05
Oct
09

So what happened to Linguistics at Sussex?

The following post was written in June 2009:

To all Sussex Linguistics supporters,

Today, University Senate, the highest academic decision making body within the University, met and discussed Linguistics. Even after they had agreed to put it on the agenda, USSU and staff had to fight to make sure it got discussed and that staff were briefed.

For the first time since the decision was announced, a full and comprehensive rationale with statistics and evidence was given, information that had been never made available even after constant requests for it. Senate members in the face of this felt they had no choice but to accept the University’s rationale, however this wasn’t the end of the discussion.

Senoir managements actions in handling the situation were widely criticised by academics, staff and students, lining up to pick apart the rationale they gave. From the lack of scrutiny, no consultation and no meeting minutes to refusing to talk with students and the resulting escalation of the situation, senate members openly voiced their anger. The committee were particulary insisantant to state this was a perfect case of how NOT to make important decisions. There was also large support to ensure that no students will face any disciplinary action over the camp.

Though Linguistics has not been reinstated as a degree program, we have saved Linguistics as the University is now committed to maintaining the course for the indefinite future as an essential element to English Language and other indisciplinary elements. Now they are looking into how to ensure Linguistics continues to remain a core part of English and the University in the future.

This is not the end of the campaign, as the Vice Chancellor, though refsued to apologise, has agreed to meet with Linguists to discuss the matter further next year. USSU will continue to oppose all cuts to our education and continue to remind the University that this is our education and that we need to be made part of the decision making process too.

Thanks to the hardwork and support of students, staff and activists, both locally and nationally, Linguistics’ future has been gurannted as a course and management shown they cannot run the university in such a top down, anti-democratic and haphazard manner.

Let this to be a lesson to all those facing cuts up and down the country, that when students, staff and unions organise and fight back, we can overturn managments decisions and win back our education.

Yours,

Lee Vernon
USSU Finance Officer

11
May
09

Why is our university cutting Linguistics?

By Tom Wills

It’s easy to see why the university has been criticised for attempting to axe Linguistics. Many people view the decision as a serious error of judgment on the part of university managers. The discipline is one of the most over-subscribed at Sussex; the Independent newspaper ranked it the number two linguistics course in the country. The world-famous linguist Noam Chomsky commented “If the decision is implemented, it will be a serious blow to the intellectual life of the university.”

But this decision was no mistake. In fact it is part of a deliberate and highly destructive strategy for our institution which, if left unchallenged, will mean more course cuts and decline in the university’s reputation for years to come. It’s not just for the sake of future students that we should be concerned: many of the disciplines under threat, like Linguistics, are undertaking vital research that is needed to solve the challenges of the 21st century – treatments for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, for example. And on a purely individualistic level, the name of Sussex University is going to be a permanent fixture on all our CVs. Its reputation will reflect on us for the rest of our lives.

Management defend their strategy in terms of the ‘sustainability’ of the university. They point out that the future of government funding for universities is increasingly uncertain. Instead, they say, we will have to attract funding from corporations – and that will mean adjusting our priorities accordingly. But universities exist as a public service funded by taxpayers precisely because they carry out work which the corporations will not fund. Increasing the general level of education of the population and furthering the collective knowledge of society are not activities that translate into profit for private enterprise.

At the behest of the government, our university is increasingly being run according to the logic of privatisation – meaning Linguistics is too small and not sufficiently marketable to be retained. The quality of the research and teaching in Linguistics does not figure in the university’s decision. It is a move which we can expect to see repeated with other disciplines which have been marginalised by university management – American Studies and Music to name but two.

Even if we are not studying one of the disciplines directly affected by this threat, the cumulative impact will be the loss of the intellectual diversity which allows for the incubation of new ways of thinking and makes universities what they are. Repeated across the country, this trend represents an existential threat to higher education as a whole. The lecturers’ union UCU has reported that no less than 100 universities are currently facing cutbacks. London Met University is in the most severe situation, where managers are trying to cut 550 jobs. The union warns that if the cuts go ahead “it could be the death-blow for the University.”

UCU is organising a protest for jobs and education in London on May 23. It will march from London Met to City University, which is facing 100 job losses as a result of a cut in government funding for people returning to education to retrain. This will be a significant demonstration, because it will draw together anti-cuts campaigns from different places. By joining forces with other campaigns, we will have the best chance of success because the problems we face are one and the same.

