Seats of learning

January 8, 2015

Graffiti. That’s what’s missing from John Sutherland’s examination of campus lavatorial facilities (“At your convenience”, Features, 18/25 December).

“A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle”. “To be is to do” (Socrates); “To do is to be” (Sartre); “Do be do be do” (Sinatra). In the 1970s a young woman could learn a lot from reading the backs of cubicle doors at the University of Leeds. There had not been any graffiti at my suburban girls’ comprehensive. Now there’s none at universities any more, either. Toilet facilities have been upgraded, and the pristine surfaces are respected. I rather regret the passing of the days when you could learn the rudiments of radical feminism, pacifism, surrealism and how to contact Women’s Aid from the cubicle doors. Still, at least there’s usually a supply of soft paper.

Helen Jones
University of Huddersfield


How deliciously ironic of THE to have a brilliant piece on the topic of what universities’ lavatories reveal about the academy in the same issue as the results of the 2014 REF. The heavy use of the facilities on the results day, as proposed by John Sutherland, might not tell the whole story, however. Perhaps the coincidence is symbolic of an unconscious desire for cleanliness from dregs, to be purified (which is precisely the etymology of “defecate” from the Latin “defaecare”). The reader might infer what he or she likes with regard to the connotation that the REF acquires in this context.

Anna Notaro
Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design
University of Dundee


John Sutherland’s magisterial article on academic toilets misses two key points.

First, the quality of toilet paper. Originally it was shiny and somewhat abrasive on the posterior. In the 1960s, it became softer, even quilted. Now in austere times, quality is in decline and the size of the sheets is also smaller.

Second, there is the more important question of the workers who clean the toilets. They perform an unpleasant, usually thankless, but essential job for which they are often paid very little. Yet on reflection who does more to keep a university running? The vice-chancellor, or the person who makes sure the toilets work?

Keith Flett

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