Golden cock-up at Castle College

By Luke Payne, and

Goshka Bialek, a world renowned artist and longstanding member of Castle SCR, has been kicked out of the SCR and banned from the college site by the college Principal, Professor Graham Towl, after being accused of putting a “3m model of a penis in the Great Hall without securing any agreement to do so.”

Bialek received the expulsion via email from Towl, who also claimed that Bialek had engaged in “a continued pattern of rudeness to college officers and other staff”. 

Expulsion from college grounds is one of the highest punishments that can be dealt out unilaterally by a head-of-college.

Bialek had been an SCR member at the college for nearly 30 years and was very active in organising Castle’s artistic life and helping students with Arts Week and other activities. In addition, until 2010, she held the post of Castle’s Art Secretary. 

“I think he saw it as revenge for me criticising his treatment of the students.”

Goshka Bialek

In an interview with Palatinate, Bialek expressed her anger and frustration at the way she had been treated by Towl.

She said of the ban, “I think he saw it as revenge for me criticising his treatment of the students.”  While she admits to having disagreed with some of Professor Towl’s changes to the college, she said, “I wasn’t rude to him. I told him exactly what the problem was, that he shouldn’t get rid of tradition or treat his students like children.”

The statue, with the caption: “A symbol of strength, safety and prosperity. Unconventional times call for unconventional measures. Castle Arts Week 2020.”

Bialek went on to explain that the sculpture was not her work, but that of a group of students, who were undertaking a project for Castle Arts Week. 

Bialek notes that “It has never been necessary in the past for students to ask for permission to produce a temporary display during the Arts Week”.

In a lengthy email response challenging her expulsion from the SCR, Bialek explained to Towl the true nature of the sculpture and how her sudden ban had caused her great distress. She also argued that she was fired without an opportunity to explain the situation or appeal.

The email sent from Bialek also defended the artistic merit of the sculpture. She stated that it was important to “challenge traditional cultural norms” and a penis was a good way to do that. “In this country, a penis is considered a vulgar subject for a sculpture, while in Asia a penis is a symbol of strength, safety and prosperity.”

The caption attached to the statue made this clear: “‘A symbol of strength, safety and prosperity. Unconventional times call for unconventional measures. Castle Arts Week 2020’. It is widely acknowledged that it is one of the fundamental functions of art to challenge traditional thinking,  and the students wanted to achieve that.”

“in Asia a penis is a symbol of strength, safety and prosperity.”

Goshka Bialek

Towl responded by writing that “I am sorry to hear of your distress. But please understand, I have nothing to add to my previous email”. 

In her Palatinate interview, Bialek expressed her belief that banning the artwork is tantamount to stifling student expression. 

“I am sorry to hear of your distress.”

Professor Graham Towl

Student response has been negative. One Castle student said, “It seems completely unfair that someone who has been a member of the SCR for 30 years had their membership withdrawn over an art piece that looked to challenge societal norms. 

“How can a college on the one hand show themselves as celebrating Pride Week with a flag for all of Durham to see whilst at the same time oppressing an artistic comment made by one of its members on sexuality and masculinity? It just doesn’t really make sense to me.”

Palatinate has contacted Durham University for comment, but has received no response.

Image: Goshka Bialek

43 thoughts on “Golden cock-up at Castle College

  • Goshka Bialek is one of the rudest people I’ve ever met. Glad she’s gone. She wasn’t very nice to students or staff and it isn’t the first time there have been complaints about her behaviour.

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    • Couldn’t agree more – she was incredible rude to me. It’s about time she faced the consequences of her actions and behaviour.

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      • I understand that she could be perceived this way but often it’s because of her being Polish leading to things getting lost in translation. She’s one of the last people who truly cares about Durham and isn’t scared to speak her mind (if rather brashly). Like many Castle students, she disagrees with the changes that Towl has made. Isn’t it her prerogative to complain against them? She should not have been punished in this way.

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        • The problem is that she’s been rude to almost everyone for thirty years – thank goodness someone has finally done something about it.

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          • Guaranteed that neither of you are actual students. How would you know she has been rude to everyone for 30 years? Have you resat exams 26 times in a row?
            I’d wager a double or nothing on my student loan that neither of you are under the age of 50. “It’s about time she faced the consequences of her actions and behaviour.” Said. No. Young. Person. Ever.

