Students at the University of Birmingham have occupied the universities HR department over the university’s marginalisation of ethnicities teaching and research. Protesters are discussing over whether to continue the teach-in as an occupation if their demands to the university are not met. Jose Nafafe, the university’s only expert in ethnicity, is being made redundant leaving the future teaching of the discipline at serious risk. Jose is the only black lecturer in the sociology department and among only 1.5% of the academic staff at the university that are black. The protesters accuse the University of showing contempt for the importance of ethnicity, especially after one of the senior managers described the impact of Jose’s loss as ‘marginal and anticipated’. This is the latest in a series of savage cuts to Sociology at Birmingham; that mean that students studying the subject do not have enough modules to make up a full degree.
Instead of accepting that they are removing their only expert in ethnicity, the university have chosen to try and mislead students and the public. They have repeatedly said to the media that Jose is not and has never been a lecturer in ethnicity, however until recently it said on their own website that he was appointed to a lectureship in ethnicity in 2007. The university then chose to edit Jose’s biography in order to remove the mention of his appointment.
The redundancy is opposed by both the UCU who have made opposition to it one of the demands in their upcoming ballot for strike action; and by the Student’s Union (Guild). Guild President David Franklin has said “We feel that Dr Nafafé is a renowned scholar, who is immensely popular with those students that he teaches. If he is made redundant, this will seriously impact upon the University’s ability to effectively teach ethnicities, and suggests a lack of concern in such a key aspect of any sociology course; not to mention the context of an already low number of ethnic minority academics. We call for the University to allow Dr Nafafé to continue in his role as a teacher and researcher in ethnicities.”
One of the students in the teach-in who does not wish to be named for fear of university recriminations said: “we’ve tried petitions, we’ve tried asking the university nicely, we’ve tried to point out how respected Jose is and how much students here want to keep him; and all we’ve had back from the management is lies and poor excuses. Under the circumstances we have no option other than to take further action. The university need to start listening to and respecting staff and students”.
The occupier’s statement reads: Dear Professor Eastwood and Senior Management,
We students are in occupation of the University of Birmingham’s HR department, with the following demands:
1. Dr Jose Nafafe is no longer placed under threat of redundancy.
2. Provisions are made to ensure there is high quality, long-term teaching of Ethnicities in the Sociology Department.
3. The University of Birmingham’s College of Social Sciences (CoSS) ensures there are enough modules to constitute a full Sociology degree.
We make these demands because we are concerned with the quality of our education, and the continued failure of University management to listen to these concerns. We will continue to instigate student strikes and occupations, as well as supporting staff-led strikes, until our concerns our ameliorated.
Students in Occupation.