Vacation plan to axe unit is foiled

August 9, 2002

A retiring Lancaster University academic has accused its vice-chancellor of using the vacation to rush through proposals to close down his department.

The independent studies unit has been under threat of closure twice before and its director, John Wakeford, who retired last week, said his unique department was too radical for a handful of university administrators who had pursued a vendetta against it.

"Despite the wholehearted support of senate, which voted unanimously to restore the unit's entry quota and extend its degree schemes, this proposal was clearly intended to slip through unnoticed while the majority of people are away on vacation," said Dr Wakeford.

"By the time key staff and students returned from vacation and new students arrived it would have been a fait accompli . The vice-chancellor seems to have been very badly advised."

The department of independent studies was launched in 1972 to offer high-flying students tailormade programmes of study and research outside traditional disciplines. Students decide what they will research, how they will study and the form assessed pieces of work will take.

Vice-chancellor William Ritchie, who is also about to retire, wrote to heads of department on July 24 expressing unspecified concerns about the quality of provision in the independent studies unit, which he described as "dangerously" understaffed. Using special senate vacation powers he proposed an immediate halt to admissions to the department and to redirect students holding offers to other courses. The expected cohort of 175 students arriving in October could be distributed among other departments. He allowed one week until August 2 for objections.

However, the vice-chancellor was forced into an embarrassing climbdown at a meeting of the university's senior management group on Monday. The proposals were dropped following protests.

A university spokeswoman said the vice-chancellor was unable to comment personally. "Staff from other departments were greatly concerned over this proposal and therefore it was decided not to carry on with it any further. There is no plan to curb any further admissions and students already enrolled for October will not be transferred to other departments."

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