Students from the Department of Politics and International Relations have penned an open letter to Vice Chancellor, Koen Lamberts expressing “outrage at the number of teaching staff losing their jobs at the end of the semester” and urging him to “translate publicity stunts into real change.”
If no existing casual contracts are renewed, the Department is likely to lack any Black and minority ethnic (BME) representation among its teaching staff, having already lost its only Black lecturer earlier this year.
It comes after a petition calling on the University to protect its staff on casual, fixed term contracts received over 1,300 signatures last week.
PolSoc President and one of the letter’s leading signatories, Joe Ellis, told Forge Press the lack of representation “had made many people ashamed to be part of our department”.
He said: “These anxieties have not been limited to committee. Because the letter has been signed by so many politics students we know that this feeling is spread throughout the cohort.
“Our society is not content to see lecturers that have worked so hard being laid off so that the university can cut costs.
“We hope that our letter will reverse the University’s decision and spark a recruitment drive for minority representation in the department.”
He has also promised to “increase pressure” on senior management if demands are not met.
It’s thought up to 300 teaching jobs are currently at risk across the University, with women and BAME staff disproportionately affected.
The Vice Chancellor has already emailed staff forecasting “severe financial challenges from August” as a result of the coronavirus pandemic but promised an “essential” role for the University in helping drive Sheffield’s economic recovery.
A spokesperson for the University of Sheffield added: “The Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant effect on the way UK universities operate. At Sheffield, financial modelling shows we need to plan for a £100 million loss of income and we have already taken several difficult measures to save costs, however it’s important our students know that their needs are our first priority.
“As a result of the pandemic we are having to carefully review our staffing levels and recently launched a voluntary severance programme to reduce costs while trying to avoid the risk of compulsory redundancies in the future.
“In line with this, where contracts are due to end on an agreed fixed date, we are reviewing each one carefully to determine if it is possible to offer further work for those staff based on the anticipated student numbers and our financial challenges.
“The need for diversity at the University is of the utmost importance and we understand this is an unsettling time for everyone but are committed to ensuring our long term financial sustainability without compromising our academic excellence, student experience or our wider work to progress race equality.”
The news comes at a difficult time for the University who have just published long- awaited updates on their Racial Equality Strategy, promising to work with student groups to “make provisions better”.
But just last week, they were forced to delete a thread of tweets and apologise to the SU BME Committee after signposting them as a primary point of contact for students experiencing trauma prompted by the killing of George Floyd in the US.
The Committee responded with a thread criticising the University’s “extremely performative” commitment to its BME students.
The student action has attracted SU attention with outgoing Education Officer, Charlie Porter, teling Forge Press he was “extremely disappointed to see so many members of staff not having their contracts renewed” and was concerned saying he was also concerned about staff on fixed term contracts “losing income they rely upon”.
“I welcome petitions that students have started and am in contact with the University and campus unions to work to avoid job losses,” he added.
A link to the open letter can be found here.
A link to the petition can be found here.
Image of Koen Lamberts: The University of Sheffield