Around 40 staff and students gathered outside the Aston Webb Building yesterday evening as visitors poured in for the talk on why heritage matters by Dame Fiona Reynolds CBE, who is the Director-General for the National Trust for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, as part of the Vice Chancellor’s Distinguished Lectures series.
The ultimate aim of the students and staff was to raise wider awareness of the closure of the IAA Institute and to call out the ‘hypocrisy’ of the University’s promotion of heritage through such a talk.
One of the organisers of the event, Mathew Franklin, a Classical Literature and Civilisation student explained that ‘It’s just that the University can’t celebrate heritage by having this sort at the same time as making massive cuts to heritage at the university. They can have one or the other: either they can celebrate it and invest in it or make cuts and hold their hands up.’
But there may be another question as to the validity of the protest under the University’s Rules, which require a three week notice to be given for any protests so routes and safety can be agreed in advance that wasn’t met in this case. This is also true for the protest held two weeks ago.
Franklin explained that ‘We don’t want to work nicely with the University on this as the University isn’t working nicely with us. The whole point of this protest is to make things as unpleasant for the University as possible.’ While this meant that staff and students risked disciplinary repercussions, he accepted that this was unlikely because of the sheer number of protestors.'
The protestors handed out leaflets to the visitors attending the talk, whilst holding up placards such as ‘Archaeology in Ruins’ and the occasional break out of chanting ‘No Ifs, No Buts, No IAA Cuts.’ There was a generally positive atmosphere in the air and afterwards Franklin commented that ‘There were a decent number of people. It was what you’d expect for reading week and considering it was pretty short notice and it was later on in the day.’
Hattie Craig, an International Studies and Politics student said about the response of the visitors that ‘I heard quite a few of the visitors taking leaflets and saying what a shock it was that the University was cutting down on Archaeology.’
This follows a protest held two weeks ago where 150 students marched in demonstration at the closure of the IAA Institute and the inherent redundancies. It may not be the last either.
Niall McKeown, an Ancient History lecturer within the Institute said;
We just want to inform people of what is happening. We want to see free debate about all the aspects changes that are happening and we feel that the University’s line that there will be this brand new centre of Archaeology doesn’t really reflect the reality of sacking something like half the Archaeologists currently working in the University... We are hoping to have a number of other demonstrations in the hope that the University will come back and look at this with fresh eyes as we believe there are different ways of dealing with the issues they’ve raised rather than a rush to redundancies.
It is a continuing anger at the University’s decision that drives the campaign. An anonymous student studying a Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies postgraduate programme within the IAA institute talked about feeling cheated by the announcement: ‘When I applied, I’d been told that there’d be changes made: departmental shifts, that kind of thing. What I understood was that the centre IAA would be shifting to another department but no one told me that all these jobs were going to be cut, all these programmes were going to be cut.’
Another lecturer in the School of History said:
I think this Vice Chancellor is trying to gut the whole University. We’ve seen it again and again with Sociology, we’ve seen it now with Archaeology, Byzantium and Classical Studies are clearly in his sight and probably West African Studies is probably on the list as well. There won’t be anything left. What’s been built up over the last 40 years is being systematically destroyed by this Vice Chancellor. And what we have is the rule of the accountant. It’s not an academic decision but purely a question of money. And the purpose of this University is to sustain a class of managers and fat-cat administrators like Eastwood. The sooner we get rid of them the better.
He went on to discuss the specific topic of today’s protest, heritage: ‘It’s the sheer bloody hypocrisy of this class of administrators. They will talk one language in public but what they do in practice is completely different. It’s a class of managers that run this place whereas the teachers and researchers count for nothing. They are absolutely zero.’