A term of lies…..

So as we’ve reached the end of term, thought it might be worth recapping some of the worst lies told by University of Birmingham management in the last three months.Eastwood 3

Universities are usually considered by both the media and the public to be a credible source. This means that their press releases are generally accepted or put into print without fact checking. Unfortunately this blind acceptance of what the institution is saying definitely cannot be sustained when it comes to the University of Birmingham. They have repeatedly spread both misinformation and outright lies to students and the outside world. This post details some of the shameless cases and explains why you should take whatever the University are saying with a substantial truckload of salt.

  • José Nafafé- ethnicity or media
  • Retrospectively blaming admissions figures
  • Project Archaeology
  • The research we should be doing?
  • Exciting Opportunities
  • José Nafafé- ethnicity or media
This photo was shared hundreds of times on social media

This photo was shared hundreds of times on social media

The redundancy of José Nafafé has been widely criticized by staff, students, and the community who felt- among other concerns– that it was marginalizing a key aspect of sociology, ethnicity. The university’s case for the redundancy centred on the idea that José was not a lecturer in sociology or ethnicity, but in Media, and his redundancy was planned along with the closure of the media, culture and society program.

University spokespeople said to the press that José “was not, and never had been” a lecturer in ethnicity at the University of Birmingham. However if you look at their own website it clearly states that “He was appointed to a lectureship in Ethnicity in Sociology in 2007”.The idea that José was always going to be made redundant by the review is totally fabricated. In 2010, along with the rest of the sociology lecturers, José received a letter stating that “the role you hold is no longer at risk of compulsory redundancy and any threat of redundancy is lifted with immediate effect”.

The University also stated that it had “recently appointed a lecturer in ethnicity to provide teaching.” This lecturer is called Gëzim Alpion and if you look once again at the university’s website you will find the strange fact that the university’s supposed expert in ethnicity (Gëzim) teaches modules called: “Introduction to Media, Culture and Society”, “Sociology of Success and Fame” and “Film, Culture and Society”; while the university’s supposed expert in media (José) teaches modules called: “Ethnicity and Migration”, “Postcolonial Theory, Representation and Identity” and until recently taught a lecture block on ethnicity in the module “Social Divisions”.

UPDATE: Rather than accepting that Dr Nafafé was and still is a lecturer in ethnicity, the university have now edited José’s Biography to remove any mention of the fact that ‘he was appointed to a lectureship in ethnicity in 2007’

2nd UPDATE (11/01/13): I have been informed by a former student that contrary to the university’s assertions José has actually taught on every single ethnicity module that is offered by the University of Birmingham at some point in his time here. In addition to the modules reported in the main blog he also previously lectured on the second year core module Ethnic Relations in Britain.

 

  • Retrospectively blaming admissions figures

Admissions figures are hugely down across the Higher Education sector this year, as a result of the £9000 fees and the market in education (No thanks to this university’s management who lobbied hard to have these changes brought in). Management have taken this widely publicised drop in admissions figures as an opportunity to retrospectively blame all course closures on an easily understandable narrative.

PeckReplying to student’s concerns about the redundancy of José Nafafé, Edward Peck (left) writes “Following a continuing decline in applications to the Department of Sociology, the Senate and Council of the University decided in the autumn of 2009 to close the undergraduate and post-graduate programmes…..”. However as this Times Higher report makes clear the decision was primarily due to poor staff relations and a poor RAE performance.  If you look at the university’s own website they state that last year Sociology had 394 applications for 45 places. How the decision to retrospectively go back and change the reason for having a review was made, is unclear.

  • Project Archaeology 

In the university’s review of the Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity recommended that the Archaeology ‘project group’ should be closed, with all of the staff made redundant. The main reason given for this was the inability of the group to meet an undisclosed target of grant income. Following the review the group submitted a grievance saying that the circumstances had made effective functioning impossible and that management had either set them up to fail or allowed them to fail by their negligence.

staffordshire_hoard

Other than the lack of targets or strategic direction (until they were closed for failing to meet them), and the huge backlog of work and debt inherited from the previous group, the biggest issue was that there was no management structure in place to help the group with funding applications. The university had promised a grade 8 manager to fulfil the role but this post was left empty for over a year before the review. Senior staff in the IAA who should have taken this over, or sorted out the problem, did nothing. This meant that the group repeatedly submitted funding applications to senior managers who just left them on their desk until deadline was missed.

