Monitoring the Crisis: Birmingham

Just to keep the pot stirring, this item appeared at Birmingham UCU:

Greek, Latin and Ancient History have been taught at Birmingham since the foundation of the University in 1900 and are now under threat from dangerously short-sighted management practices. Yet, lecturers at UoB are now prevented by a bizarre confidentiality clause from bringing to public attention the serious threat posed by a proposal involving imminent redundancies in Classics and Ancient History. UoB’s proposal to make redundant a quarter of the Classics and Ancient History team at the Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity is bewildering, especially in a year when student fees have climbed to £9,000 pa and the Government’s own UniStats website is focusing on student teaching experience as the core of university value.

UoB claims to be committed to Classics and Ancient History, but the plan to close the IAA, recently submitted to University Council, tells a different story. Although this year’s admissions round has been difficult across the sector, management has made an arbitrary decision to use 2012 admissions as a baseline, and as a spurious rationale for compulsory redundancies. A detailed plan for generating new business and increasing the numbers of the desired ABB+ students, produced by long-standing and senior members of IAA, has been ignored in favour of seeing this short-term ‘solution’ through. If the Head of College has his way, three prize-winning educators and leading scholars in Classics and Ancient History are in the firing line along with the quality of the student experience. The plan to replace two out of the three permanent staff with fixed-term, teaching-only posts is at odds with UoB’s status as a Russell Group university, apparently publicly committed to research-led teaching.

Indeed, Classics and Ancient History is facing a 25% reduction in non-professorial staff, with inevitable repercussions on the breadth of research and teaching available to students. In addition, the serious decline in Archaeology staffing will reduce the choices available to Classics and to Ancient History students, endangering recruitment and potentially leading to further redundancies in the future. The redundancies, rather than any institutional changes, are at the heart of the matter. We welcome some of the proposals, which provide an opportunity to respond to challenges related to student recruitment without the large number of job losses envisioned.

One element of the Review points the way forward. One group within the IAA, the Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies, has been given several years to fuse with the History department. No job losses are currently envisioned within the Centre, even though it currently recruits no undergraduate students of its own (unlike the other areas of the IAA where some areas facing redundancies have comparatively strong undergraduate recruitment). This is a far-sighted policy which will enrich the variety of modules available within History and boost the overall number of high calibre students applying to the University through that programme. It also reflects an important truth: many subjects have difficulty recruiting not because of any failing among staff but simply because the A level subjects which act as feeders have comparatively small student numbers. The University clearly believes that if students recruited via the much larger cohort of A-level History students are given access to Byzantine courses they will find them attractive. This move also helps ensure that the History degree has a distinctiveness compared to other History degrees nationally. This policy, which maintains as much of the skills’ base of the University as policy, and which also gives the University the best chance to recruit the highest quality students, is also one which should be applied to the other areas of the IAA (including Archaeology and Ancient History), and not just the Centre for Byzantine Studies. Surely Stonehenge and Roman Britain are as much part of British History as Clement Attlee’s government? Surely courses on those subjects are just as likely as one another to attract and enthuse the very best students?

Is it just me or is almost every single case we’ve looked at of a program in peril — if not every single case — based on deception and/or distortion of the reality of the situation? Is it just me or do administrator types seem to think Classics is an easy target that no one will care about? We will fight them on the beaches … we will fight them in the departmental coffee lounges …  Cha ghèill! Cha ghèill! Cha ghèill!

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Birmingham Crisis Redux … in a Bad Way

Yesterday Edith Hall informed the Classics International facebook group that the crisis at the University of Birmingham which we learned about last summer was going down the road everyone feared. Here’s a somewhat edited version of her comments:

Yesterday, selected non-professorial Classicists, Ancient Historians and Archeologists received letters from the (Classicist) Pro-Vice-Chancellor Michael Whitby informing them that their posts have been selected to go into a pool from which redundancies are proposed. Three redundancies in Classics/AH out 12 lecturers, senior and junior; in Archaeology, five lecturers out of seven plus all 8.8 Research staff. Professors are completely protected.
These proposals will be presented to the College Council on Wednesday 3rd October, which is terrifyingly soon. Since writing to Professor Whitby himself has so far had little effect, members of this group are encouraged to write immediately to the Vice-Chancellor himself,
Professor David Eastwood,
The University of Birmingham
Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 2TT
United Kingdom.

email: d.eastwood AT bham.ac.uk,

I have no idea of the identity of the source of any of the information I have posted here, which has arrived anonymously. The contents of the letter to staff in the redundancy “pool” can only be disclosed with Professor Whitby’s written permission or it will be treated as a disciplinary matter.

