News from University of Sheffield, England
THANK YOU FROM SHEFFIELD
Staff and students in the Department of Biblical Studies at the University of Sheffield would like to thank all of you who wrote to the Vice-Chancellor on our behalf. Hundreds of letters were sent from all over the world, and we have been truly touched by the level of support.
The Department of Biblical Studies is no longer under review and the proposal that it should be reconfigured as a Postgraduate Centre has been withdrawn. The Vice-Chancellor has asked the Faculty of Arts and Humanities to consider a short, medium and longer term plan for the Department, and a decision has now been taken that the Department will recruit undergraduates for the Biblical Studies degree in 2010. The Faculty of Arts and Humanities will work closely with colleagues to ensure that students are appropriately supported, including through the recruitment of additional staff.
We could not have achieved this without your support and the commitment and energy of our students, undergraduate and graduate. We cannot thank you enough.
Call for Action Department Closure, University of Sheffield, England
The University of Sheffield Department of Biblical Studies lost two members of the staff (Loveday Alexander to early retirement and Jorunn Økland to a post in Norway), but had been given permission to fill a post with a senior New Testament scholar in 2009-10. While this meant a change in staffing from 8 faculty to 6 faculty, this kind of fluctuation in staffing has been typical in the Department over the years. There were hopes of additional staff in future years.
Further difficulties began when the University decided, at the beginning of the 2008-9 academic year, not to make any appointments in the Faculty of Arts until reconsideration of the University's financial position in the light of the national Research Assessment Exercise. So the Department was not allowed to proceed with a New Testament appointment. Then, in the second semester, the University decided to review the Department, citing the reduction in staff and the Department's fluctuating undergraduate numbers as major concerns. At the same time, a decision was made to cap the number of new students at twenty (20). In fact, undergraduate numbers in the Department have always fluctuated, but Level 3 (i.e. final year) classes in the last two years have had the highest numbers ever.
Another problem for the Department arose when the University, in June of 2009, introduced a Voluntary Severance Scheme as a means of coping with the current economic downturn. Three members of staff are leaving: Cheryl Exum (who was within two years of mandatory retirement), Keith Whitelam, and Barry Matlock. This leaves the Department with three permanent members of staff: Hugh Pyper, and Diana Edelman in Hebrew Bible and James Crossley in New Testament. They have also been given a two-year appointment in New Testament, Mark Finney.
The Department was ranked 6th in the national Research Assessment Exercise (higher, depending on how one reads the figures). This is a remarkable achievement for a small department. They achieved the highest mark in the national Teaching Quality Assessment, and the rating in the national Student Satisfaction Survey was one of the highest, if not the highest, in the University, well above that of the Faculty of Arts and the University as a whole.
At a meeting on 7 October the Senate of the University of Sheffield was asked to approve the following (taken from the Senate papers):
- that the 2009-10 admission to undergraduate programs involving Biblical Studies should be the last and that the Department should cease to function as a single entity;
- that undergraduate programs involving Biblical Studies should be maintained for existing students, and that measures should be taken to ensure that they receive the high quality education and student experience which they have been promised;
- that the Department's academic staff should be transferred to the departments in the Faculty of Arts & Humanities most suited to supporting their longer term careers;
- that a Biblical Studies research center be developed with a view to providing a focus for postgraduate study and research. The research center would be the continuing point of contact and collaboration for academic staff irrespective of their new home departments, thus ensuring the continuation of scholarship in this area.
At the meeting of the Senate, the vote on these proposals was postponed thanks to the intervention of the Sheffield University and College Union and the Union of Students, on the grounds that proper consultation had not taken place. Students are currently mounting a strong protest and information is available on a number of sites on the web (for example, http://savebiblicalstudies.weebly.com/). It is understood that the decision has already been made to suspend undergraduate admissions for the coming academic year while the above proposals are being reconsidered. But suspension of the undergraduate program, in effect, will mean the end of Biblical Studies. The notion that there can be any postgraduate center or program without the existence of an independent Department of Biblical Studies is no doubt wishful thinking. It is a way of subtly dismantling the Department, since the Department and its reputation depends on its distinct identity and its vibrant research culture based on its outstanding undergraduate and postgraduate programs.
Please support the efforts of Sheffield students, alumni/ae, colleagues and friends to reverse what could be the end of an outstanding department by writing to the Vice-Chancellor to urge him not to dismantle the Department (1) by destroying an excellent undergraduate program, which will inevitably be the effect of a suspension of admissions for the 2010-11 academic year and (2) by setting up a Biblical Studies research center that cannot exist financially or resource-wise without an undergraduate program and its contribution to the Department's research culture, when one appointment of a senior scholar would enable the Department to maintain its strength in attracting postgraduates.
The Vice-Chancellor is Professor Keith Burnett and his email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Please copy your message to Professor Paul White (P.White@Sheffield.ac.uk), who will be in charge of the ongoing review. Please also consider sending a copy of your letter to the website listed above.