Besieged staff attack 'bullying' closure plans

January 26, 2007

A senior academic at Cambridge University has claimed staff were "bullied, demeaned and lied to" during a review of their department, writes Rebecca Attwood.

Members of the faculty of Oriental studies are upset over a proposal to restructure it and turn it into the faculty of East Asian and Middle Eastern studies.

Some have strongly criticised the plans and say they threaten the future of Sanskrit and Hindi language teaching at Cambridge.

The reforms first hit the headlines of The Times Higher in October, when it emerged the university was abandoning the teaching of Hindi and Sanskrit to undergraduates on the Oriental studies degree in the week that the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, visited the university to pick up an honorary degree.

Orientalists voiced anger at their treatment this week at a Discussion, a formal opportunity for academics to express their views, held in the Senate House.

John Smith, reader in Sanskrit, said the review had "traumatised an entire faculty over a period of more than two years". He added: "We have been repeatedly bullied, demeaned and lied to."

Academics claimed that senior tutors had been instructed last year to admit no further undergraduates for the South Asian studies tripos, several months before the report, which outlined the plans, was presented. Dr Smith called this "an act of very dubious legality".

Another faculty member, who did not want to be named, told The Times Higher : "In terms of the rules of the institution, the procedure has been outrageous. The report suggests we reduce emphasis on language teaching."

Under the recommendations of the general board, which advises the university on educational policy, four posts in the Ancient Near East would be transferred to the archaeology department, and two vacant lectureships in Indian studies to the history faculty. The Centre of South Asian Studies would become part of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, and offer a new MPhil.

According to the review committee, the faculty's current structure is "not likely to serve their best interests". Dr Smith claimed: "What is really happening is that one substantial part of the faculty, study of the Ancient Near East, is being moved against its will to another school, and that another substantial part, South Asian studies, is being dismembered." He said the changes would in effect mean the faculty loses five posts.

Peter Kornicki, professor of Japanese history and bibliography, said the report would mean "a drastic curtailment of South Asian studies in the university" at a time of the rising importance of South Asia in the global economy.

He called the report "incompetent and damaging" and said the review had been "a bruising and demoralising process".

Taking the opportunity to announce that he was taking early retirement, Dr Smith said the entire process had been "scandalously badly conducted", and the future of Hindi "left in ill-defined confusion".

Cambridge said Sanskrit would still be offered to postgraduates and to theology undergraduates. Hindi will still be offered to postgraduates taking cultural South Asian studies, and to undergraduates and postgraduates pursuing research across the social sciences, science and technology.

A spokesman also said: "It is not true the faculty will lose five posts.

One post in South Asian studies is being reallocated within the faculty."

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