Lecturer brushes up Welsh

October 18, 1996

An academic appointed to a Welsh-language lectureship by the University of Wales, Bangor, has stopped teaching for a year while she takes Welsh lessons.

Surrey-born Pam Michael, who has learned to speak Welsh, was appointed to the post in the sociology and social policy school despite staff and student opposition. She was chosen over three native Welsh speakers despite having a doctorate in economic history and not having taught undergraduate sociology.

The students, all third-years, were unhappy with Dr Michael's grasp of both sociology and Welsh after her first lecture on September 23. One student, Rhian Iolo, said she did not know many terms and could not convey points clearly. The situation had not improved after the first lecture in the other module Dr Michael was teaching, on September .

Despite the dissatisfaction, the university council confirmed her appointment. But two days later, the university announced that Dr Michael had agreed not to give any lectures for a year while she took a Welsh "polishing course".

John Jones, assistant registrar, said the department had been given more money for part-time lecturers to take Dr Michael's classes. He said she would still be involved in the department, conducting seminars and performing other duties.

Graham Day, the English-born head of sociology and social policy, said that the appointment process was conducted bilingually and the Welsh speakers on the committee were eminent academics who expressed "absolutely no worries" about Dr Michael's ability to lecture in Welsh.

A replacement for Dr Michael had not been found to prevent lectures for her two subjects being cancelled on October 4 and 7. It is understood a replacement has now been found. Ms Iolo said students were very concerned that her absence would affect their studies.

The sociology students were also angry that, at the start of the semester, not enough Welsh-medium subjects were offered for some to complete their degrees.

Despite a spoken apology from the vice chancellor, Roy Evans, for the situation, Ms Iolo said they still felt very let down.

Bangor is the only university to offer undergraduate sociology in Welsh.

"We are really very upset about the way we have been treated by the university," she said.

In a letter in a local newspaper this week, students said the problem with a lack of subjects had still not been resolved and described the situation as "unacceptable".

A request for an interview with Professor Evans was not met.

When contacted for comment, Dr Michael said she had been told by the university to refer all media inquiries to the assistant registrar. It is understood she plans to spend the next year working on an English-Welsh dictionary of sociological terms.

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