English Literature Redundancies are Unfair: An Open Letter to Portsmouth University

In February, S&C reported on staff and student protests against cuts to the University of Portsmouth’s English Literature department. The consultation was paused when the COVID-19 lockdown began, but has now restarted, despite the English Literature degree recruiting well and the University being in good financial health. 

The University plans to reduce the number of English Literature staff from 13 to 5, with the consultation resuming yesterday and due to end on 20 June.

The English Literature team has received a wave of support from colleagues at the University, and the letter below was sent to the Interim Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Theresa Callan, and the Faculty Business Manager, Gareth Morgan, on 9th June.

The letter has attracted over 100 signatures and it remains open. If you would like to add your support to the English staff who have done so much to support their students and the local community, please do so here


To Theresa Callan and Gareth Morgan,

We the undersigned note your proposal to resume the English Literature Consultation on 11 June 2020, and wish to register our vehement opposition to this move.

You state in your email to the English Literature team of 4 June that your decision is informed by ‘the easing of lockdown measures’, the ‘need to plan fully in a timely way for the next academic year’ and ‘to address the anxiety caused by the ongoing situation of uncertainty’.

We do not accept that lockdown measures have been sufficiently eased in a way that would allow staff to engage with the consultation meaningfully and equally, and strongly object to the implication that the resumption of the consultation will relieve staff involved of anxiety.

This hasty return to redundancy consultations is out of line with the Vice-Chancellor’s statement in the Q&A session of 22 May 2020 that UEB is committed to the principle of ‘show[ing] respect to colleagues who have worked so hard’ across the period of the COVID-19 crisis to date, and the repeated commitments made by UEB members in that forum to careful consideration of actions (e.g. ‘Whatever decisions we make, we will be taking our time, and considering carefully’). We note, too, the repeated reassurance by the Vice-Chancellor that the University is in a ‘very good financial position’.

We refer you to our previous letter requesting the suspension of the EL consultation process, in which we highlighted serious issues of equality. We maintain that by returning to consultation at this point, the University is in breach of the equality policies and rights charter that it subscribes to: half of the English Literature team (mostly female colleagues) have substantial caring commitments that will prevent them from participating in the process.

We therefore reiterate our statement that the University has a duty of care to its staff, and responsibilities under Athena Swan, the higher education gender equality initiative, not to act in ways that might be discriminatory.

In addition, there are now material changes in the educational context due to COVID-19, as a result of which any mapping based on previous teaching delivery models is no longer valid.

Moreover, the news also reminds us every night that we are only just at stage 4 (out of the 5 stages) through which lockdown measures will be relieved, are still very close to the R threshold and could return to stage 5 again at any time.

With these considerations in mind, we judge it as entirely inappropriate for the consultation process to resume at this time.

We therefore request that the decision to resume the consultation be reversed with immediate effect, and that it remains suspended until there is a significant improvement in conditions for the staff involved (including the return of all children to school).

Signed by:
Prof. David Andress
Dr Melanie Bassett
Prof. Brad Beaven
Dr Karl Bell
Dr Christine Berberich
Dr Maggie Bowers
Dr Charlotte Boyce
Prof. Tamsin Bradley
Janet Bryant
Dr Jodi Burkett
Dr Maria Cannon
Fergus Carr
Prof. Tony Chafer
Dr Isabelle Cheng
Dr Lana Chikhungu
Dr Angela Crack
Dr Ben Davies
Dr Ben Dew
Dr Jessica Dyson
Dr Mike Esbester
Dr Mark Field
Dr Paraic Finnerty
Dr Paul Flenley
Dr Robert Frith
Dr Mark Frost
Dr Ben Garner
Dr Katy Gibbons
Mr Emmanuel Godin
Dr Graham Heaney
Dr Matthew Heaslip
Dr Robert James
Prof. Wolfram Kaiser
Dr Melita Lazell
Dr Brigitte Leucht
Dr Zara Martin
Dr Ann Matear
Dr Aishling Mc Morrow
Dr David Norman
Dr Rosamund Paice
Dr Cathryn Pearce
Dr Christopher Pittard
Dr Bronwen Price
Dr Monica Riera
Sue Roberts
Dr Thomas Rodgers
Dr Elodie Rousselot
Dr Olivia U. Rutazibwa
Dr Lee Sartain
Dr Mathias Seiter
Dr Patricia Shamai
Dr Nora Siklodi
Dr Ed Stoddard

Dr Tom Sykes
Dr Natalya Vince
Dr Diane Warren
Dr Mark Youngman
Anonymous (member of staff on fixed-term contract)

Featured image, ‘University Of Portsmouth, Park Building And Attached Railings And Balustrade’ by MassimilianoFinzi is reproduced here under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.