A day in the life of the LANS Operations Manager

I’m a newbie in the Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences team – I started as LANS Operations Manager in November 2015.  So far so good … it’s a great team to work with and a really interesting concept as an undergraduate degree.  It’s the sort of degree I would have loved myself!  And, despite the work in progress of the new library, the view is a vast improvement on the brick wall and pigeon mess I looked out at in my old job!

 

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View from the ERI

My days are very variable but at the moment because it’s a new role there is a big backlog of paperwork to catch up on – for example programme specification documents for the Natural Sciences exit degree, module specification documents for a new and exciting 4th year Entrepreneurship module, a collaboration agreement with UpRising (who will provide campaigning training for the 2nd year core module later this semester), a job description for a Birmingham Undergraduate Internship to join the LANS team …etc.  I’m nearly there with all that and hopefully we will be able to share more information with the student body soon. I’m also getting to grips with the budget and doing lots of financial planning to make sure that the day-to-day stuff, the improvements, and the extra-curricular trips and events are all covered.

I’ve also spent the last few months having lots of meetings with the other departments and services across the university to understand their processes (for example, timetabling, study abroad, planning, finance) and to talk about the unique and usually chal
lenging requirements of the Liberal Arts and Sciences programme.  Some of my focus over the next few months will be to work with these departments to improve our interaction with them and therefore the outcomes for our students.  For example, if we can put together a new Birmingham Liberal Arts package and marketing to attract overseas students to come and spend a year or semester abroad within Liberal Arts and Sciences at UoB, then  we can open up more spaces for UoB students to go abroad which will help with the placements for LAS students.

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Dr Anna Brown, LANS Operations Manager

This is the first role I’ve had in the university dealing directly with undergraduate students and it’s great to be reminded why we all work here – Chamberlain’s radical vision of a place of learning for students from all backgrounds.  Ruth (LANS Programme Manager) and I have been hosting a series of ‘feedback lunches’– for me this has been the first chance to get to know our students (they’re a lovely bunch!) as well as seeking feedback on the experiences of Liberal Arts and Sciences students.  Feedback is important to us, and we will listen and, wherever we can, act on it.

Following student suggestions last term we have reconfigured the LANS hub area to give individual study carrels with PCs as well as a smaller group meeting area in the ‘glass box’.  A further five PCs are on order and we are working with IT to get printer access.  More recent suggestions for pinboards and maybe artwork for the pink wall will hopefully complete the new look and feel of the space.  But we’d like students to keep the suggestions coming!

I’m really glad I took on this role – steep learning curve and challenges not withstanding – and I look forward to meeting more students and to feeling like I’m really making a difference to the experience of a Liberal Arts and Sciences degree at Birmingham.

Dr Anna Brown, LANS Operations Manager

 

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Getting involved: The Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life

It is a rare occurrence in modern life that people from different backgrounds and faiths sit down and talk openly about religion. And yet it shouldn’t be. While we live in a multi-cultural society with a myriad of religions, faiths, and beliefs often all living on the same street, I feel there is a distinct lack of understanding and communication between neighbours. In modern times our ability to learn and communicate can sometimes be stunted by fear of insulting, being politically incorrect, or even at times sheer ignorance. As such the Commission on Religion and Belief marks a welcome opportunity to break down barriers and talk honestly without the fear of sounding oblivious.

The Commission has been set up by the Woolf Institute to consider how, or even if, religion fits into British society and how it effects the idea of ‘Britishness’. I attended an event hosted by the University of Birmingham to get young people’s views on the subject. Never in my life have I sat around a table with such a varied group of people. Going round the table with the obligatory icebreaker all corporate events mandate was more like going round the history of the world as the multitude of backgrounds, occupations and beliefs were introduced. Around my table Sikhs, Hindus, Humanists, Catholics, Muslims, Evangelicals, and atheists represented a handful of the different standpoints around the room, but crucially we represented a cross-section of modern Britain.

It is easy to study a religion or the theory of a set of ideals but it is much harder to understand them and the meaning they hold in an individual’s life. One comment which stuck with me was from a Christian Theology student from Bristol who made the point that even within her Theology classes at university they only discussed belief; personal faith was never mentioned. I had never given much thought to this as I myself fail to find faith, but yet it was a distinction worth making as we discussed questions such as ‘The place of RE within schools’, and ‘To what extent we feel young people partake in religious traditions and what draws people to them?’.

The concept of Faith has taken on taboo qualities. In politics we have seen a backlash when David Cameron publicly stated his personal faith; socially Muslims have been victimised by the Islamaphobia hysteria, and on a worldwide scale wars are waged. But every person on the planet from remote tribes to the east end of London has faith in something—so should we feel ashamed to discuss it openly?

One reason I overheard over the surprisingly decent lunch was the fact that when we display our faith or discuss our beliefs, even within a calm academic environment such as the Commission provided, we were essentially disagreeing with every other person at the table. When we were answering these hugely complicated questions our responses could be boiled down to ‘I respect you but you’re wrong’.

As we laughed about this over perfectly golden chips I wondered if this point could be extrapolated to British society as a whole. Because faith is so personal and profound to each person, when learning about others it may take on an element of storytelling or even, as controversial as it may be to say, fiction. But by seeing differing faiths in this way, as accidental as it may be, prevents true understanding.

This may seem bleak but it is not, it is simply a reality of life. Just as a middle aged man without children cannot truly understand a young women’s experience of an abortion or the effects of war on a solider, I wonder can different religions have a complete understanding of the other religion on its own terms? ‘I respect you but you’re wrong’ may be at the root of what we are saying, but the Commission on religion and belief taught me that it is the branches of what we say which promote a shared knowledge and acceptance. By not having conversations with different beliefs we are effectively cutting these branches and allowing the rot of ignorance. As humans we can never fully know what it is like to be another person, we but we can empathise and communicate leading to a more accepting, educated and flourishing society.

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Jennifer Preston (1st year, Liberal Arts and Sciences) reporting on the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life (February 2015)