No Staff, No Students: Students Hold Peaceful Protest Opposing Chester Lecturer Redundancies

ALIX BOOTH and PEACE FAWUSI attended the peaceful protest outside Chester Town hall opposing lecturer redundancies at University of Chester.

After a year filled with uncertainties and living our lives on pause, the easing of lockdown promised a return to some sense of normality. However, many lecturing staff, including all of those in the English Department, received a risk of redundancy letter at 5.20pm by email on Thursday April 1st (the day before Good Friday) - a rather contradictory response to their continuous support and dedication.

To further aggravate matters, emails were sent to a limited number of students from the Vice-Chancellor, claiming the proposed redundancies would have a minimal impact on “the student experience”. Many students have responded that their “student experience” has been dependent on their exceptional lecturers.

"Save our Staff" banner hung on Eastgate Clock. Source: Peace Fawusi

Students, staff and the public gathered in front of Chester Town Hall on 26 April to take a stand against the proposed action to make University of Chester's lecturers redundant. Organised by PhD students Sarah Martin and Jonathan Hay, protesters marched from the Town Hall to the Eastgate clock, where banners reading “#noredundancieschester and “Save our Staff” were hung.

The peaceful protests then moved onto campus, provided supporters had negative lateral flow tests.

We met with some students to ask their opinions regarding the sudden news:

“I think today has been really liberating and it’s been good to show support to the lecturers who have shown us so much support over our time here in Chester, so hopefully the VC can listen to this and take into account that no students want any staff to be made redundant” – Michael Turner, English Language student.

PhD student Sarah Martin rallying the troops outside Chester Town Hall. Source: Peace Fawusi

“I think that it’s a really short-sighted idea to make the lecturers redundant. I think with people like myself, I have stayed here from BA to MA to PHD specifically to work with my supervisor and it really makes me angry to think that she’s had a risk of redundancy letter after all of the support that she has given myself and other students over essentially the past two academic years in lockdown”, Sarah Martin said.

“Our departments really, really stood up and provided not just support, but kindness, a home for so many people and I think that’s hugely important, this sense of belonging despite the fact you’re not physically there anymore. Every week we get to talk to approachable, nice individuals and it makes you want to go to seminars and lectures and if we lose those people that make that environment then there’s no university”, she added.

“After the year we’ve all had in education, the staff should at least have job security and the fact that they’ve not is complete bull****” – Anonymous

A significant amount of these redundancy threats have been made in Humanities. We believe Humanities subjects are an essential component of Higher Education underpinning all of our knowledge about human activities, past, present and future, as Jonathan points out:

“[The University] are not prepared to engage with staff. Certainly, from all the staff emails we’ve received they seem to see the Departments as just bullet points to kind of be cut down and we’re really getting to the stage where this is an attack on Humanities in particular it seems. [This is] unfortunate because Humanities are just so vital to culture, to the city and stuff to everything that's going on at the Uni and if you don't have Humanities departments, you’ve got a major issue in terms of the way you’re representing public thought. Humanities are the departments that speak out, they speak to the history of the country, and they tell us where we've been, they tell us where we're going and if you don't have those voices contesting official narratives then you're really not running a university at all, you're running a governmentally mandated focus group. You're running an echo chamber if you don't have critical thinkers.” - Jonathan Hay, PhD student.

Lecturers at risk of redundancy received notice of a ‘consultation’ meeting with a member of HR and their line manager where they have been given the opportunity to propose alternatives to redundancies. This comes despite having not been granted access to financial information on which to make such judgements.

Local paper Cheshire Live was first to report on alleged financial mismanagement by the University, including poor planning decisions and a costly legal battle regarding planning permission for Thornton Science Park, a multi-million-pound site that possess a massive health risk to students.

“This year has been a massive learning curve for many avenues of education, with lecturers working tirelessly to try and maintain as close to a classroom environment as possible. Universities in general have been largely ignored by the Government, with us still expected to work to the same standard despite a lack of facilities. Whilst the University of Chester and the Vice Chancellor have been successful, compared to other unis, in providing the security of a safety net, our lecturers have now been left in the dark. They have families to feed and mortgages to pay but have been put in an unfair position which increasingly appears to be in the hands of money mismanagement.” - Anonymous

Chester Students’ Union have summarised the recent Q&A session with the Vice-Chancellor, which you can read here. Students were able to send questions regarding the proposed redundancies to the VC by email, as well as through the live chat panel.

Follow us on social media to keep up to date on the situation. We would really appreciate it if you were able to spread the hashtag #noredundancieschester on Twitter.

You can find the open letter from the English Department asking for signatures for support here and if you haven’t already, click here to sign the petition opposing staff redundancies.

Written by Peace Fawusi and Alix Booth

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