If university managers really cared about the sustainability of our institution in any meaningful sense, they would be up in arms about New Labour’s creeping privatisation of higher education. Instead they opt to toe the line. As a result it falls to us to hold university management – and the government – to account.

This article originally appeared in student magazine The Pulse.

07
May
09

Final year students: we need your help

Most final year students have taken part in the National Student Survey during the last few months. The Save Linguistics campaign is asking all final year students to withdraw their responses from this survey in protest at the decision to close Linguistics courses at Sussex.

University management made the decision to close Linguistics without consulting students or staff or going through any of the proper democratic procedures. They have refused to listen to the thousands of people who have signed our petition demanding the reinstatement of Linguistics, not to mention prominent voices from the community, including local MPs and the world famous linguist Noam Chomsky. We therefore feel the feedback we gave in good faith as part of the National Student Survey is no longer accurate.

The National Student Survey is run by the market research company IPSOS Mori, and we are entitled under the terms and conditions of the survey to opt out at any time. It takes just a few clicks – you can do it online at http://tinyurl.com/nssoptout. At no point will your identity be shared with the university.

The survey results are used in league tables, which matter a great deal to university managers. The university must get a 50% response rate to get its results published. If 396 students withdraw their responses, this will push Sussex below the 50% response rate needed.

The Save Linguistics campaign will publish the number of students withdrawing their feedback each day. The decision to close Linguistics has already tarnished the univeristy’s reputation – not least when it called up prospective Linguistics students days before an Open Day to tell them their course had been cancelled. We are hopeful that university management will come to their senses and announce the reinstatement of Linguistics to avoid falling below 50% and further damaging the reputation of the university.

Final year students can opt out of the National Student Survey at http://tinyurl.com/nssoptout

07
May
09

Campaign building momentum

The Save Linguistics campaign has been building since the day we found out about the closure last term. Our Facebook group quickly attracted thousands of members and signatures on the online petition. On the last day of term we held a well attended demonstration in Library Square where staff, students and members of USSU spoke about the effects of closing the Linguistics department, and the reasons we need to fight to keep it.

During the Easter break we held another successful demonstration outside Bramber House as University Court met – a committee comprising of MPs, academics and industry professionals. Through this demonstration and the lobbying of committee members prior to the event, we were able to raise awareness of the issues around the Linguistics closure. As a result, several committee members raised questions about Linguistics during the meeting, and the pressure upon the Vice Chancellor began to build.

Since these initial demonstrations we have had significant coverage in the Badger, as well as The Argus, The Independent and The Times Higher Education.

The most recent demonstration took place on Friday May 1st, when a large group of students gathered in Library Square. We marched to Sussex House to directly grab the attention of the Vice Chancellor and Pro-Vice Chancellor who are responsible for the Linguistics closure. They refused to come down and acknowledge the crowd, but the presence of security guards preventing access to the building made it clear that Senior Management are feeling the pressure of our anger over the cuts.

07
May
09

Universities cutting courses nationwide

As the campaign to save Linguistics at Sussex picks up pace, it is important that we take time to examine a wider picture, in which students and staff are facing cuts and closures in Higher Education throughout the country. Far from being an isolated incident, the closure of the Linguistics course is part of a national trend, where university managements pleading poverty have claimed that cuts will have to be made in order to ‘balance the books’. This has led to courses considered ‘non profitable’ being axed and the failure of Vice Chancellors to meet the pay demands of unions such as UCU (the lecturers’ union) despite finding the cash for their own hefty wage increases. Department closures and service cuts have already been announced at Liverpool, Bangor and Reading universities as well as hundreds of redundancies at London Metropolitan and Gloucestershire.

But students and staff are asking, ‘Where has all the money gone?’ If the VC can add 9% to his already large salary, why can ordinary lecturers not have 8%? Students and staff at Sussex and elsewhere are beginning to organise a fight back, and are sending a message to university managements and the New Labour government that workers and young people must not be forced to pay for this crisis of capitalism. At London Met student campaigners, UCU and local trade unions have called a march for jobs and education on 23rd May and large demonstrations have already taken place at Liverpool University. Bangor University students have forced their VC to agree to publicly debate proposed £5 million cuts and students are planning further action. Cut backs to Further Education in Wales have also been fought with student and trade union protests, forcing the Welsh Assembly to increase funding.

