Kent 'axes' medieval history to save cash

September 26, 2003

Medieval history will in effect be dropped in a cost-cutting exercise by the University of Kent, damaging a crucial field of study in the cradle of the Church of England, academics have claimed.

A restructuring exercise in the school of history has prompted a wave of national protest from historians appalled that medieval history will be seriously damaged in the city of The Canterbury Tales , Geoffrey Chaucer's 14th-century stories of pilgrimage now being dramatised by the BBC.

Kent University medievalist Andrew Butcher has resigned as director of the university's Canterbury Centre for Medieval and Tudor Studies, which he claims will be devastated by the restructuring. He told The THES this week that he had received strong support from alarmed academics throughout the sector who were planning to protest.

It is understood that the history board earlier this month circulated restructuring plans - since ratified by the registrar - stating how it aimed to address a "substantial financial deficit" that the university has declined to reveal.

In an angry email to all humanities staff, Mr Butcher said the board had decided to "single out" high and late medieval studies and early modern studies for "significant reductions".

He said there were likely to be five or six redundancies by the end of 2003 or by Easter 2004 - and that he was "virtually certain" to be forced to leave - although there had been "no formal discussion" or consultation with the history board as a whole.

"It is clear... that the school of history... recognises that it is not prepared to continue to provide staff or resources for the continued existence of the Canterbury Centre for Medieval and Tudor Studies as presently constituted, its research students and the students in its MA programme," Mr Butcher wrote.

"It is impossible for the centre and its programmes, as presently constituted, to continue without the support of the school of history... In these circumstances I feel that I have no option but to resign forthwith as director."

A spokeswoman for the university, which boasts on its website that universities are "one of the enduring legacies of medieval civilisation", insisted that medieval history would survive in some form.

"The restructuring will involve medieval history through a reorientation in the medieval field more towards the early medieval centuries before 1100 in concert with our colleagues in archaeology," she said in a statement.

"There will still be some provision for students to work in the later medieval period. This will ensure that the medieval teaching area, like all others in the school, is identified with actively publishing scholars and will guarantee a complete and high-quality return from that area in the next research assessment exercise."

She said the history school would continue to support the Canterbury Centre, which would be "reconfigured" to provide a "more broadly conceived programme".

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