• Alexandra Sills

An Open Letter to the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Roehampton

The following is adapted from an email sent to Prof Jean-Noël Ezingeard:

Dear Professor Ezingeard,

Adverts for the University of Roehampton have become ubiquitous on my social media feeds in recent weeks, you must congratulate your marketing department. However, how am I supposed to apply to study with a department you are determined to close?

I'm a graduand, planning my post-graduate career. You currently have a world-class Classics department. I should want to study with you. I am about to graduate with a 1:1, I am diligent, enthusiastic and a keen advocate of egalitarian access to Humanities. You should want me to study with you. And yet here we are, mutually repulsed.

It is with disappointment and fury that I am crossing Roehampton off of my list, given the planned cuts. I can only surmise that university management is ignorant of the stellar work the Classics department produces, and the exemplary pedagogy it provides as attested by my peers who study at Roehampton. Please explain why any student should enrol at a university that clearly undervalues its faculty so blatantly? Disdain for scholars seems increasingly endemic across UK higher education, it is true, and yet your institution, Sir, seems intent on being the most ruthless. Your fire and rehire policies are particularly repugnant.

Choosing where to study is not simple for Classics students from working class, comprehensive school backgrounds. It's difficult to find somewhere to feel welcome and included. The field still retains the stench of elitism. Roehampton, from my research, seemed to be one of the few havens for classicists for students of more diverse backgrounds than other departments court and attract. Perhaps you do not see the value in this, but I assure you students do. Any cut or closure of the department is more than academic vandalism; it is a clear and blatant step in returning Classics to its elitist past. Many in the field, including your excellent faculty, work hard to open the field to a wider range of students. Such a shame then, that a department so admired in this country for presenting the ancient world in an objective, accessible way should be punished.

The Classics department boasts academics admired by global peers, and I have used their scholarship extensively as an undergraduate. The opportunity to work with such distinguished scholars would have been an honour. How is it that I, a student currently at a different university, should admire and value your faculty more than you do? How is it that I, who have yet to meet Roehampton faculty, care more about their welfare than you do? Do you think that prospective students don't take callousness into account? Closing or cutting a department is one bad choice, being so utterly brutal about it is entirely another.

The demolition your Classics Department is baffling, and points to a complete ignorance to its worth, importance and appeal. It seems that you value wanton destruction to save what, a few pennies here and there? over world-class scholarship. I am choosing to take my own money elsewhere, to a department which still holds scholarship and integrity dear. You may choose to annihilate the Humanities, but you make your university utterly undesirable in the process. Prospective students are investing in their futures, most often at a great cost. Tell me, why should they invest their time, effort and money in an institution that clearly knows the price of everything and the value of nothing?

I am sure that an institution such as Roehampton would not be so naive as to fall for the culture war propaganda spun by our current government, and yet daily I read news of closures, redundancies, cut programs and mistreatment of lecturers in the Humanities. Students and scholars of the humanities are well aware of the political motivations behind their own eradication, perhaps your faculty can provide you with examples of precedents? Loaded terms are thrown about easily, and yet perhaps not without cause. If it is clear to me that these closures have a sinister motives beyond the insipid and blatantly disingenuous statements given my university management, it must be crystalline to others.

I strongly urge you to reevaluate the legacy you will leave as Vice Chancellor, for currently you seem determined to eradicate any goodwill remaining amongst your own staff, students and alumni. Moreover, your blatant vandalism of the Humanities marks you as a marionette of a government lurching, drunken, ever further to the right, at best. At worst... I wonder if it surprises you that prospective students like myself are disgusted.

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