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University of Sheffield staff to ballot for industrial action over plans to close archaeology department

15 July 2021

  • Closure railroaded through university's governance processes

Members of UCU voted to ballot for industrial action over plans to shut the University of Sheffield's archaeology department, which has been targeted for closure by the University Executive Board (UEB). Archaeology at Sheffield has been ranked as the seventh best archaeology department in the UK.

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 to close the archaeology department.

On Monday, the University Council voted to support the UEB'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 are united in opposing the closure.

UCU said 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.

The union has raised concerns that the University Senate, ostensibly the body that "oversee[s] the teaching and research of the university and the admission and regulation of students", was denied a vote, and the opportunity to make a collective recommendation to Council.

Last year the University of Sheffield attempted to implement controversial 'fire and rehire' contracts, but backed off in a victory for UCU.

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 had hoped management would have learned the lessons from last year's failed 'fire and rehire' cost-cutting exercise. But staff and students are still being ignored. 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.'

Last updated: 15 July 2021