University of Sheffield staff could strike over closure of archaeology department

Sheffield University could face a lecturers and support staff strike over closure of archaeology department.

By David Kessen
Friday, 16th July 2021, 12:38 pm

Members of the University and College Union have voted to ballot for industrial action over the decision which was made on Monday. It is not yet known what the industrial action will involve.

Archaeology at Sheffield has been ranked as the seventh best archaeology department in the UK, according to the union.

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A rally to save the archaeology department at the University of Sheffield. Picture: Chris Etchells

In a meeting of over 200 members, University of Sheffield UCU voted to ballot for ‘sustained industrial action’ during the autumn semester if the university does not reverse its decision.

On Monday, the University Council voted to support the University Executive Board’s recommendation to close the department, retaining only the areas of osteoarchaeology and cultural heritage, in a move which members of the department say "would mean the unequivocal end of archaeology” at the university.

Staff, students, and the wider archaeology community, including the Council for British Archaeology, the Society of Antiquaries and the European Association of Archaeologists have opposed the closurem, say the union, which claims the process used to push through the closure ran ‘roughshod over the university’s democratic processes’.

It said a lack of transparency, accountability, and expertise has characterised the entire review and added the closure would not only impact students and staff, but the global study of archaeology.

A rally to save the archaeology department at the University of Sheffield. Picture: Chris Etchells

The union has raised concerns that the University Senate was denied a vote, and the opportunity to make a collective recommendation.

University of Sheffield UCU branch officer Robyn Orfitelli said: "Today Sheffield UCU members voted overwhelmingly to fight the planned closure of our archaeology department, which would harm students, staff and the global study of archaeology.’

“At Monday’s meeting, the University Council voted to support UEB’s proposals, despite the serious ethical and procedural concerns that have been raised about how the review was conducted, and further governance concerns that have been raised about every step of the process, including Senate being denied the opportunity to vote on the proposal.’

"We believe in a university which prioritises education and actively values the staff and students who are at the heart of our community, and we will escalate our fight until management is willing to listen.”

Professor Koen Lamberts, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield, said: “The University is determined to secure the future of archaeology in Sheffield in the face of a very challenging external environment which has seen a significant decline in the number of students choosing to read archaeology, as has been experienced by many other leading universities.

“The decision by University Council to ratify the Board’s recommended course of action, following a review of the Department of Archaeology, does not alter the outcome that archaeology will continue to be taught and researched in Sheffield.

“Not only will we maintain and support archaeology at the University, we will work with our colleagues and partners to ensure it thrives through focusing on postgraduate studies and investing in key areas of excellence which have contributed to Sheffield’s reputation as a top 100 global university with world-leading research and innovation.

“This decision will ensure that many fantastic projects and the outstanding work our staff and students undertake with partners and communities within the city and far beyond it will continue to enrich our cultural heritage, knowledge of the past and people’s lives.

“We will continue to support our staff and students through this process, and will work with them collaboratively as we consider how to take the recommendation forward.”