Academic staff cuts leave School of English ‘depleted’

 

The School of English has been revealed as one of the worst-hit departments in the recent staff cuts with around half of the academic staff believed to have left, and more high-profile resignations planned for January and July 2010.

At least five academics in the School of English opted to leave under the Voluntary Severance Scheme (VSS), which offers employees compensation for resigning their posts earlier than contracted.

Professor Sue Owen, Professor Sylvia Adamson, Dr Richard Canning, Dr Malcolm Jones and Ms Dorothy Kazounis all took VSS within the past few months.

A further group including Dr Andrew van der Vlies will be leaving in January 2010.

The School of English failed to give a response when asked whether these vacancies would be filled in the next academic year.

Co-President of the English Society, Amy Grace Nagy, believes there was a lack of consultation with students over the cuts.

She said: “The only way I’ve been aware of the cutbacks is from lecturers making announcements about how they are leaving – with a subtle hint attached that there are quite a few staff that will also not be around for much longer.”

Molly Fisher, a second year English Literature student, said: “No one has officially been informed and most of what I have heard has been spread by word of mouth.

“I shouldn’t have to fear that my module choices are going to be taken away at the last moment.”

The School of English was hit by resignations last academic year, when Professor Ewa Dabrowska, Dr Philip Shaw, Dr Alex Houen and Dr Marcus Waithe all departed to pursue careers at other academic institutions.

A spokesman for the University of Sheffield defended the cutbacks.

He said: “In exceptional cases where we feel departments are particularly affected, we are seeking to use staff appropriately to respond to priority areas, such as those directly impacting on students.

“We have also provided additional training and support for staff.

“Throughout the process the University has sought ongoing and constructive discussion with the campus trade unions.”

Education Officer Holly Taylor said the situation was not as bad as rumours had suggested.

She said: “A number of staff have left but as far as I know teaching hours have not been affected and the Head of Department is monitoring the situation closely.

“The fact that funding has been cut to the Arts and Humanities faculty is out of the University’s control.

“The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has prioritised STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) which has meant drastic cuts to departments like English.

“However the University has recognised the department can’t function properly on such a diminished budget and has put forward money for more lectureships.

“This won’t come into play until next year but does demonstrate how the University are trying their hardest to increase staff numbers.”

Students have raised concerns about being taught by PhD students in place of lecturers.

Fisher said: “Although PhD students are often enthusiastic about teaching, it concerns me that they are being drafted in alternatives to lecturers and professors.

“I just hope the reputation of the University’s English department doesn’t slip, as that could really affect the sort of jobs available to me after graduation.”

The University defended its employment of PhD students to make up the shortfall in staff.

A spokesman said: “Teaching provides research students with valuable experience and helps them to develop a broad range of personal and presentational skills which can be of considerable long-term benefit.”

Taylor added: “Certainly some of the best teaching I received was from PhD students. I hope people are not just writing them off.”

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