The University of Birmingham ‘throws in the trowel’ – as College buries Archaeology!

Since the Times Higher Education ran a story on the 13th September 2012 highlighting the bullying tactics against academic staff employed by the University of Birmingham, the situation in the college of Arts and Law has worsened – considerably. Following a supposed consultation, the College have now presented the final results of the 2012 Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity (IAA) review; this would appear to be the first of a new wave of reviews held across the University. The review has displayed an unprecedented level of bias, unfairness and aggression throughout its implementation and from the outset the University has sought to justify large scale redundancies:

  • Over 15 proposed redundancies were announced today – 11 from Archaeology; this, following 7 years of mismanagement in the IAA by senior managers.
  • All members of staff on research contracts in Archaeology (responsible for several high impact, media friendly research projects internationally, including the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project, North Sea Palaeolandscapes Project, and Shakespeare Project among others) are targeted. Requests from the University and College Union (UCU) for an Equality and Impact Assessment regarding age and gender have been completely ignored.
  • Senior managers have been rewarded for failures which led to the proposed closure of the department of Archaeology and the cutting of the undergraduate degree programme for Single Honours Archaeology.
  • The University of Birmingham has refused to properly investigate a collective Grievance lodged by research staff against the Senior Management of the IAA.
  • What impact will such massive cuts have on the University, on its students, on the research culture and on the whole student ‘experience’ – especially as a spate of such reviews is sweeping across the University?

The shockwaves are being felt throughout the University as a whole. There is an atmosphere of genuine fear amongst the staff as the University’s already heavy-handed management style turns vicious in its desperate attempt to rid itself of those it perceives as expendable. Throughout the process the College was adamant in its public statement that Archaeology would have a future at the University, however the results announced today of the IAA Consultation lay bare the truth: after the large scale redundancies, the few remaining senior Archaeologists will survive scattered amongst the various schools that formerly constituted the IAA, with the discipline of Archaeology continuing invisibly and ineffectually, only as a ‘virtual’ grouping.

Furthermore, cuts to research staff will effectively all but close the IBM Visualisation and Spatial Technology (VISTA) Centre, which was short listed for the Queen’s anniversary prize in 2007 and is a globally-respected research group associated with several of the most innovative and influential digital humanities and heritage research projects in Europe.

Vice-Chancellor Professor David Eastward highlighted the success of research in Archaeology at recent graduation ceremonies in June 2012 when he discussed the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project and Shakespeare Project. He will continue to endorse other current projects such as the Chicago Public Housing Museum Project when abroad next month in the USA, with a view to forging international strategic partnerships.

Yet, even before the Review began, support staff were being laid off and the fixed term researcher and National Geographic Award winning Dr Jeff Rose was told his contract would not to be renewed. Despite this, Dr Rose is featured promoting the University in the current Alumni magazine.

The Review itself was instigated on the confidential recommendation of the Head of the IAA, Professor Ken Dowden, to the Head of College, Professor Michael Whitby. That recommendation whitewashed seven years of mismanagement by recommending the dissolution of the IAA with severe cuts to the staff. These recommendations were confidentially supported by two other senior members of IAA management, including the Head of Archaeology, Professor Simon Esmonde Cleary. All three of whom sat on the subsequent Review Panel. Concerns raised at the time with the College about their inappropriate inclusion were wholly ignored. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Review Panel took only a month to come to the same conclusion that the IAA must be dissolved, the Archaeology department be closed and redundancies should ensue. To add insult to injury, the Head of the IAA, Professor Dowden and the Head of Archaeology, Professor Esmonde Cleary, have since both been rewarded; Professor Dowden was made Head of Theology, Philosophy and Religion (presumably the next target for a review), and the Professor Esmonde Cleary was promoted to acting Head of the IAA.

In essence, Archaeology staff, and in particular its successful researchers, are now paying the price for the long term failings of senior IAA management, as are the current students who will be disadvantaged considerably by the effective closure of Archaeology at the University of Birmingham.

For more information and to contact the staff at threat, please email

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  1. My daughter has applied for Ancient History and Archaeology commencing 2013. Birmingham has been her first choice since she visited but she also has offers from other good universities. My concern is the commitment of Birmingham to what is effectively half of her degree and the effect the cutbacks will have on the quality of her education. It’s a three year investment for her and £27K of our cash so I want her to make the right choices. Can anyone advise me please what differences there will be to the archaeology side of her degree programme, if any?

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