  • Castle’s principal seems to be acting with little to no accountability. Regardless of who it is, no one who has dedicated 30 years to a college should be thrown out for such a (flawed) thinly veiled reason.

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    • So it’s ok to abuse the staff then?

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      • Completely the opposite. If any real legitimate concerns exist then they should be voiced and dealt with transparently.
        Instead a completely irrelevant and unrelated matter has been used to kick her out. Graham has failed to provide any legitimate reason, instead unwilling to discuss the matter with “nothing to add”.
        Why use a student art project to get rid of someone if there are real issues? Why not discuss those issues like adults?

        Also, are we recognising language barriers leading to miscommunication etc.

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  • Towl’s changes have been deeply unpopular amongst some students, particularly the overprivileged piss heads who behave like they own the place and who use ‘tradition’ as an excuse to create a public school rugby club, toxic masculine atmosphere that is off putting and intimidating to the majority of students including myself. If this SCR member genuinely wanted to improve perceptions of masculinity in the College she could have started by supporting Towl’s changes rather than adding yet another giant prick to the Hall.

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    • Found Towl’s burner account.

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      • Definitely burner account

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    • definitely graham in disguise

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    • last time i checked the only prick in the hall was towl himself

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    • A public school rugby club and toxic masculinity? What a load of bollocks. The rugby club is tame relative to many other colleges and especially university teams. I understand that at times they could be intimidating but there is not one of them who if you actually spoke to, who would not be friendly. Towl has ruined the final year for many and I fear he may have destroyed castle traditions for many years to come and this is nothing to do with alcohol. Cutting down formals, banning the rugby team for no reason and constantly babying students trying to act like university isn’t meant to be one of the best times in your life. I assure you that if you think a majority of Castle students support his changes, you are not involved in college enough or extremely ignorant

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    • Weird to describe a woman in her 60’s who grew up in underprivileged communist Poland as a defender of overprivileged public school rugby club toxic masculinity.

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  • Goshka is one of the rudest people I have ever met. She has been rude to almost all the Castle staff.

    The excuse is that the Golden Cock was a student project – who put them up to it? could it have been Goshka? Got it in one!

    Reply
    • The reality is that it was a student project (and great to see students getting involved in art!).
      Can the student’s artwork even be considered inappropriate, let alone be used to justify such a harsh reaction? It is quite ironic that a piece meant to challenge social norms has to lead to this.

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      • Precisely. The irony of the situation is a conceptual art piece itself.

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  • TLDR: Mature member cums last in the face of stiff opposition

    Reply
  • Generally
    One
    Should
    Have
    Known
    About
    Powers
    Enigmatic
    Now
    In
    Sight

    Reply
  • Having left the university and seen what has happened to Castle, it is frankly beyond a joke the way in which the new management team have gone about imposing change, dishing out punishment without any proper process and ruining the Durham ‘student experience’ for so many.

    You ask students and staff alike to behave like adults and follow the rules, but in any real working environment you have a process to deal with disciplinary issues, not an out of touch and ignorant quasi-dictator, masquerading as the lord and saviour.

    Reply
    • You’re talking about the late, lamented David Held, right? A greater dictator would be hard to find!

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  • GT had a bad reputation with Castle staff before he arrived there as he used to use his position in the Uni to force the Porters to break H&S and Uni rules and give him the keys to the roof so he could show his mates round – it put them in a really difficult position. When he got to Castle he was happy to let bullying and abusive behaviour by a senior member of his team carry on and just brushed it under the carpet. The sad reality is that a lot of this is down to the fact GT doesn’t really understand people (funny given his academic field…), and doesn’t have the people or management skills for a job like running a College, which sounds like how this issue and other problems have happened this year. He has destroyed a lot of what made the Castle what it was without any real understanding, and a lot of people in the Uni think he isn’t up to the job.

    Reply
  • GT had a bad reputation with Castle staff before he arrived there as he used to use his position in the Uni to force the Porters to break H&S and Uni rules and give him the keys to the roof so he could show his mates round – it put them in a really difficult position. When he got to Castle he was happy to let bullying and abusive behaviour by a senior member of his team carry on and just brushed it under the carpet. The sad reality is that a lot of this is down to the fact GT doesn’t really understand people (funny given his academic field…), and doesn’t have the people or management skills for a job like running a College, which sounds like how this issue and other problems have happened this year. He has destroyed a lot of what made the Castle what it was without any understanding, and a lot of people in the Uni think he isn’t up to the job.

