Soas disrupted by protest over loss of two librarians

October 7, 2005

London's School of Oriental and African Studies faced severe disruption this week after the escalation of a protest about the redundancies of two specialist librarians.

The school confirmed that 18 senior academics, including the heads of department of Chinese, Japanese and Korean studies, had resigned from all their roles outside their contractual duties as part of a protest against the redundancies.

Librarians Sue Small and Fujiko Kobayashi left Soas last Friday after being made redundant. They are expert librarians and managed the school's special collections covering China, Japan and Korea.

Their redundancies, described by the Association of University Teachers as "disgusting", were marked by more than 400 staff and students protesting outside Soas's Russell Square headquarters last week.

The 18 academics who resigned their non-contractual roles, which include heading up specialist research units, indicated that they would not resume these responsibilities until the librarians were reinstated.

Timon Screech, a reader in the department of art and archaeology, has resigned two positions: chair of the Japanese Research Centre and convener of the Japanese MA programme.

He said: "In effect, Chinese, Japanese and Korean studies are now non-functioning."

Michel Hockx, professor of Chinese, has resigned as head of the East Asia department, and Wang Tao has resigned as chair of the China Research Centre.

There is concern that the redundancies undermine moves by the Government and the funding council to encourage greater investment in Chinese studies, to help exploit wider economic opportunities in the country.

The AUT said the redundancies came without proper consultation and were pushed through over the summer, "to avoid protests".

Peter Mitchell, AUT assistant general secretary, said: "I am disgusted with the way that Soas has treated these long-serving librarians. The AUT will support our members in challenging this decision."

He said pressure by staff had led the Soas executive board to arrange an extraordinary meeting, to be held shortly, to reconsider the redundancies.

Mr Mitchell said: "Members of the governing body should use the extraordinary meeting as an opportunity to reinstate the library staff before further damage is done to the university's international academic reputation."

Graham Dyer, AUT president at Soas, said: "This is academic vandalism by the management of Soas. The demonstrations show how angry our members are at the attempts to downgrade the library and dispose of long-serving staff members. We call on Soas management to reverse its decision and to reinstate our colleagues."

Ms Small said: "At a time when the world is waking up to the importance of China and Asia in business and academe, Soas is cutting the library resources in this area."

Colin Bundy, director and principal of Soas, said: "The school is embarking on a process of consultation to address the concerns of the academic staff involved. Interim measures are in place to ensure minimal disruption during this period of discussion."

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