Open Letter to James Wharton, Chair, Office for Students; Professor Jean-Noël Ezingeard, Vice-Chancellor, University of Roehampton London; Michelle Donelan, Minister of State for Higher and Further Education
Statement of Solidarity: UK Classics representative bodies deplore attacks on Arts and Humanities across Higher Education institutions
As a united group comprising Chairs and Presidents of the primary representative bodies for Classics professionals in the UK – the Council of University Classical Departments, the Classical Association, the Institute of Classical Studies, the Women’s Classical Committee UK, the Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies, and the Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies – we wish to express our solidarity with all those affected by the deeply worrying programme of closures and redundancies in the Arts and Humanities announced this month across institutions, including Bishop Grosseteste, De Montfort, Dundee, Roehampton, and Wolverhampton.
As institutions working in Classics, we deplore, and are angry at, attacks on Classics at Roehampton. The University’s decision to close Classics comes only months after a celebration of 21 years of Classics at Roehampton – two decades of pioneering research and teaching. The University’s research culture has historically stressed and rewarded the production of high-quality academic publications, and many areas of its School of Humanities and Social Sciences have been strong in this regard, notably Classics, which has led the way in terms of the institutional aims around practical humanities, applied research and innovation.
Classics at Roehampton has been at the forefront of world-leading research in feminist and disability studies in Classics, and its closure would be damaging to the discipline as a whole. Roehampton has also been exemplary in creating teaching practices for neurodivergent students in Classics, and the loss of this Equalities, Diversity and Inclusion work sets back efforts in this area, which are of incalculable value to all students. Indeed, major publications are forthcoming from Roehampton Classicists around their projects on Classics and autistic children, involving partners such as English Heritage, Keats House, and Pupil Referral Units. Other important, ongoing, collaborations include the Acropolis Museum, Athens, and Heritage of London’s ‘Proud Places’; these are precisely the kinds of projects and partnerships through which Classics at Roehampton has fantastic potential to develop its already highly successful practical and employability training for students.
Classics at Roehampton, since its inception, has championed employability; as a team it earned the Roehampton Teaching Fellowship for embedding employability into the classical programme, and its research and teaching staff have published around pedagogy and employability in Classics in high quality, peer-reviewed journals and held sessions on student employability at major national and international conferences. This work has blazed a trail, and has directly and positively impacted on the development of comparable initiatives at other institutions. Classics at Roehampton is in fact at the forefront of moving the subject, and by extension the institution, towards practical focused and employability training with potential for exceptional Graduate Outcomes.
More broadly, the effects that these cuts would have on access to Higher Educationare potentially devastating. Classics and Ancient History in particular are far too often considered the preserve of Russell Group institutions with Classics or Greek & Latin departments, whose entrance criteria and history of systemic under-privileging of first-generation students, BAME students, and state-school-educated students are well-known; Roehampton Classics colleagues have in fact been instrumental in working with colleagues in such departments to make headway in terms of inclusion. Classics at Roehampton bucks this entry trend and is already significantly boosting and broadening access to these subjects: Roehampton’s Classics courses were ranked fifth in the UK in the 2020 Guardian league table, one of only two non-Russell Group universities in the top ten for the subject, with exceptionally high scores for teaching satisfaction (96%), on a par with Durham and St. Andrews. In the most recent NSS survey, Classics received a score of 100%, showing colleagues’ outstanding level of successful teaching.
Roehampton has great experience in teaching students who have had little previous formal education in Classics, and who have entered university from less privileged backgrounds. Many of them are the first in their family to go to university. Roehampton Classics is a partner in a growing number of non-RG institutions offering this subject to diverse student bodies, the Post92Classics Network, who are collectively at the heart of invigorating the shape of the discipline for future generations in a changing world; indeed Roehampton Classics is very much a leading light in this regard.
As with Arts and Humanities subjects more broadly, Classics encourages and develops appreciation of cultural, religious and linguistic diversity, while broadening students’ horizons to a global range of philosophical and intellectual outlooks that have influenced modern thought; it teaches critical thinking and analysis of complex source material in a range of languages, and requires students to view humanity through a critical lens, with empathy. Classics in such educational contexts has the transformative power to engage students in discussion around a wide range of cultures, religions, ethnicities, genders, sexualities and disabilities, across huge spans of space and time. These are not soft skills, nor are they fringe topics. They are vital skills and perspectives for modern life, and indeed the cornerstone of good training both for social and civic participation, and for employability.
Studying the Arts and Humanities can be transformative for students: over their time at Roehampton, students expand their cultural horizons, and build their employable and creative skills. Further, they become active, empowered citizens. The University’s stated rationale for its decision to close these subjects is in fact at odds with the likely outcome of this action. The University’s objective in terms of sustainability of programmes in growing fields, especially those with emerging markets of future economy and society, is one which Classics is extremely well positioned to achieve and at which to excel. There is potential here for multidisciplinary work to develop and further embed employability into its teaching, as evidenced by recent programme revalidations, particularly in areas of institutional strategic importance such as Roehampton’s BA in Liberal Arts and its MAs in Cultural Heritage and Environmental Studies.
The loss of any Classics provision will undoubtedly hurt the Classics community as a whole, but the loss of Roehampton in particular would diminish our field, and its potential loss is symptomatic of the damage caused by competition for its own sake, that has been actively encouraged by successive governments. Higher Education departments need time, space, collaboration and long-term team-building to provide an excellent education and student experience. Roehampton Classics has built up such a team and collaborations both national and international, including for example major international AHRC, ERC, DFG, Loeb Foundation and Leverhulme Trust grants. The loss of Classics at Roehampton would leave a massive hole. University management and government higher education policy are together destroying a long-cherished site, like Erysichthon cutting down the grove of Demeter. Such willful destruction of Arts and Humanities in UK Higher Education cannot be allowed to stand.
CUCD, Council of University Classics Departments, Chair: Prof Helen Lovatt
WCC UK, Women’s Classical Committee UK, Co-Chairs: Dr April Pudsey & Dr Ulriika Vihervalli, Administrator: Prof Laurence Totelin
ICS, Institute of Classical Studies, Director: Prof Katherine Harloe
SPHS, Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies, President: Prof Paul Cartledge
SPRS, Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies, President: Prof Roy Gibson
CA, Classical Association, Chair of Council: Prof Douglas Cairns
Post92Classics Network, Chair: Dr April Pudsey