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.


3 Responses to “Why is our university cutting Linguistics?”

  1. 1 Gabriel Mills
    May 13, 2009 at 1:31 am

    I’m extremely surprised to find no comments on your blog entries, as the first (by date) makes an excellent case for preservation of Linguistics at Sussex. I didn’t know it had applications for speech problems arising from such a wide range of causes, nor that it contributed to so many other disciplines.

    Clearly the decision to axe Linguistics is both immoral and insane!

    I found this page via a link from your cif comment on George Monbiot’s blog, “These men would’ve stopped Darwin”. I’ve already left a longer comment (on the campaign) on a badgeronline article by Sam Waterman, from a link on this page.

  2. October 5, 2009 at 9:23 pm

    What is the latest on the campaign?

    I can’t see any updates on where you have got to with trying to save the Linguistics course at University of Sussex either here on this website or on the Facebook Group or Twitter feed. The last update here is dated 11 May. What is going on?

    Mel (former Linguistics student at Uni. of Sussex)

  3. 3 savelinguistics
    October 5, 2009 at 9:48 pm

    Hi Mel

    We’ve just posted the message that was sent out by the campaign at the end of last academic year: https://savelinguistics.wordpress.com/2009/10/05/so-what-happened-to-linguistics-at-sussex/

    Thanks for your support!

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This is the blog for the campaign to save Linguistics courses at the University of Sussex.

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