King’s College London shoots itself in the scholarly foot

The decision by my amara mater King’s College London to cut a large number of humanities post, including that of David Ganz, the Chair of Palaeography, has been making headlines all over the medievalist world. I’ve held off writing about this in the hope I might find about more of the details from KCL people I know, but it sounds like the situation is still very fluid, with a number of meetings taking place. The college is currently having a 90 day consultation period (which I understand is the statutory requirement). During this period, they have a duty to discuss ways of reducing the numbers of dismissals or mitigating the effects of these dismissals. Details of current proposals are now here.

All this means that there are still possibilities for getting changes and that it therefore makes sense for people to carry on contacting KCL and expressing their concern. The best option in the UK seems to be snail mail to Professor Rick Trainor, The Principal, King’s College, The Strand, London WC2R 2LS (because they’re likely to pay more attention to letters than e-mails). I’m getting my letter in the post tomorrow.

What I’ve focused on in my letter (and I hope will concentrate senior management minds) is that the consequences of this decision will hit KCL where it hurts. Its international reputation has already suffered, and a decision like this will make it less likely that medievalist research students want to come to KCL. I pointed out that my application to the AHRB for PhD funding had mentioned David’s expertise as one of my reasons for choosing King’s. I think David has been marked down by the college because he hasn’t had many research students of his own, but this ignores how much informal help he’s given to many of us who did our PhD at KCL. The decision also makes a nonsense of recent KCL attempts at growing its medievalist reputation (by increasing the number of medieval history lecturers to 5 from 4). It suggests a panic reaction more than strategic thinking, so maybe there will be a U-turn with enough pressure.

If I learn anything more solid I’ll report it, but given the global nature of the medievalist community, you may now hear details first from Utrecht or New York or Toronto.


2 thoughts on “King’s College London shoots itself in the scholarly foot

  1. There has been a drive to use research as a measure of excellence. University departments have been marked according to the competence of their research output. While I accept that quality research should be an ongoing feature of any worthy university department, it should not be the only measure by which a department is funded and maintained.

    The measures – I do not know who devised them – in isolation of other factors of university work, are pretty useless I think. They do not account for some very core requirements, such as educating undergraduate students to the levels required of research work, for one thing. There is no element, as far as I can see, that supports the generation of learning. So, where will it come from if it is not taught on home ground?

    You rightly point out, that a world class department that does still have a place in global higher education should be nurtured and be allowed to nurture others, worldwide.

    I wonder too, how the bottom line has been calculated. It sounds like crude measures are in use here too. There is a stark reality about funding cuts, yes, but, there is also a balance to be struck. If the department, and others in a similar position elsewhere, attracts international acclaim and international students, there is a clear financial gain is there not, to offset in good measure, I hope, the losses in budgets from other sources.

    There must be more imaginative ways to consider what universities can do, other than machete total excellence out of existence.


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