Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/440/5213
How students and staff saved Chemistry at Sussex
A TWO-month campaign led by students and lecturers has checkmated the University of Sussex's senior management's plan to close down its Chemistry department.
Richard Mullin Socialist Students, Sussex
On 12 May, the University's 'Senate' - a deliberative body with student and trade union representation as well as the heads of the university's various academic schools ('Deans') voted through a plan that would retain a pure chemistry degree, despite our arrogant Vice-Chancellor Professor Alastair Smith's bullying tactics.
The first most students heard about the planned closure was on the BBC. The Vice Chancellor's Office sprung the decision upon students in the last week of spring term, in March. Many students had academic deadlines at this time, but well over 200 of them lobbied the Senate meeting where these disgraceful plans were to be endorsed.
Protests from the academic community poured in, and 55 MPs signed an early day motion calling for a Commons debate on the issue. Vice-Chancellor Smith was hauled in front of the Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology by Brighton MP Des Turner, who sits on this committee.
However, Chemistry at Sussex was not saved by Parliament but by students and academic staff who know how to stick up for themselves. Where were these MPs when Chemistry was axed at Kings College and Queen Mary College in the University of London? In effect they jumped on a bandwagon, trying to gain popularity, whilst contributing nothing decisive to the campaign.
Following the closure announcement, Jonathon Bacon, the Dean of Life Sciences, the school of which Chemistry is a department, supported the Vice-Chancellor's plan. However Bacon's attempt to avoid damaging his promotion prospects were stalled by furious chemistry students who repeatedly heckled him at a public meeting to 'discuss' the matter.
A student film-maker captured the scene and incorporated it into a documentary produced by the 'Sort Us Out' campaign. Utterly discredited, Bacon was forced to change his position by student pressure.
Current chemists feared their own job prospects would be undermined if they graduated with a Chemistry degree from a university that no longer taught it. Two well attended demonstrations were called within a week of the closure announcement.
Piles of objections to closure were collected and submitted to the senate, bogging down the closure process. Socialist Students and their supporters distributed thousands of newsletters denouncing the closure.
The day before the Summer term Senate meeting, 40 students occupied a 'Business Innovation Centre' on the university campus. On the day itself, 100 students came back to demonstrate outside senate. Senior management realised they were making a rod for their own backs and Chemistry was saved.
Lambeth college marches against cuts
FIVE HUNDRED people joined a demonstration through Brixton on 11 May, led by Lambeth College staff and students, against government cuts of £2.3 million.
Rob MacDonald Lambeth Student Union
The protest, organised by Lambeth College NUS, Unison and Natfhe aimed to build the anti-cuts campaign in the local community and show senior management and the government the opposition that exists.
Lambeth students' rally showed that worker-student unity is strong at Lambeth. The loudest applause was for the statement that they should be spending the money wasted on the war in Iraq on education. There was also a call to unite all local people around a defend public services campaign.
The cuts in English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), community education etc. affect the most vulnerable in our local community. Further Education should mean opportunities throughout your life. Over 80% of Lambeth college learners are over 19. Many of these courses help hold Lambeth's cohesion together, providing service for people where no others exist.
In The Socialist 18 May 2006:
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Campaign for a New Workers Party
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news and analysis