Tuesday, 10 November 2009

URGENT MESSAGE FROM DEPARTMENT

To All Students in the Department of Sociology

An important message from the Department’s Lecturers

Dear All,

Following a controversial review of our Department that was first suggested 18 months ago, the Head of the College of Social Sciences (Edward Peck) is proposing through the College Board to effectively close the Department: the MCS degree would close altogether, and Sociology would transfer to Social Policy with just three staff retained.

Now that the Review has completed and we have finally been told the full extent of the management’s plans, we are able to talk openly with you about the situation. Needless to say, we totally reject the proposals of the College Board: to reduce staff from 17 to 3, and offer a number of modules in other departments taught by non-sociologists. We simply do not believe the management’s claim that your degrees can be delivered appropriately without a proper group of Sociologists, significantly more than that proposed. Virtually all the staff who have designed and currenly deliver the programmes will be gone under the proposals.

We find it cynical that the Review process completely ignored students, but now the College management are trying to launch a PR offensive by inviting you to a further series of ‘meetings’, and sending letters trying to claim that your degrees will be unaffected. We are already working with the Staff-Student Committee to keep Sociology at Birmingham, and now we ask all of you to join us in opposing this attack on your education, our jobs and the Department we have all worked so hard together to develop.

Our aim is to persuade the University Council – its governing body – to reject these proposals when it meets on 26 November. We are calling instead for a proper review of Sociology that is transparent, actually consults with all stakeholders and is set in the context of a strategy for the wider social sciences at Birmingham.

We reject both the process of the Review, as well as its findings. The reasons for the Review were never adequately explained: at different times it was said to be about finances, or research performance, or student recruitment. But the Review failed to properly analyse or address any of these things. During the Review – incredibly – no staff or students from the Department were invited onto the Review Group. We were frank about issues in the department that could be addressed, but the Review failed to engage with us over constructive solutions: we were never told how our submissions to the Review were being used. In addition, the External Advisors appointed to the Review – two very senior British Sociologists – have gone on record as saying they were marginalised from the process. We were not even allowed to see the Review report itself until it had passed through the College Board, and the Head of College announced his decision verbally to Department staff.

The proposals arising from the Review are as unacceptable as the process. Many of you know that the Sociology and MCS degree programmes are ranked very highly in The Guardian national subject league tables (4th and 5th respectively): these are higher rankings than for any other department in our College. We have positive reviews from your student feedback and external examiners, excellent degree results and good relations between students and staff. Yet, the College Board are seeking to close one degree programme and make another virtually unworkable, all the while insisting that students will not be affected.

In terms of degrees that ‘reflect leading edge research’, as Edward Peck puts it in his letter to you, the normal definition of research active staff is to be submitted into the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE). Yet the he proposes that there should be no submission from Birmingham to the Sociology panel at the next Research Assessment Exercise. Effectively this severs the link between research and teaching, and makes a mockery of his claim that one reflects the other.
In short, the Review of the Department was a flawed process from start to finish, it has a weak evidence base and has made unjustifiable proposals. We fear these will jeopardise your education as well as damage our careers as academics committed to the profession. Similar management proposals have been overturned by the University Council at Sheffield and Liverpool: let’s work together to make the same happen here.

Whatever the outcome, our first priority as professionals remains as always to deliver teaching of the highest standard, despite the way teaching is apparently disregarded by College managers.
Join with us and your fellow students in our campaign to keep Sociology at Birmingham. The Guild of Students are aware of the situation and want to defend your interests. You can contact the VP (Education and Access), Brigid Jones, directly with your concerns at b.jones@guild.bham.ac.uk<
mailto:b.jones@guild.bham.ac.uk>. You can also contact your Staff-Student Committee Reps.
Please also sign our petition at:
http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/keepsociologyatbirmingham<https://owa.nottingham.ac.uk/exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/keepsociologyatbirmingham>

For more information and copies of review documents and our responses see:
http://www.keepsociologyatbirmingham.com

Signed,

Ross Abbinnett
Gezim Alpion
Louise Brown
Shelley Budgeon
Sin Yi Cheung
Justin Cruickshank
Jonathan Fish
Emma Foster
Andrew Knops
Will Leggett
Jose Lingna Nafafe
John Lynch
Mairtin Mac an Ghaill
Giovanni Porfido
Alex Smith
David Toke
Dan Whisker