Questions over King's once and future chair

Axeing of palaeography post to be followed by creation of new role in 2012. John Morgan writes

July 8, 2010

King's College London is to create a new chair in palaeography in 2012, but questions remain over its decision to scrap the existing chair.

Palaeography became a focal point in the debate over higher education cuts earlier this year, when King's proposed abolishing its chair in the subject - the only one in the UK. The move was part of a plan to cut 205 jobs across the college and save £ million over two years.

Academics on the college's Palaeography Working Group have now recommended the creation of a chair in "palaeography and manuscript studies" from 2012, a recommendation accepted by Rick Trainor, King's principal.

The current chair in palaeography, held by David Ganz, will be abolished.

Scholars from around the world wrote to King's to express their dismay at the institution's original plans.

Jeffrey Hamburger, chair of medieval studies at Harvard University, told Professor Trainor that palaeography, the study of ancient handwriting, is "basic to the training and practice of historians". Withdrawing from it would be "an unforgivable act of cultural iconoclasm, nihilism, philistinism and shortsightedness", he added.

The working group, whose conclusions were unveiled this week, recommends that King's should "emphatically reaffirm its long-standing commitment to palaeography" with a new chair, the college said.

But the announcement raises questions over the college's attitude to Professor Ganz, and the extent to which the new post differs from the old one. Teaching in palaeography will continue on a part-time basis until the new chair is established.

Times Higher Education asked King's why it was abolishing the current chair.

In a statement, the college says that it wants to attract more under- graduates and PhD students to palaeography, make it "naturally interdisciplinary" and ensure that the discipline "takes advantage of new digital developments in the field".

The college notes that many King's academics need palaeography, adding that it is "important that these scholars are provided with visionary intellectual leadership".

The new chair will be "fully funded from philanthropic monies", it says.

That leaves questions over what will happen to existing funding linked to palaeography.

One theory holds that money provided by the Higher Education Funding Council for England for the discipline between 1987 and 2005 was invested by the college, along with money from the Wolfson Foundation.

This is reported to provide a combined income of about £30,000 a year. The college is thought to be confident that it is using all funds correctly.

The University and College Union, which mounted strike action over the King's cuts, suspended its dispute after management agreed to talks on staff still under threat of redundancy, and a review of consultation processes.

About 100 staff have left after accepting voluntary redundancy.

john.morgan@tsleducation.com

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