… note that date of October 3 … obviously any emails would best be sent as soon as possible.
Some background:

Update on the Threat to Classics at UVa

Wow … reaction to this one was rather swift, compared to many, many others. Judging from the talk on the Classics list yesterday, we might be dealing with a reporter or administrator who was a little ‘loose’ when they were talking and Classics aren’t really threatened at all. Inside Higher Ed also had a piece on the firing of Teresa Sullivan, which included this bit, inter alia, about Classics (tip o’ the pileus to John McMahon for passing this along):

[…] Consider classics. The department’s website features a quote from Thomas Jefferson, the university’s founder: “To read the Greek and Latin authors in their original is a sublime luxury…. I thank on my knees him who directed my early education for having in my possession this rich source of delight.”

Classics at UVa is very much alive because it is alive statewide in high schools. In 2012, Virginia had the third-highest number of students of any state (behind only New York State and Massachusetts) who took the National Latin Exam, which is offered to high schools nationwide. This strong history of Latin high school enrollments in the state has translated into strong interest in the classics at the university.

John F. Miller, chair of the department, said in an interview Sunday that student interest is so high that the department typically offers four to five sections of advanced Latin for undergraduates, typically has about 70 students at any one time majoring in classics, and graduates up to 20 a year. The Ph.D. program is small (appropriate, Miller noted, given the academic job market in the humanities) and typically graduates one or two new Ph.D.s a year.

Miller said that he woke up this morning to find e-mail messages from people around the world expressing shock and asking, “What’s going on there? What can we do to help?”

In his interactions with administrators at Virginia, Miller said, he has received strong support and encouragement, so he was “flabbergasted” that board members consider classics an “obscure” department that could be eliminated. “It makes me feel mad. It’s an embarrassment to the university,” he said.

Jefferson and Modern Languages

While Jefferson loved the classics, he also believed it was crucial to study modern languages. In fact, in a move that went against the norms at the time he founded UVa (when leading universities in the United States focused language study on Greek and Latin), Jefferson included in his original plan for the university a School of Modern Languages, with instruction in Anglo-Saxon, French, German, Italian and Spanish. […]

Besides the reduced threat to Classics, I hope folks notice the connections made there to strength in Classics at the university level and strength in Classics at the high school level …

Classics Threatened at U-Va?

This one’s just starting to filter through the Classics list (tip o’ the pileus to Patrick Rourke and Susan Lusnia) … The Washington Post has a lengthy piece on the University of Virginia’s ousting of their President Teresa Sullivan … the reasons,  inter alia:

Leaders of the University of Virginia’s governing board ousted President Teresa Sullivan last week largely because of her unwillingness to consider dramatic program cuts in the face of dwindling resources and for her perceived reluctance to approach the school with the bottom-line mentality of a corporate chief executive.

[…]

The campaign to remove Sullivan began around October, the sources said. The Dragas group coalesced around a consensus that Sullivan was moving too slowly. Besides broad philosophical differences, they had at least one specific quibble: They felt Sullivan lacked the mettle to trim or shut down programs that couldn’t sustain themselves financially, such as obscure academic departments in classics and German.

Obscure???? They’ve got more than ten faculty there, many of whom seem to  be in endowed positions (to say nothing of one member being Director of Undergraduate studies and another being Director of Graduate Studies) … whatever the case,  it seems like a messy situation and probably should be a heads up for the Classics department at U-Va and, of course, all of us folks who will be rising to defend it …

Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity Threatened

University of Birmingham
University of Birmingham (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just starting to hear about this one … the Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity at the University of Birmingham is the latest department to be threatened by beancounters who just don’t get it. There’s a blog to follow developments at:

… and a petition here  … we’ll keep an eye on this one as not a lot of info about it seems to have been released; in case you’re wondering, Classics and Ancient History are under their umbrella … visit the IAA’s website here