History UK is shocked and concerned at Goldsmiths, University of London’s destructive plans to impose mass redundancies amongst academic and professional staff in the departments of History and English & Creative Writing. These proposals not only threaten the future of these world-renowned departments and the unique identity of Goldsmiths as an institution of learning and innovative teaching. They also constitute an attack on underrepresented histories and the accessibility of History and English as disciplines, at a time when our world needs them more than ever.
Goldsmiths currently teaches the only MA in Queer History in the world and was the first institution to launch an MA programme in Black British History in 2020. These, and other pioneering programmes have sustained Goldsmiths’ identity as a world-leading centre for progressive, creative and critical education with a strong commitment to social justice. To impose swingeing cuts on such dynamic and socially vital departments is an act of cultural vandalism.
The diversity of Goldsmiths’ student body is unique and this cohort and the potentially larger cohorts to follow must have continued access to the teaching of the world-leading academics currently working in the Department of History. Given that many other universities are currently working to secure expertise in these areas following the Black Lives Matter movement and increased awareness of the impact of historical health inequalities during the pandemic, it is remarkably short-sighted for Goldsmiths to treat the irreplaceable experts in these areas as disposable. Such a move would lead to lasting reputational damage and is likely to limit any possibility of return to the secure pre-2020 financial position.
Goldsmiths’ Civic University Agreement states its commitment to working to improve the lives of people in the locality. Two out of five Lewisham residents are from a black or minority ethnic background, while Lewisham is one of the most deprived local authority areas in England. Two of the four priority areas in the agreement are ‘economic prosperity, jobs and growth’, and ‘culture, health and wellbeing’. The socially aware and engaged Department of History makes invaluable contributions to these priority areas: running an Integrated (Foundation Year) degree that supports socio-economically disadvantaged students to return to study; partnering with cultural institutions in London and beyond to provide these students with work placements; and working with schools and community research projects as well as national bodies to further equality of opportunity and aspiration for diverse, and often marginalised, groups. The cuts will make it impossible for the Department of History to continue this work, and it is difficult to see how the University can claim to uphold its commitment to the Civic University Agreement while undermining on-the-ground achievements in this way.
The proposed cuts also threaten scholars from groups that are severely underrepresented and/or marginalised in the UK historical profession. The Royal Historical Society Report on Race, Ethnicity, and Equality found that among UK-national staff, 96.1% of university historians are white, a figure higher than in most other subjects, while under-representation is particularly stark for Black historians. Key recommendations from the Royal Historical Society LGBT+ Report included deepening coverage of LGBT+ history throughout the curriculum, and integrating LGBT+ histories into core survey modules. The Department of History at Goldsmiths scores exceptionally well in both these areas. The proposed cuts will undermine the University’s stated commitment to equality and diversity as a member of the Equality Challenge Unit and a Stonewall Equality and Diversity Champion. They are also at odds with many of the University’s own core Equality Objectives 2017-21.
Contrary to the selective use of metrics by those proposing the cuts at Goldsmiths, which draw on out-of-date NSS results from 2020, the latest figures underscore the quality of teaching in the Department of History. For instance, satisfaction with teaching increased from 75% in 2020 to 90% in 2021, a strong increase given that the average across all subjects and institutions in 2021 was 80%. Overall satisfaction, learning opportunities, assessment and feedback, and academic support all also saw significant increases from 2020 to 2021. In 2021, History was up in all measures except one. Clearly the subject is on a rising trajectory, not failing, and to suggest otherwise is a flagrant misrepresentation of the metrics so cherished by university management.
Moves to cut History and other subjects at Goldsmiths have occasioned widespread condemnation from the academic community, including an open letter currently circulating to protest these redundancies with 3500 signatories and rising (see also a recent RHS blog post). History UK adds its voice to the rising chorus demanding that Goldsmiths rethink these proposed cuts and work to develop long-term strategies to secure these world-leading areas of research and teaching.