Cardiff faculty under review

April 9, 2004

Creative writing faces an uncertain future at Cardiff University after a series of personality clashes and complaints from students about poor PhD supervision, writes Phil Baty.

In a letter obtained by The Times Higher , David Grant, Cardiff's vice-chancellor, confirms that he has set up a review of the discipline to examine its "academic and financial position" and "its place within" the School of English, Communication and Philosophy (Encap), which received a five-star rating in the last research assessment exercise.

The letter to Richard Whipp, Encap head, says the review group will examine the subject's "future potential in the context of the university's strategic plan".

The field has eight key staff, including Lindsay Clarke, the 1989 Whitbread fiction prizewinner, and it offers a BA, MA, MPhil and PhD.

It has faced various problems. At least three PhD students have complained about poor supervision. Kate North is understood to have been offered a refund of one year's fees to reflect the extra time it will take her to reach PhD standards. But she has declined the offer and is taking legal action.

In February, Professor Whipp wrote to postgraduate students: "I cannot predict what the vice-chancellor might decide. I can, however, confirm that the school is committed to ensuring that you are able to complete your degree successfully."

A university spokesman said the review's results were with the vice-chancellor.

"Any action based on the review would be considered through appropriate procedures, prior to which it would be inappropriate to comment."

In March 2002, The Times Higher reported on an outcry from creative writing staff at the dismissal of Colin Evans, an associate lecturer, who had been at Cardiff almost 40 years. At least ten members of staff wrote letters of protest.

Among them was crime novelist Jim Tucker, who wrote: "I've worked in the newsroom of a London tabloid newspaper, and by comparison the management standards there were subtle, enlightened and sweet-natured."

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