Events at Leicester and Birmingham Universities

Mon, 8 Jul 2002


Note from MeCCSA Chair and Hon Secretary:

Dear Colleagues

We’ve become aware that not every member of MeCCSA
has been receiving the circulated information on what MeCCSA
has been doing in relation to the events at Leicester and
Birmingham Universities. Because this is so important, we
are recirculating the key documents to everyone. To recap
the key events: in June the University of Birmingham informed
staff in its Department of Cultural Studies and Sociology
that the Department was to be closed, resulting in several
redundancies and with the retention of only one post in sociology
and three in cultural studies. This appeared to be in response
to the university management’s disappointment at the Research
Assessment Exercise outcome, and its belief that excess capacity
and expertise were available for the delivery of teaching
in these disciplines.

Around the same time, the Senate at the University of Leicester
decided to reconstruct work in mass communications and to
close the Centre for Mass Communication Research. Again the
RAE seems to be being used as an excuse. In both cases, MeCCSA,
consulting with its members there, learned that the Departments
were in a very healthy state, in both financial and recruitment
terms. Our sense is that the RAE results are being used as
a cover for other factors.

We would want to stress two things: first, wherever possible,
MeCCSA has been working in concert with the British Sociological
Association, and with the Association of University Teachers.
Second, things are still on-going at both Universities, and
MeCCSA’s role is far from complete. We will continue
to update members as fully as we can.

MeCCSA Executive

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Circular to members, sent August 2002:

Recent events at Birmingham and Leicester

Many colleagues will be aware that earlier in the summer
the management at the University of Birmingham dismembered
the Department of Cultural Studies and Sociology. All members
of staff were either relocated or persuaded to take a voluntary
severance package. The ostensible trigger was the department’s
score of 3a in the 2001 RAE. Not only does 3a signify a department
whose research is at a standard of predominantly national
excellence, but their submission had been significantly modified
by a non-sociologist member of senior management against
the explicit objections of the head of department and other
staff. On the teaching side, the department scored 24 in
Subject Review and gets equally good results when rated by
students.

A letter was sent on behalf of MeCCSA in early July to
the Birmingham Vice-Chancellor protesting at the proposed
action, and pointing to the damage it would do students,
staff and the University. We received a response that meets
none of the points of substance in the letter. The British
Sociological Association received an almost identical response.
The university has been similarly unmoved by protests about
the fate of cultural studies from all over the world.

Within the last few weeks, it has emerged that the management
at Birmingham has not only allowed the 2002 entry to go ahead,
but is trying to sustain the sociology undergraduate degree
programmes and the supervision of postgraduates through a
combination of drafting staff in from other departments,
buying in casual teaching, the promise of future posts, and
the use of course units offered by other departments.

We continue to make our opposition to the original decisions
known and a joint letter expressing our concerns has been
sent to The Times Higher from the Chair of the BSA Executive
and the Chair of the MeCCSA Executive. As this letter has
been published only in a heavily edited version the full
text is appended below.

As members may also be aware the University of Leicester
has apparently decided to close its Centre for Mass Communication
Research. We wrote to the Vice Chancellor there expressing
similar concerns and opposition to the proposed action decided
by the university Senate. [Both letters are appended here]
To date recruitment for 2002/3 has gone ahead, staff on short
term contracts have had them extended, and the major restructuring
of activities in this area, to use the phrase communicated
to us by the Leicester Vice Chancellor, would seem to be
on hold.

We are in close liaison with the British Sociological Association
over Birmingham, and continue to collate information in both
instances from staff, students and their parents, and others.
Further information will be issued after the Executive Committee
meeting.

Christine Geraghty
Chair of MeCCSA Executive Committee

Peter Golding
Hon Secretary

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MeCCSA’s letters to the two Vice-Chancellors:

Dear Professor Burgess

As the national subject association for HE in our field,
we have learned with great consternation of proposals to
close or reconstitute the Centre for Mass Communication Research
at your university. While we have been unable to obtain full
details of the proposals currently being implemented or considered,
there is widespread disquiet among our members about any
such decision.

We do not seek to intrude on the managerial responsibilities
of the university. However, our concern is to preserve and
sustain the diversity of provision in media, communications
and cultural studies in the university sector. This field,
as you are undoubtedly aware, has been and continues to be
a profound success story for British higher education. Popularity
with students is enduring, employment records of graduates
are outstanding, and research quality is excellent, and internationally
recognised as second to none. We would regard it as a tragic
miscalculation to reduce the scale and diversity of this
provision, especially if this were no more than the local
response to, or interpretation of, an assessment exercise
outcome in which the department’s research has been judged
to be of a quality that "equates to attainable levels
of national excellence in over two-thirds" of its work,
with corollary evidence of international excellence.

One feature of this field in all universities is that success
arises from the fruitful integration, organisationally as
well as intellectually, of the essentially interdisciplinary
work of which is composed. Both students and staff prosper
where the field is structured in interdisciplinary units
and departments, while work is distinctly less effective
where provision is dispersed and fragmented.

