his own struggle with an eating disorder whilst a Glasgow University student, and the struggle to be seen and get the care required. A review of the whole system would be welcomed; the service thus far is overstretched and underfunded, however there is the matter of costing and feasibility to consider. Whilst Lindberg admits he has no exact plan, owing that a course of action could only be enacted once a review takes place, he has proposed other ways of helping, such as reaching out to other mental health charities (such as B-Eat) and “fighting for every penny” for the cause. It seems unlikely that the SRC has not attempted this before, however, and fears remain that mental health services continue to be chronically underfunded.

Lindberg proposes a Rectoral Engagement Fund. It will endeavour to fund projects to “spread ideas outside the classroom” and alleviate financial pressures for students who don’t have their own resources to enable outreach projects. Lindberg wants it funded by NGOs and private businesses, to help market ideas and projects. This would be a sensible idea so as not to burden the coffers of the University. It will also help students make contacts in business and future employers.

Finally, Lindberg intends to voice objections to tuition fee hikes for non-Scottish students. Lindberg is of the opinion that the University has an obligation to source funding elsewhere before “targeting students”. In conclusion, Lindberg has small to medium sized policies of good intent, and has previous experience in dealing with administrative roles. This includes his position of environmental advisor to a Scottish Conservative MP. However, owing to the unflashy nature of his proposals, could he win the imagination of the student body?