Beatrice Ashton-Lelliott, PhD Student, shares her thoughts on the University of Portsmouth’s proposal to reduce the number of staff in the English Literature Department and what we can do to help support the staff and students.
The majority of students currently studying English Literature at the University of Portsmouth would undoubtedly say that they chose this institution due to the passion, knowledge and welcoming research culture demonstrated by the department’s staff. As PhD students, we walk a fine line between teaching and researching as staff members, but remaining students ourselves with the benefit of unique supervisory teams. We were, therefore, just as heartbroken as the staff and just as shocked as the undergraduate students to hear the news that university management is considering reducing the current department by over half its staff members.
I chose this institution because one of the only people in the world who has the expertise to supervise my thesis is employed here, and every other PhD student in the Centre for Studies in Literature would say the same. The decisions being proposed appear not to take into account the nuances of literary studies and the wide range of specialisms and expertise provided by the staff here. English Literature at the University of Portsmouth has a sense of community and strength unlike anything I have encountered elsewhere, and to see this being jeopardised is incredibly frustrating – even more so for current undergraduates, who are left with so many questions surrounding how their courses will continue and the timing of this decision.
Many of the PhD students in English Literature currently are now in their final year, moving towards completion. The timing of this announcement adds even more stress onto an already extremely stressful time for many us (especially our supervisors), and undergraduates have echoed this in sharing the impact this is having on their wellbeing and overall student experience.
A degree in literature is highly valued by employers, arguably encouraging more transferable skills than any other degree. The humanities more generally help us to think critically and to understand others: two skills more valuable than ever today. In just the last day, we have seen an outpouring of support from other departments across the world, showing the international importance of the research being done in the Centre for Studies in Literature. To reduce an English Literature department in Portsmouth of all places – the birthplace of Charles Dickens and Neil Gaiman, home of H. G. Wells and Arthur Conan Doyle to name a few, is especially painful and sets an extremely dangerous precedent for the humanities everywhere.
I am so proud of the initiative being shown in particular by the undergraduate and MRes students, who are far more organised and unafraid to speak truth to power than many of us would have been at age 18 or in our early twenties. Please show your support for their futures and those of the incredible staff who work in English Literature by signing the petition (which is set to reach over 2500 signatures very soon) and attending the student-led protest this Friday 28th February in Guildhall Square starting at 11:30am
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