UCU is also balloting its members for strike action to combat job losses and demand decent wage increases. The National Union of Students (NUS) has disgracefully refused to support such action with the NUS president stating “Given the effects of the current economic climate on the graduate jobs market, students need industrial action by university staff like a hole in the head”. Of course students will have concerns over how such action might affect them over exam time, however, unless unions take action now, students will be sitting exams for courses which will no longer exist in a few months time.

The need for a national campaign of students and education workers calling for an end to cuts, closures, privatisation and demanding free education has never been greater. With an NUS leadership which is now little more than a tool of New Labour, allowing the government to carry out attacks on the conditions of students and workers, it is up to ordinary students to build campaigns on our own campuses and to build links with students and workers across Britain fighting for better education for all.

27
Apr
09

Linguistics courses axed

Students and staff are campaigning to save the discipline

Students and staff are campaigning to save the discipline

In a decision that was made public to staff and students in week 10 of the spring term, management withdrew the undergraduate Linguistics programme at Sussex. This is despite the fact that this programme:

  • Is ranked 2nd in country in the Independent’s Good University guide, with an overall score of 99.1 (and ranked 8th in the Times)
  • Has some of the best students at Sussex in terms of entry tariffs (current A-level requirement AAB-ABB),
  • Is in high demand, with one of the strongest applications-to-admissions ratios at Sussex (currently there is only about one place for every nine applicants)
  • Has the highest graduate placement and employment rate of all linguistics programmes in the UK (75% six months after completing the degree)
  • Contributes courses to many interdisciplinary programmes in humanities, education and sciences

This decision was taken with no consultation with students or staff and bypassed the University’s own procedures. There was no discussion within the English department, and the withdrawal has not yet been approved by the School of Humanities Teaching and Learning Committee. Formally, the withdrawal has therefore not been ratified. Nevertheless, since admissions for 2009 are already being withdrawn, the proposal is rendered a fait accompli.

While current linguistics cohorts (72 students) will be taught out to completion of their degrees, the admission of new students for 2009 has already been stopped, and their offers have been withdrawn or changed into English Language offers. All teaching in Linguistics will therefore cease in 2011.

The decision to withdraw Linguistics follows less than two years after the old department of Linguistics and English Language was merged with English, a move which was then justified as a move to ensure sustainability of the programmes. In previous years, the number of permanent research staff had already been reduced from 7 to 3, putting the subject in a precarious situation.

This pummelling of Linguistics has reverberations and consequences that will long echo at Sussex. The move is indicative of an increasingly top-down management process, which other departments and subjects may also be affected by in the future.

26
Apr
09

Why Linguistics matters

To ease the outrage of the cutting of Linguistics, university management has assured the cuts are part of a “longer-term strategy to make a sustainable future for English Language teaching and research”. But Linguistics is not English Language. A sustainable future for English does not have to come at the expense of Linguistics.

Linguistics is the study of languages. It is crucial to industries such as voice-recognition and translation software. Linguistics underpins speech therapy, used to treat mental pathologies and disorders like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cerebral palsy, autism and aphasias, and informs education strategies for children with learning disabilities like dyslexia, dysphasia and dysgraphia. To understand the themes uniting human thought and civilization, we must understand the nature of human communication.

Linguistics has a pivotal role in the future of the arts and the sciences. Its research supports subjects like the philosophy of mind, and of language, artificial intelligence, robotics, neuroscience, psychology, the social sciences, anthropology, history, archaeology, evolutionary biology and behavioural genetics, second language teaching and literature.

The structure of interdisciplinarity, one of Sussex University’s watchwords and unique selling points, is the complementary discourse between departments. Students take courses from outside their degree programme, and researchers share their work in research groups. With Linguistics closed, students from English, Education, Philosophy, Psychology, Neuroscience, Informatics, Languages and other courses will no longer have the access to Linguistics courses they do now, so the learning of future Sussex students will be damaged.

Despite the management talk about a “sustainable future”, the reality is that expertise will be lost. Staff will go, and those who stay will have to adapt their research to the agenda of the English Language department. Whole areas of work and knowledge will cease to exist at Sussex.

In a unilateral decision made without consultation, university management have committed our university to a future of impoverished academic diversity. Sussex’s reputation for interdisciplinarity is to be eroded, and staff and students in all fields will no longer benefit from the widespread applications of Linguistics.