We here share the text of yesterday’s open letter to management at the University of Chester regarding proposed redundancies.

Archaeology and Heritage Staff



Open Letter re: Petition to Save Archaeology & Heritage at the University of Chester

Dear Professor Eunice Simmons & Professor Paul Johnson (cc. Professor Wayne Morris & Professor Meggen Gondek),

Receiving ‘at risk of redundancy letters’ on 1 April was a shock and a surprise to us, coming after a year in which we have worked so hard and sacrificed so much to support our University and our students through the pandemic lockdowns. We achieved this as a team through innovative and sustained teaching and implementing and developing our research whilst working from home. Among our achievements include our 100% overall student satisfaction result in the 2020 NSS and a very strong REF2021 submission. The letters came without warning, prior consultation, or review, at Departmental or Faculty level – we can honestly say that there has been no transparent and collaborative process of business planning involving departmental staff, no indication that staffing levels had become critical, nor opportunity to propose mitigation strategies. Since receiving letters, our line managers have refused meetings with us and we have remained in the dark regarding the rationale for this decision. For example, staff have not seen Departmental or Faculty business plans.

We remain willing and able to meet the challenges of the new post-COVID climate and we are keen to work to sustain and promote our degree programmes. We have proposed many initiatives to these ends, although we are not sure whether you have been made aware of them. That said, in addition to our morale being crushed by this process at the worst possible time, we must also express our deep concern regarding our ability to retain the quality and quantity of our academic work if reduced staffing is implemented as proposed and at such short notice.

We appreciate times have been very challenging for the University, especially in the light of the Thornton campus situation. Yet, we feel strongly that the decision to cut staff is unprecedented and unwarranted. Hence, we fully support the UCU’s position of ‘no compulsory redundancies.’

Consequently, on 3 April, we took the decision to lobby for external support for Archaeology and Heritage staff identified as at risk on criteria which had yet to be shared with us. The text of our petition, launched 9 April, can be read here: https://forms.gle/WPzPCfSBB5d5oMxr5

We want to share with you the results of the petition, which we decided to close today, at which point it had received an astounding 4,266 signatures. Note, we are keeping it open to receive further signatures and comments moving forward, as it is continuing to attract considerable interest (indeed in the short space of time between closing yesterday and this evening, it now has 4,298 signatures!).

You will notice the signatures include so many well-known historians, archaeologists, heritage specialists, many students (past and present), but also many people from across the world passionate about the study of the past who also recognise the value and significance of our disciplines in today’s world and for our shared future. For example, you will read the name Sir Tony Robinson (signature number 2654): an honorary graduate of the University of Chester who spoke so clearly about the value of the university’s degrees at the 7 November 2011 graduation ceremony in Chester Cathedral, http://www.chester.ac.uk/node/11020

Please take the time to read through the signatures and the 1,146 messages of support on the petition. These are echoed by many more posted supportive statements on the feeds of our newly created Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/archchester1/) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/ArchaeologyChe1) pages (our 3-week-old Twitter account now has an astounding 2,829 followers, giving us a superb additional platform to promote our subject areas moving forward). We urge you to also look at our brand-new WordPress site, created to showcase our excellent teaching and research (https://archaeologychester.wordpress.com/) and which has already received 5,455 views from 2,916 visitors. We are also aware of the open letter from the Council for British Archaeology: https://blog.archaeologyuk.org/2021/04/19/a-letter-to-the-university-of-chester-responding-to-threats-to-teaching-staff-in-the-department-of-history-and-archaeology/ and know many leading experts in the fields of archaeology and heritage have written to you directly to express their dismay at the proposals and strong support for our ongoing work.

The signatures and comments on the petition, and the comments received across the social media platforms, together articulate the resounding positive support there is at locally, regionally, nationwide and globally for Archaeology and Heritage staff at the University of Chester and History and Heritage staff at University Centre Shrewsbury. They recognise our existing teaching and research expertise among former and current students, heritage professionals and academics but also the wider public.

Please also note that these messages articulate surprise and incredulity that a higher education institution in the ancient and historic city of Chester and set within multiple surrounding regions (including Merseyside and NW England, the West Midlands and North Wales) rich in archaeological and heritage wonders, cannot market and sustain its vibrant and distinctive undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. Many also note the necessity for our expertise, both in the UK and internationally, to support our society and economy by training the next generation of archaeologists and heritage practitioners, as well as supporting critical thinking and informed graduates for a range of career paths. This is especially important at a time when the political extremist manipulation of the human past is rampant and the disciplines of archaeology and heritage are uniquely situated to counter this.

Yours sincerely (listed in alphabetical order),

Dr Morn Capper

Dr Amy Gray Jones

Dr James Pardoe

Dr Caroline Pudney

Dr Barry Taylor

Professor Howard Williams

Dr Jonathan Worton