In effect the university made it impossible for the group to submit funding applications and then closed them down for an inability to secure enough funding. To add insult to injury the two senior managers most responsible for the failure received promotions; Simon Esmonde-Cleary from head of Archaeology to head of the IAA and Ken Dowden from Head of the IAA to head of Philosophy, Theology and Religion (Mike Whitby head of the College of Arts and Law probably also deserves a dishonourable mention).

  • The research we should be doing?

Private EyeFor the University of Birmingham the fact that you are closing departments and making staff redundant is no reason not to use their work to try and enhance your branding. So while the Archaeology project group was being closed for being ineffective, the university were praising their work as examples of what makes Birmingham great. In a graduation ceremony in July David Eastwood praised project group research like ‘Dig for Shakespeare’ and ‘Stonehenge’ as examples of great community outreach. Eastwood also hailed Dr Jeff Rose- winner of a National Geographic Emerging Explorer Award- as an upcoming academic and pioneer, despite the fact that he too was being pushed out of the university.

More recently the university managed to get itself into Private Eye. Some of the project group staff had worked extremely hard, as part of the Vista project, in doing a laser scan for the National Public Housing Museum. At the same time as they were sitting in redundancy meetings, David Eastwood   was in Chicago networking and aggrandising with the work they had done.

  • Exciting opportunities?

ManagementThe last point is not one single lie but a pervasive use of language to obscure what the university are actually saying. In an appendix to 1984 George Orwell outlines ‘the principles of newspeak’. His description of the B vocabulary, designed to express (or rather destroy) political meaning would be immediately familiar to anyone who has spent much time reading University of Birmingham internal documents. As Orwell says the language is very hard to understand for anyone who has not mastered the principles of IngSoc (in this case managerialism).

Orwell writes: “No word in the B vocabulary was ideologically neutral. A great many were euphemisms…. (many words) meant the exact opposite of what they appeared to mean”. This applies worryingly well to some of the language the university use to describe course closures.

For instance, the university fills their writing with Phrases such as “excellence”, “high quality”, “first class experience”, and “outstanding” that all effectively translate to mean whatever the university management are doing. Other favourite phrases include: “sustainable” (highly profitable), “full consultation” (a sort of shield to deflect criticism), “Difficult decisions” (cutting your course or job) “areas of distinctive strength” (cutting other areas), and “positive proposal” (cuts). Perhaps the worst however is the use of the phrase or the language of “exciting opportunities”; loosing your course or your job is not- as most people might think- bad, it is an exciting opportunity to…… (insert collection of phrases from above).

Talking to a university manager, Orwell’s writing that: “a Party member called upon to make a political or ethical judgement should be able to spray forth the correct opinions as automatically as a machine gun spraying forth bullets”, is depressingly apt.

Every single one knows that: X or Y closure or cut is necessary to create viable sustainable excellence in distinctive areas of research strength, by creating first class synergies between modal tranches of maximised outstanding activity; that difficult decisions have had to be taken but that inclusive and transparent consultation has led to a positive proposal; and that people who have concerns are just philistines opposed to change, and can address their concerns to recyclebin@bham.ac.uk. Most of all the university manager knows that this course closure provides them with a great opportunity to enhance their career by showing how little they care about anyone other than themselves.

University managers have time and time again completely lied to try and achieve their agendas. They are not on our side and they are willing to use deception to cut our courses and jobs. I hope this post goes some way towards students and staff never giving them the benefit of the doubt.

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2 Responses to A term of lies…..

  1. Pingback: A term of lies….. — National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts

  2. Jenny Rathbone says:

    Excellent informative round up of events. Jenny Rathbone AM

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