University faces backlash after cuts to staff put black history course at risk

By Ella Hopkins

University workers fear that lecturers of black history and English could be made redundant under new proposals.

Goldsmiths University in New Cross has come under fire for its plans to axe a number of staff jobs, which could put lecturers of the Black British History MA, the only taught course of its kind in the UK, at risk during Black History Month.

Over 3,000 academics, including Woolwich-born Booker Prize winner Bernardine Evaristo, signed an open letter denouncing the move.

Paula Akpan, a journalist and current MA Black British History student at Goldsmiths, said: “Joining this course was one of the best decisions I have made.”

She found out about the redundancies during a seminar with Dr Christienna Fryar, who runs she course.

Ms Akpan said: “It was horrific. The shock and anger was palpable in the room. Our lecturer was talking to us about how she doesn’t know if she will be at the University past March or April this year.

“It was this feeling of helplessness but we are all resolved to do as much as we can to help and show how frustrated we are with the lack of options put forward.

“Why is Goldsmiths copping out right now and not understanding the gravity of this position? It’s really staggering.”

Dr Jacob Mukherjee, the co-secretary of the University and College Union’s Goldsmiths branch said that they were balloting members for possible industrial action.

He said: “There’s lots of people who have been told they are in the pool for possible redundancy. Even if they don’t get made redundant, it’s a massive amount of stress hanging over you at a time when we’re still going through a pandemic.

“For people to be told that you might be out of a job in the spring makes it almost impossible for them to work.”

Dr Hannah Elias, a lecturer in Black British History at Goldsmiths said: “The closure of this programme would be devastating, and not only for staff and students at Goldsmiths.

“It would be a tremendous loss to see this programme disbanded or disassembled while it is so young.”

A spokesperson for Goldsmiths said: “We are not able to comment on the detail of draft proposals recently shared with our trade unions as part of the legal consultation process. Nor would we as we consult with any colleagues who may be affected.

“The overall picture remains that Goldsmiths must deal with significant financial challenges including an underlying deficit, over £10m of additional costs and lost income due to Covid-19, government cuts that will see the College lose over £2m in funding every year, and a decline in the overall number of students studying some subjects.

“We are building a recovery plan to respond to these challenges and will continue to take every step possible, including reducing capital costs and selling buildings which are not major teaching spaces, to reduce expenditure with redundancies always our last resort.

“The consultation proposals do not include the immediate closure of any courses currently being taught. Regardless of any decisions taken, no changes would take place immediately. Our current students will continue to be taught on their existing programmes to achieve their learning outcomes.

“Our proposals include continuing to teach creative writing, Black British and Caribbean literature, Black British History and Queer Studies as vital areas of academic endeavour.”

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