Who’s misinforming whom? – Save the IAA!

As you may be aware, the University of Birmingham have sought to calm staff and student disquiet over the proposed closure of the Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity (IAA). In a recent statement the University described opposition to the closure of the IAA as “misinformation in the public domain”.

BUCU have decided to release this statement, in order to respond to what they believe is the University’s consistent attempt to misinform staff and, especially, students, about the plans to close the IAA.

The University currently claims that “there will be some reduction in staffing” and that the University has a “strong commitment” to the disciplines of the IAA. This is an extraordinary claim to make. The current proposal is to close the IAA entirely – whilst some staff will be moved to alternative departments around the University, 19 staff will be made redundant – this is over half of the non-professorial academic staff currently in the IAA. A reduction in staffing of this amount cannot in any way be construed as a strong commitment to the disciplines of Archaeology, Ancient History and Classics.

The University states that there is “absolutely no proposal to abolish any of these subjects at Birmingham”, yet it is the case that the University is proposing to close Single Honours Archaeology as an undergraduate degree from 2013.

The University claims to be “discussing the creation of a Centre for Archaeology Research”. Under the proposals, the number of archaeologists at the University of Birmingham would reduce from 18 to 4. These remaining 4 are likely to be scattered around different parts of the University, and connected via the Centre for Archaeology Research – which is likely to be a ‘virtual centre’ (i.e. a website!). To refer to this in terms of creating a new Centre is, we believe, preposterous.

The University states that the “there will be some reduction in staffing, but only to meet a reduction in the volume of students that can be recruited within the context of the evolving admissions landscape in England”. Yet, given that the core activity of 9 of the 19 members of staff proposed to be made redundant is not in the area of undergraduate teaching, it is difficult to see how the proposed redundancies could be entirely connected to declining numbers of students. Further, Classics and Ancient History has been consistently operating with staff-student ratios higher than most Russell Group universities for a number of years. There is no evidence to suggest that this is about to change.

Despite the assertion that the college will focus on “particular distinctive areas of strength”, the IBM Visualisation and Spatial Technology Centre (VISTA) – a globally respected research group associated with some of the most innovative and influential digital humanities and heritage research projects in Europe – is dismissed in the Review documents sent to Senate as ‘a suite of equipment designed to mediate and display archaeological research’.

The University also claims that the proposals have “the full support of the leadership within IAA”. We have no doubt that certain figures within the IAA support these proposals. Indeed, the process leading up to and including the current proposals appears almost entirely designed to save certain senior figures within the IAA from facing the consequences of their own dismal performance. This process has been disastrously mishandled from the outset:

  • The Review Panel included 3 senior members of IAA management, including the Head of School and Head of Archaeology, who were by definition of their positions instrumental in the supposed ‘underperformance’ of the IAA.
  • The Head of School made prior recommendations to the Head of College that pre-empted the outcome of the Review, and were made available to other members of the Review Panel, creating a clear risk that that the Review outcome would be prejudiced.
  • The Review lasted just one month.
  • The entire IAA academic staff were provided with one single 1-hour consultation meeting with the Review Panel during the Review.
  • Access by IAA staff to crucial data made available to the Review has been repeatedly denied by the University. A Freedom of Information request made by IAA staff seeking this information has been repeatedly delayed, going beyond both the standard time for requests to be dealt with, and an additional 10 working days which the University requested. BUCU also had all of this data redacted in the documentation it received as part of the redundancy consultations, and requests for the data have so far gone unheeded.
  • The outgoing Head of the IAA has now been rewarded with a move to become Head of Philosophy, Theology and Religion.
  • The outgoing Head of Archaeology has now been rewarded with a move to become the interim Head of the IAA.
  • No members of the professorial staff within the IAA have been put at risk of redundancy.
  • The University has flatly refused to follow its own Grievance procedure in response to a formal grievance raised by members of staff within the IAA regarding this process.
  • The University has written to all IAA students seeking to assure them that a petition to extend the 90-day staff consultation period is unnecessary.
  • The Head of College, Professor Michael Whitby, has directly contacted senior academics in Archaeology, Ancient History and Classics in other universities to deny claims that the University is ending activity in these areas.
  • And perhaps most remarkably, the University collected (and presumably destroyed) copies of the most recent Redbrick Newspaper that were left in their usual places around the University. This, we can only assume, was due to the front-page coverage of the proposal to close the IAA, and the damage that it was felt this would have had during the recent University Open Days!

BUCU are extremely worried about these developments. The Review of the IAA does not stand in isolation, it is the first of what we fear will be a number of reviews conducted across the College of Arts and Law. There is now an atmosphere of fear throughout the College, that similarly rapid reviews and more swingeing cuts will be implemented within other departments.


Sign the petition – Save the IAA – http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/save-the-iaa/ – already 1000 signatures collected

Sign the petition – Extend the 90-day consultation period – http://www.change.org/petitions/the-university-of-birmingham-extend-the-consultation-period-of-the-iaa-merger-review


  1. As a 1972 comb hons graduate I am appalled at the proposal to close IAA which has over the years provided so many eminent contributors to a whole range of related disciplines. If a uni like Birmingham does not value tradition who will?

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