It is a bleak summer for Archaeology in UK Higher Education.
I’m still in shock at the news from Sheffield weeks after it was announced. Yet there is still hope, and the protests and petition against the grotesque cultural vandalism of the University of Sheffield’s senior management who aim to close the world-renowned Department of Archaeology at the University of Sheffield are ongoing. The petition now has over 47,000 signatures! SIGN HERE!
Closer to home, there is a different mix of cause for hope combined with ongoing uncertainty. Archaeology and heritage staff at the University of Chester were at risk of redundancies but this notice was withdrawn in late June with as little explanation as the process started on 1 April. However, academic and support staff remain ‘at risk’ of redundancy elsewhere at the University of Chester while those who were at risk face ongoing uncertainties regarding the character of our working environment in coming months and years, from the threat of our offices being removed and replaced by ‘hot-desking’ to the threat of massively increased workloads as we pick up the labour of colleagues who have left through voluntary severance, early retirement and perhaps also compulsory redundancy. For the latest: see @ChesterUCU.
As I keep saying, the Sheffield and Chester situations are very different. Equally though, they are not alone and there are connecting themes. From Liverpool to Leicester and beyond, including cuts at Bangor and Hull, attacks on the study of humanity’s past are ongoing throughout UK HEIs. These might not be coordinated as such, but they together comprise attempts to erode and undermine the high-quality and character of the academic study of archaeology, heritage and cognate disciplines.
For all this reasons, I remain on a ‘war footing’ against multiple threats to our discipline and related fields of academic enquiry. So this is a short post to remind you that it’s over but it isn’t over. Keep on fighting until the fight is done!
Also, let’s be clear that this isn’t simply about opposing job-cuts and department closures at specific institutions, it is about challenging the mismanagement of our HE sector through policies and priorities that disregard the need for critical and robust degrees which explore the human story from earliest times to our current world: the very job archaeology degrees effectively deliver. In this critical regard, archaeology degrees do not only to support and sustain a host of vocational careers in the archaeology and heritage sectors, but also support a wider project of understanding who we were, who we are, and what we might become through the humanities and social sciences. In short, archaeology degrees are not just ‘training’ for the workplace, they offer so much more! Our ongoing challenge is making this case to politicians, policy makers and the public at large!
So I fight on in support of colleagues, whether they speak up or not themselves, whether they attend protests or avoid them. I will not be silenced!
For instance, on 24 June I attended the UCU’s rally at the heart of Chester against ongoing threats to staff at the University of Chester. And yes, in an attempt to create a memorable and incongruous spectacle, I went as a T Rex! The Solidarity T Rex, spearheading the #DinosVsRedundancies!
Here are some of the key tweets which explain what happened on the day: music, speeches from key UCU leaders and prominent supporters, and a parade around Chester! For details and updates, follow the hashtags #ReclaimOurUniversity and #NoRedundanciesChester.
Together, students, staff and the general public, we can reclaim our universities as places where the academic study of the human past matters for our present and our shared future: for our planet and its people.