    Reply
    • You need to get your facts right, he did not use his position to force me to let him on the roof, he was given permission from the master and the email was never sent to me. Total miscommunication.

      Reply
  • I understand that she could be perceived this way but often it’s because of her being Polish leading to things getting lost in translation. She’s one of the last people who truly cares about Durham and isn’t scared to speak her mind (if rather brashly). Like many Castle students, she disagrees with the changes that Towl has made. Isn’t it her prerogative to complain against them? She should not have been punished in this way.

    Reply
  • Graham Towl is resigning thank god. What damage that man has done to a once great college. Shameful appointment.

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    • This is a shameful comment – you should talk to the staff in College, whose jobs Graham Towl has been trying to save. He even arranged for the cleaners to have training in spotting sexual violence to help them keep their jobs.

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      • What would be shameful is if he has allowed low-paid staff to think their jobs might be saved if they went on a training course. Everyone knows this is the second part of the Operations Review, and that redundancies have already been decided on – College Principals will know this. The consultation and things like this are just a fig leaf to allow the Uni to look like it’s listened and cares before it does exactly what it planned to do in the first place. Senior management like to pretend they’re progressive and tolerant, and often emphasise their working class origins, but when it comes to it they’ll happily make low-paid local workers redundant and claim it as a ‘success’ while taking their own huge salaries and topping up their large pensions.

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        • Err… no…

          We all know that consultations are fig leafs, but Towl sent the staff on the training courses before the second part of the Operations Review was even consulted on.

          Kudos to Towl for trying to save jobs for local people.

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          • Cleaners and other staff were told they were going to be part of Phase 2 a year ago, and the writing was on the wall then – the Uni knows that it wants redundancies. Training courses will make no difference – does anyone think Castle will be able to keep more cleaners than other Colleges because they’re well trained? It’s all part of the Uni’s PR exercise to sugar the pill of cuts. Anyone who thinks otherwise is being misled and playing the management’s game.

  • The sculpture represents your typical Castle student!

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  • Looks like the Master/Principal has made a few enemies.

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  • The power of bad publicity

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  • “Guaranteed that neither of you are actual students. How would you know she has been rude to everyone for 30 years? Have you resat exams 26 times in a row? ”

    What – she’s suddenly become rude in old age?

    “I’d wager a double or nothing on my student loan that neither of you are under the age of 50”

    And how many students say, “I’d wager”?

    “It’s about time she faced the consequences of her actions and behaviour.” Said. No. Young. Person. Ever.”

    You obviously haven’t met any Castle students!

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    • Haha ok sure. You’re definitely not Graham Towl. Embarrassing.

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      • Amazing – you think Towl is cool enough to read Palatinate!

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        • Anybody with an e-mail address can get sent a link to a website. Good try though Graham.

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  • Goshka has always been a lovely person to talk to and discuss art and sculpture with. Additionally, she is known for being passionate about Castle and the collegiate aspect of Durham. It’s hard to find prestigious members of the SCR (who don’t teach) that are female role models who want to engage with other common rooms. However, it seems all of this was tossed to the side when there was an excuse to boot her from the common room for basically being an outspoken person in the Castle? Seems as if the sculpture was just the ammunition and there was no due process in all of this. Who’s to say this won’t set a precedent to other heads of Colleges that you can just kick out people you personally disagree with? To also ban her from the grounds demonstrates that a giant golden penis isn’t the most immature masculine figure in the Castle.

    One more thing: to get so butt hurt (pun intended) about a piece of art validates that freedom of artistic expression is dead in this college – funny how men with power get so upset by willies.

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  • No where in these messages states that this was put in hall when she knew that the Lord Mayor of London was visiting the castle the day after.

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    • Nowhere in Graham’s reasoning has this featured. It is also news to me, and therefore perhaps everyone (including Goshka herself). Maybe if there was some better communication (something all common rooms have complained about) the students who made the piece could have been asked to temporarily move it. Otherwise, it’s not unreasonable to hope that the Lord Mayor would have enjoyed seeing some artistic expression. It was Castle Arts Week, and the hall is at the center of a college (not just a showpiece for Graham’s guests).

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    • What? Does the Lord Mayor not like art?

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  • College Principals will know this. The consultation and things like this are just a fig leaf to allow the Uni to look like it’s listened and cares before it does exactly what it planned to do in the first place.

    Reply

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