University cuts, redundancies - and bye-bye palaeography at King's College London
Last week we had 'Two Brains' Willetts come to talk to us at Newnham. He was clearly a smart guy, but between the lines the prospects for universities looked gloomy. "Autonomy" (one of Willetts's catch words) was pretty clearly a euphemism for "find your own money -- no more from the government", not even the next one.
It would be nice to imagine that university cuts means just larger class sizes. In fact it means redundancies and the end of crucial, but minority, subjects. There has already been a round of compulsory redundancies at Sussex.
Now it is the turn of King's College London - which is planning (very confidentially, so far) to lose up to 22 posts in Arts and Humanities by the end of the academic year. This means that at least one subject (which ought to be a protected species) will disappear.
The truth is that the management at King's is in a difficult position: that is -- not enough money. But their plan of cuts make the heart sink -- all driven by a financial rather than intellectual agenda. The aim -- so the internal document says -- is "to create financially viable academic activity by disinvesting from areas that are at sub-critical level with no realistic prospect of extra investment". That is to say, never mind the intellectual consequences, if you are not making money -- bye bye. Or, in the up beat version, investing " in a number of key areas where academic priorities correspond to student demand, and to Hefce/Research
(As the husband wondered, do they actually talk like this in real face to face meetings.. or do they just translate it into this educational-policy-new-speak for the documents. Lets hope the latter, I suppose.)
Anyway, at King's this will mean (so they themselves predict) taking Byzantine and Modern Greek into Classics (that's maybe no bad idea), losing four lecturing jobs in German, Spanish and Modern Greek (so much for our country's language provision) -- and it will mean removing Palaeography entirely. Those fighting to keep their jobs will be asked (among other things) to show how much research income they have brought in.
Palaeographers may be a quirky crowd. But King's has the only established chair in the subject in the country, and a tradition of tremendous research in the subject (recently exemplified by Julian Brown and Tilly de la Mare) going back decades. The only way that we can hope to understand books and manuscripts of the past (not just how to read them, but also to work out why they were as the were.. and what difference it makes) is to keep the study of palaeography alive. It is the underpinning of history and pre-modern English literature and has crucial links with Classics and the transmission of classical texts,
This point was made firmly in the last round of university cuts -- where the King's provision was explicitly singled out as distinguished.
All we can do is write to the Principal of King's and make a plea for preserving the infra-structure of intellectual culture. Once these skills disappear, you never get them back,