Backed by the student mandate from the Student Union’s (SU) no-confidence referendum, the team behind the Yes result recently sent a letter of no-confidence containing 12 asks to Vice-Chancellor Nishan Canagarajah and his executive team. These included: requesting transparency regarding staff redundancies; clarity around how masters and medic students are affected by the Universities safety net; an accommodation rebate higher than 50% and establishing a minimum response time for student accommodation complaints.
Canagarajah officially replied to the letter of no-confidence with a letter of his own. If Canagarajah and the executive team were genuinely interested in taking ‘the first step towards rebuilding the student body’s trust,’ they would begin by clearly addressing these asks to restore student confidence. Instead, the majority of Canagarajah’s letter either attacked the Yes campaign team or complimented his own achievements, showing that Canagarajah only holds students in contempt.
Canagarajah claimed that the reason he did not get involved in the no-confidence referendum was because he respects the independence of the SU. I believe he does not respect the SU when it comes to the truth, as according to 20/21 SU President Mia Nembhard, the SU asked Canagarajah to be involved in the no-confidence referendum. Canagarajah also claims that the statement from the Yes Campaign that the University has been defaulting on its bank loans is false, however University of Leicester Colleges Union’s (UCU) claim that the University has effectively breached covenants is deeply troubling, especially given the lack of transparency around the University’s finances. I think that Canagarajah’s response regarding his lack of involvement in the referendum and his statement on loan defaulting shows his evasion of responsibility.
Canagarajah implied that the referendum was illegitimate based on student turnout, arguing that the quorum on referendums should be higher. I believe that this is a completely disingenuous statement, because the student turnout in the referendum was far higher than the number of students who vote in SU network elections. Therefore, raising the quorum level would make it almost impossible for a referendum to ever pass. In addition, according to SU President Mia Nembhard, the University has also used student surveys with low student participation as a justification to make changes. To me, it appears that Canagarajah is only calling into question the voter turnout because he does not like the results.
If students are truly ‘at the heart of this community,’ we deserve a letter that addresses each point with a promise to work with the SU.Reed James, student.
If Canagarajah respected students, he would properly address each of the 12 asks, however we are left disappointed. Only three out of twelve asks are addressed, and more words are used to compliment his record than meaningfully addressing the student asks. On the ask of transparency, Canagarajah insisted that the University is already transparent, without disproving the specific examples contained within the no-confidence letter. Regarding the ask that the University improve its accommodation response time, Canagarajah claims that the university is addressing complaints fast enough already. This includes a specific example that students subjected to mould spore poisoning in their accommodation never received a response about the issue from the accommodation team.
Finally, the letter asked for a higher rent rebate than 50%, pointing to the example of the University of Birmingham which promised a 100% rent rebate to all students. Canagarajah explained that a 50% rebate is the maximum possible, without explaining how this can be the case when other Universities are doing far more. This shows the contempt Canagarajah has for students when he cannot even be bothered to address the asks.
The rest of the letter questioned why SU Executive Officers do not do more to praise him for his apparent hard work, citing the Universities safety net as an example. However, Canagarajah conveniently overlooked the example the letter of no-confidence provided about the lack of clarity regarding how master and medic students are affected by the safety net. Yet again, Canagarajah evaded answering an ask, so I wonder why he bothered replying at all when his response says so little.
If students are truly ‘at the heart of this community,’ we deserve a letter that addresses each point with a promise to work with the SU, because this is the type of response that would inspire student confidence. However, all Canagarajah’s response reveals is his contempt for students. Until he treats students respectfully and listens to us, he should expect no-confidence in his leadership from students.
Image: University of Leicester
Please note: this article was updated 01/07/2021 18:59
Reed James studies History and Politics at the University of Leicester. He volunteered for both the Students against Disinvestment group and the No-Confidence Yes Campaign. Find him on Twitter here.