The Centre at Leicester has an exceptional pedigree and
profile in the field and is held in high regard both here
and internationally. It would undoubtedly damage more than
the local interest of your university to jeopardise the department’s
future. We are also very concerned at the fate of the many
students, both undergraduate and postgraduate, currently
committed to and anticipating their future at Leicester.

We hope very much indeed that our information is exaggerated,
or that, if not, the university will urgently reconsider
its proposals. It is in the interest of the field as a whole
and of the University to sustain and promote teaching and
research in this field as part of its provision.

We would be grateful for further information about what
decisions have been made about the Centre and would be very
happy to be involved in discussion with you if this might
be helpful. You can contact Prof Peter Golding (p.golding@lboro.ac.uk)
who is Secretary of the Association or me as the Chair (c.geraghty@gold.ac.uk).

Yours sincerely

Christine Geraghty

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Dear Professor Sterling,

As the national subject association for HE in our field,
we have learned with great consternation of proposals to
close or reconstitute the Department of Cultural Studies
and Sociology at your university. While we have been unable
to obtain full details of the proposals currently being implemented
or considered, there is widespread disquiet among our members
about any such decision.

We do not seek to intrude on the managerial responsibilities
of the university. However, our concern is to preserve and
sustain the diversity of provision in media, communications
and cultural studies in the university sector. This field,
as you are undoubtedly aware, has been and continues to be
a profound success story for British higher education. Popularity
with students is enduring, employment records of graduates
are outstanding, and research quality is excellent, and internationally
recognised as second to none. We would regard it as a tragic
miscalculation to reduce the scale and diversity of this
provision, especially if this were no more than the local
response to, or interpretation of, an assessment exercise
outcome in which the department’s research has been judged
to be of a quality that "equates to attainable levels
of national excellence in over two-thirds" of its work,
with corollary evidence of international excellence.

One feature of this field in all universities is that success
arises from the fruitful integration, organisationally as
well as intellectually, of the essentially interdisciplinary
work of which is composed. Both students and staff prosper
where the field is structured in interdisciplinary units
and departments, while work is distinctly less effective
where provision is dispersed and fragmented.

The department at Birmingham has an exceptional history
and profile in the field and is held in high regard both
here and internationally. It would undoubtedly damage more
than the local interest of your university to jeopardise
the department’s future. We are also very concerned at the
fate of the many students, both undergraduate and postgraduate,
currently committed to and anticipating their future at Birmingham.

We hope very much indeed that our information is exaggerated,
or that, if not, the university will urgently reconsider
its proposals. We are sure it is in the interest of the field
as a whole and of the University to sustain and promote teaching
and research in this field as part of its provision.

We would be grateful for further information about what
decisions have been made about the Centre and would be very
happy to be involved in discussion with you if this might
be helpful in considering the future of the Centre. You can
contact Prof Peter Golding (p.golding@lboro.ac.uk)
who is Secretary of the Association and/or me as the Chairperson
(c.geraghty@lboro.ac.uk)

Yours sincerely,

Christine Geraghty

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The following letter was also to Birmingham Post and Mail
as well as to Higher, and also by email, from Loughborough,
September 2:

Dear Sir

In June The University of Birmingham informed staff in
its Department of Cultural Studies and Sociology that the
Department was to be closed, resulting in several redundancies
and with the retention of only one post in sociology and
three in cultural studies. This appeared to be in response
to the university management’s disappointment at the Research
Assessment Exercise outcome, and its belief that excess capacity
and expertise were available for the delivery of teaching
in these disciplines.

The two subject associations we represent wrote separately
to the Vice-Chancellor at Birmingham at the time, to express
our utter dismay at this decision, which we regard as unwarranted,
unnecessary, and posing very grave threats to current and
future staff and students at Birmingham. It is impossible
to understand what could justify closing a Department that
had received a perfect score of 24 in the Teaching Quality
Assessment, whose research was assessed as being predominantly
at a standard of national excellence with some international
excellence, and that continues to be held in very high regard
among current and prospective students, from whom there is
a very large demand for places. We regard the decision as
unjustified, bad, and wrong.

The official reply we have now received tells us the university
proposes to "re-position the subject for the future",
and alludes to ‘restructuring’ rather than closure. We find
this wholly unsatisfactory. A new cohort of undergraduate
students is about to be admitted, and postgraduate students
– some from abroad – are arriving. What we understand to
be the current proposals for the provision of teaching and
supervision for them and existing students are ad hoc, inherently
unstable, and unlikely to have the rigour and coherence of
a curriculum planned and provided by a settled departmental
staff group.

We intend to pay very close and continuing attention to
developments at the University in order to keep our members
informed of the form and acceptability of such proposals.

Dr Meryl Aldridge
Chair, British Sociological Association

Dr Christine Geraghty
Chair, MeCCSA

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