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Below is the text I  have sent in an e-mail (20 November 2012) to the UCL Urban Laboratory Steering Committee regarding comments made by certain UCL managers and members of Newham Council in meetings discussing UCL Stratford. Please read and share this post, especially with other UCL academics and colleagues.

Natasha Gorodnitski
Ethics, Environment and Operations Officer.

Dear all,

I am writing to the UCL Urban Laboratory Steering Committee after a series of meetings that I have attended as an elected student representative where UCL Stratford has either been discussed or has been the main purpose of meeting. I am greatly concerned with the way that certain UCL managers and members of Newham Council have spoken about UCL academics, and I wish to raise this with all academics at UCL as well as the wider UCL community as soon as possible. Below is my account of comments made at two meetings this term.

On the 16th of October, during a discussion after a presentation to Finance Committee on UCL Stratford, Head of UCL Estates Andrew Grainger responded to a question about including UCL academics that have expertise in areas relevant to the expansion project. In his response he stated that he wished not to be critical of academics and that great research was being done, but that there is a difference between “academic expertise and practical [application]”.

On the 19th of November several UCLU officers met with the Mayor of Newham, Sir Robin Wales; the Director of Strategic Regeneration, Planning, & Olympic Legacy, Jo Negrini; Douglas Trainer of Serco; and UCL VP Operations, Rex Knight to discuss our concerns about UCL Stratford. I will be putting a full report online within the next week, but I would like to raise a few comments with you now that were made in response to my point in the meeting about the serious lack of academic involvement in the UCL Stratford plans thus far. I will refrain from giving my opinion here on each of the comments I have detailed below, but I do give my general opinion afterward on the spirit of the comments in the context of the meeting and what they mean as a response to the specific question I posed.

The first response was from Jo Negrini, who stated that she previously worked on regeneration in Brixton, which had opposition from the many Bartlett academics that were “lambasting Lambeth Council and [Jo]”, who have since “eaten their words” due to the success in the area as it has been recently awarded ‘Best Neighbourhood’. She also stated that she would be happy to work with academics, but wants to know what the solution is for the area.

Following Jo was Rex Knight, who stated that academics in general have a range of views and that it is part of academic life to debate, and while there are a group of UCL academics that believe that community-led regeneration is the only good regeneration, that it’s not the view of the whole of the Bartlett. He also pointed out that the statement put out by the Urban Lab is not representative of the whole of the Bartlett.

Robin Wales spoke next, stating that “sometimes academics are full of shit” and that “a lot of regeneration is nonsense talk”.

Beyond Jo mentioning that she was happy to work with UCL academics, there was no reassurance that UCL academics, be it those that have expertise in directly relevant subjects or those that do not, would be invited to become significantly more involved than they have been. It is my opinion and hope that UCL managers and members of Newham Council reach out to and actively involve the wider academic community at UCL and not dismiss it.

I believe it is important for academics to know what other members of the UCL community and other involved parties say of them. I am hoping that, in light of these comments, there will be some action taken across the academic community not only regarding their involvement in the UCL Stratford project, but also to demand respect for their research and positions as part of the university. What is a university without its academics and students?

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments regarding this message. I hope to hear from you.

Kind regards,

Natasha Gorodnitski
Ethics, Environment & Operations Officer
University College London Union