Freeman Centre update from doctoral students

On Monday July 23rd, a delegation representing PhDs from the Freeman Centre and beyond met with the Vice Chancellor Michael Farthing.

A number of points raised during the course of the hour long meeting are worth noting here:

  1. Farthing was absolutely clear he would not sanction any delay in the move out of the Freeman Centre.
  2. He apologised for the manner in which occupants of the NAB had been chosen, in particular the failure to communicate that decision much sooner.
  3. He committed to contacting Ian Davidson by phone that day raising our concerns directly with him.
  4. He replied “yeah, absolutely” when asked if all the Brighton/ESRC legal steps had been taken to ensure transfer of use for the Freeman Centre though he told us he did not have time to go into the detail of those steps in the meeting.

During the course of that meeting, it was made clear to the Vice Chancellor we were unhappy not simply with the proposed move, but had grave concerns over the ongoing identity of SPRU, the deterioration of working conditions for PhDs and indeed other researchers once the move has taken place, and the ongoing governance of the school, which would seem to be creaking under the strain of rapid teaching-led growth.

At the time of writing (Wednesday evening), Ian Davidson has yet to contact us to address our concerns, despite Farthing’s confirmation via email that he had indeed talked to him following our visit.

Issues

As a group, we are rapidly losing confidence in the management of the school to address our concerns, however we do remain hopeful of, and wish to be actively involved in a constructive resolution. We believe there are a number of core issues in play:

This is not about Summer 2012: To be clear, we feel the botched handling of the move is indicative of wider problems which may lead to greater threats in the future. We know that there are plans for more growth and that the NAB will not be able to accommodate this. What happens to SPRU then?

The place and role of doctoral students within BMEC is unclear. We feel SPRU offers an exemplary PhD experience to researchers in training, an experience which should be emulated by the wider school, not dumbed down.

The governance structures within the school has been non inclusive, teaching rather than research-led, and has alienated many in SPRU and beyond. We need to see a real commitment this will change.

The SPRU identity is under threat: We feel there is a long term threat to SPRU’s unique academic identity. We have been told on occasions that this is valued by both the wider school and the university, yet real steps to maintain, and indeed enhance this have not been proposed.

After weeks of poor communication and a business as usual approach from the senior administration of the school we feel it’s time to act.To date, doctoral students have not received a single direct communiqué from the senior management of the school, and our efforts to engage on a day to day level with move activities have been visible rebuffed. We feel this frustration is shared by many other researchers in the Freeman Centre.

What next

We will retain some level of faith in the management of the school and university that our concerns will be addressed, and we will see real action quickly.

Now we’re deciding what to do next and we’d like your input. The more of us who make a stand now, the better chance we have of making a long term difference to how the school is run. We will be calling directly on the head of school for real and immediate engagement on these issues. At the same time, we have not discounted any form of action; we can refuse to pack or refuse to leave the building altogether.

In the meantime we’d encourage you to tell us how you feel, contribute ideas and lend us your support. We understand many people are away and not everyone feels comfortable contributing in an open meeting. So if you’d prefer to grab one of us in a corridor or send us an email please do so.

Thanks for being involved,

Annie, Cian, Frederique, Jose, Kieron, Verónica and Yusuf on behalf of the Listen to US group.

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