Hertford bar, once student-run, now privatised despite protests

Hertford students are returning to a bar they no longer run after protests at the end of last term failed to sway the college authorities.

Previously one of the few student-run bars in the University, Hertford College decided to take over running of the bar at the end of Trinity. The decision was made during a board meeting which treated the matter as reserve business, meaning that representatives from the JCR were not allowed to be present.

Students were told that they were not allowed representation as the meeting discussed specific members of the JCR.

In response students boycotted hall in protest but this resulted in “even less dialogue” between the college authorities and students according to one member of the JCR.

In a statement issued by email the Hertford principal justified the changes as “necessary in order to ensure that the bar offers a welcoming environment for all the members of our College community and to avoid placing an excessive burden of responsibility on our undergraduates.”

This may be a subtle reference to the notorious Penguins drinking society that ran into trouble with the College last year but escaped with fines for only a few members. A third-year student at Hertford felt that the real reason behind the privatisation was “the Penguins and everything” and hoped that the changes would result in a “nicer atmosphere” in the bar. She said: “I don’t go there much as I found it intimidating in first year.”

Students have not accepted the decision as final however; the JCR passed a motion at the end of last term to boycott the bar if the privatisation took place. The motion has now been advertised on the Hertford freshers’ Facebook group. Third-year student Tom Smith said of the planned protest: “I don’t know if it will go ahead, if people are still bothered, or if we can persuade the freshers.”

He anticipated that the privatisation would mean “stricter rules” in place in the bar, but added that “at least if something goes wrong now the students can’t be blamed”.

The changes mean that the College will employ a bar manager from outside but students will still work behind the bar. The college stressed that it would continue to liaise closely with its junior members: “Students…will be strongly represented on the bar committee and were involved in the selection of a new manager.”

Balliol, Harris Manchester, St Hilda’s and St Peter’s are now the only undergraduate colleges with student-run bars in Oxford. Nick Spanier, bar manager at Balliol, did not think his college authorities had “paid much attention” to the Hertford privatisation but that college members would have to be vigilant against those who caused trouble in the bar “to avoid facing similar problems”.

He emphasised that this was not currently an issue at Balliol and could not think of any downsides of having a student-run bar. He outlined some of the benefits that Hertford members would be losing due to the privatisation, including lower prices and “more say in what happens”.