Classics at Royal Holloway under threat
Slasher vice-chancellors tend to use the same tactic to get their way. First they announce some departmental massacre... all the jobs in the Sociology Department are to go; there will be two positions in the History Department that the 30 Sociologists can compete for, the others will be made redundant . . . oh, and also there is to be no consultation, it is going to the University Council tomorrow.
Panic all round, of course, and screams of anguish. When it actually comes to the Council, the proposals are watered down. The Sociology Department will be merged with the Department of History; there will be a designated "Sociology pathway" in the new History degree; compulsory redundancies will be avoided if at all possible, thanks to an early retirement scheme, which will bring down the total of Sociologists from 30 to 15 . . . The poor bloody Sociologists breathe a sigh of relief (understandably, they are not going to be competing with friends and colleagues for a couple of posts, or alternatively on the scrap heap), and there is guarded celebration that the Council saw sense.
Of course, the truth is the VC got what he wanted in the easiest and quickest way imaginable. The Sociology Department has been emasculated, 15 of them will go (and oh dear, there did in the end have to be just three compulsory redundancies), no good students are attracted to a Sociology course that is only a pathway in a History department, and every time a sociologist retires he or she is replaced by a historian....They have in fact been closed down -- but all they can think is that it could have been worse.
Something like this has been going on in the Classics Department at Royal Holloway in the past few days. Last Friday, the Department was summoned to an urgent meeting this Monday, to tell them that the philosophers amongst them would be moved to politics, the remaining 12 could fight it out for 5 jobs in History (where there would be a Classics 'footprint'... one down from a 'pathway'). The rest would be offered counselling in "managing change' (just how patronising is that?). There was to be no consultation, and the matter would be decided by the Council on Wednesday, just two days after the Department had heard about the proposal. (I am sure that the Principal -- a software engineer -- would call this 'strong and decisive leadership'; I call it dictatorship and obstinacy.)
On Wednesday, the decision is not quite so bad as was feared.
There is to be a new Department called "Classics and History", and there will be 40 places for people to read Ancient History and Classical Studies. The idea would be to avoid compulsory redundancy with an early retirement scheme.
Well I am hugely relieved for the people whose jobs were on the line. But dont cheer too soon; this looks to me like the slow death, rather than the quick death, model. There will be no language teaching, which -- in my view -- always take the stuffing out of any classical enterprise. What keen classics student would opt for this? And bet you anything, as soon as one of those classicists in history leaves or retires, they will be replaced by some one in British 19th century, or South East Asian post-colonial.
So please, make a fuss about this ... and write to the Principal saying what an error it was.
But why is it an error?
Lets get real. There is no reason to imagine that universities should never change, and there is no reason to argue that when thousands of people in the public sector are losing their jobs, academics should be -- as of right -- immune.
But Royal Holloway is a good Classics department; and it you excise it from Royal Holloway, you impoverish and devalue all the humanities there (there was a threat to Italian too, I wonder what happened to that). If you want an example of what happens to 'standards' if you think you can just do without Classics, try this. In fact one of the themes of my Mellon lectures was that you cant do the cultural history of the West WITHOUT Classics -- or if you do, you make some ghastly errors (embarrassing details can be provided on request).
It is hard not to thnk that this Principal is not doing a crafty bit of financial speculation in advance of the £9000 fee regime. When that starts, so his argument probably went, the kids wont want to cough up for "useless' subjects, like Classics, they will all want career orientated things, like.... software engineering. And that of course is exactly how the humanities will get hammered by the Coalition's policies. The government will be able to pour their blessings on the humanities, while VSs across the land will do their dirty work for them.
When Margaret Thatcher abolished university tenure in the old sense (it used to protect academics from redundancy), it was in the interests of flexibility and change (how were universities supposed to run themselves responsibly if they could never decide to stop teaching something and move in a different direction? -- as Thatcher and co. ridiculed the gold-plated protection that academic seemed to enjoy). OK, there is something to be said for change. But the old system had much to be said for it too. It certainly prevented subjects being simply at the mercy of management will and whim.
If, before you write to the Principal, you want a flavour of the management style at Royal Holloway, try this litte taster from their website.