Antidote for toxic cuts 2

February 4, 2010

Your report on the proposed redundancies in history at the University of Sussex omits one significant wrinkle ("Despite colleagues' support, cuts cause deep traumas", 21 January). The cuts have been justified by managers to the teaching staff on the grounds that Sussex is withdrawing from teaching "English social history pre-1700" and "the social, economic and political history of continental Europe pre-1900". These decisions raise at least two questions.

First, are they designed to target specific members of staff? The Education Reform Act 1988, which abolished academic tenure, established certain safeguards to protect academic freedom. Redundancies under the Act until now have generally been made where a university proposed to abandon teaching in a broadly specified area, such as an entire discipline. If the field being abandoned is defined so precisely as to apply to specific members of staff, a key safeguard for academic freedom is lost.

Second, such decisions made unilaterally by managers to re-engineer the teaching of history at Sussex according to short-term "student demand" and "vocational/employability" criteria - without any apparent consultation with teaching staff, or reference to an academic plan - suggest that the curriculum at Sussex is no longer being designed by academics.

This represents a major shift in the culture of the university that ought not to go unnoticed.

Peter Mandler, University of Cambridge.

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