University of Sheffield urged to reconsider closing archaeology department as D-day draws near

A Sheffield-based charity has called on the University of Sheffield to reconsider its proposal to shut down the Department of Archaeology ahead of the final decision by the University Council next week.

By Rahmah Ghazali
Wednesday, 7th July 2021, 3:51 pm

In an open letter, Joined Up Heritage Chair of Trustees, Valerie Bayliss, said the Council needs to take several factors into account before taking any decision that could see the end of an era of a world-class institution.

She wrote: “We offer Council a number of questions which it is proper for Council to ask. We are aware that the department has been reduced in size in recent years, to the point where arguably its ability to attract research grants has been compromised.

“It has just a year or so since an additional four posts were authorised, recruitment was paused for good reasons.

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The University of Sheffield's Department of Archaeology

“We suggest the Council asks why, if such recruitment was acceptable so recently, it cannot now be undertaken; the more so given the apparent intention to invest in the residual elements of the department which are proposed to be out-housed elsewhere within the university.

“The Department loses over 60 percent of its annual income to the University’s central services; a figure which looks very high for what is inevitably a small department.

“Of course central services must be paid for, but it appears that other departments are hit less heavily.

“We suggest Council asks why this figure is so high, and how it compares with other departments, why small departments are subject to such a large tariff and whether the future of other departments is being prejudiced in the same way.”

University of Sheffield s Executive Board (UEB) had proposed the closure of the Department of Archaeology following an institutional review in late May, triggering nationwide outrage.

They said, however, they will continue to support the discipline as it is no longer viable to maintain the status quo due to the declining numbers of students choosing the field.

Affected students and teaching members of staff have however vowed to fight for the survival of the department, slamming the ‘unethical’ process of shutting it down.

They said the executive board is attempting to move the disciplines to completely unrelated fields - one area to the School of Medicine and another to the Department of Landscape Architecture.

To this, Valerie added: "We suggest that Council considers whether the exercise has been conducted fully in accordance with the University’s published statement of values.

“We understand the financial constraints faced by all universities at present and that university managers and governors are faced with difficult decisions.

“But removing an entire department of high standing cannot be the way forward.

“Moreover, merely shifting a few posts to two other departments that are not qualified in any real sense to manage them is no answer.

“Restoring the staffing level to that agreed recently would begin the process of developing the critical mass needed for financial sufficiency.

“As you are aware the UEB recommendation that the Archaeology Department should be abolished is enormously controversial. Both the recommendation, and the process by which it was reached, look to many highly questionable.”

The University is due to determine the fate of the department in a council meeting on July 12.