Petition fails to halt site closure

June 11, 1999

Exeter University this week refused to reprieve its threatened centre for women's studies despite vice-chancellor Sir Geoffrey Holland receiving a 1,000- signature petition against its closure, including international support.

The centre, sited in a basement beside a men's lavatory, has existed since 1993 and offers an interdisciplinary MA and MPhil/PhD courses.

Students this week presented the petition to Sir Geoffrey, calling for an open forum to discuss the relevant academic and financial issues. The centre says the grounds for closure are not clear.

A university spokesman said: "The university will be closing the centre for women's studies on 30 September.

"The university regrets having to take this action, but the centre has consistently been unable to attract sufficient students to cover its costs. It has subsequently been in debt for several years and this debt has now grown to Pounds 42,000."

Gillian Hanscombe, the centre's director, who is employed on a part-time, fixed-term contract, said this stemmed from an accumulated overdraft solely due to the university's requirement that all costs be met from 80 per cent of the centre's income, principally from students' fees.

The other 20 per cent of income went to the university through top slicing.

The centre's board of studies has turned down the option of integration into the school of historical, political and sociological studies, arguing that students would no longer have appropriate staff support.

Integration would mean axeing the posts of director and secretary.

PhD student Mary Lou O'Neil, one of the delegation presenting the petition to Sir Geoffrey, said: "He clearly was in no way open to hearing what we were saying.

"It was disappointing and exasperating that the university would not debate the closure, since a university should be marked out by its support of dialogue on issues and academic freedom."

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