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Sheffield students launch campaign calling for Vice-Chancellor to resign

A series of emails tracking the whereabouts of a student campaigner have cast doubt on claims made by Sheffield Hallam University in a Freedom of Information response.

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Gary Butterfield on Unsplash.

Students at Sheffield Hallam University (SHU) have launched a campaign calling for the university's Vice-Chancellor to resign.

The #DivorceChris campaign calls itself "a grassroots student campaign to democratise Sheffield Hallam by removing the current management and the Vice-Chancellor, Chris Husbands."

They say students have been let down by senior management on issues including the handling of sexual harassment incidents and the tracking of students on social media by the university.

In October, we revealed that SHU generated 190 pages of records on the social media activity and whereabouts of Zac Larkham, a student rent strike organiser.

This week the Daily Express published a story based on a Freedom of Information (FOI) request journalist Emily Braeger sent to the university asking whether they monitor student activity online.

SHU told Now Then that their response to the Express's FOI request stated that "the University does not monitor individual students’ social media accounts nor undertake social media intelligence gathering" and that “the University may check social media accounts to verify information... but this would be determined on a case by case basis.”

But emails revealed by Larkham, themselves obtained through a transparency request, show senior staff advising colleagues to read his Twitter feed and download a copy of his tweets "as this could be useful evidence" relating to his involvement in the rent strike campaign.

Larkham told Now Then he plans to take Hallam's response to the Information Commissioner's Office, which oversees Freedom of Information rules.

As well as the dispute over the surveillance of students online, the #DivorceChris campaign have also called for a pay cap and the democratisation of the university.

Campaigners want to see the university's senior management replaced by representatives voted for by staff and students, who they say should also elect one-third of the university's Board of Governors each.

They've also called for senior staff pay to be capped at a maximum 5:1 ratio with the lowest paid worker.

In 2020 the Vice-Chancellor earned £257,000, while according to Hallam UCU the lowest paid full-time staff at the university earn around £19,047.60 – a pay ratio of more than 13:1.

"University managers simply don’t deserve all that money – they’re too far removed from the everyday struggles of students and staff who are seeing courses cut back and the services they really need ignored," a spokesperson for the #DivorceChris campaign said.

"It’s especially frustrating when staff have seen wages stagnate or even a real terms pay cut – at other universities some have even been homeless while teaching. It’s really difficult to see how they can justify earning so much more than everyone else and the pay ratio aims to tackle that issue."

The spokesperson said that universities "shouldn’t be businesses and they shouldn’t be run so a few people at the top can cash in whilst everyone else suffers."

The campaign have already launched a petition to support their demands, as well as social media accounts. SHU declined to comment on calls for the Vice-Chancellor to resign.

by Sam Gregory (he/him)

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