Fallout is being felt across the department of Politics and International Relations following the recent news that, due to staffing constraints and budgeting issues, only 12 out of 25 usual third year modules will be available in the coming academic year.
The effect of the drastic reduction in modules is currently being tackled by the Politics Department head Professor Robert Geyer and a second year course rep, Dan Darragh. Darragh was quick to voice his dismay at the decision to cut modules, arguing that whole research areas have been axed including the Politics of Northern Ireland and International Relations in the Middle East – two areas of study that have been very popular this year. “What made our politics department attractive for many students was the wide scope of modules they offered, and now this is gone,” he said.
The modification of the Part II structure is due to a combination of staffing issues with long serving faculty members. Professors David Denver and Michael Dillon are heading into retirement, Professor Cindy Weber is moving to the University of Sussex and a number of staff are away on sabbatical leave, with Christine Sylvester winning a prestigious research award.
“The Department of Politics and International Relations is working hard to make the most of its current resources,” said Geyer. It is apparent that the department is trying to accommodate these changes by dividing POLI320: US Foreign Policy (co-taught by Weber) into half modules, allowing students to continue into that study area if they so wish.
While some students are blaming the Department of Politics for the situation, faculty management has left the department with difficult decisions. At present there is a Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) policy of “gap savings”, whereby any department cannot replace a lost member of staff until three years after their departure due to financial constraints. This essentially forces the department to recruit from within, as it did last year when Gordon Hands left the university and Dr Mark Garnett and Cindy Weber were drafted in to run the module.
Darragh defended the efforts of the department, stating that it’s “not that I think the department hasn’t fought against the cuts.” However, he admits to feeling deserted by the university, which “has abandoned the Politics department in favour of other departments for which it is more renowned.” Above all, Darragh questions “how can this [the construction of new management school buildings] be justified when departments such as Politics are struggling to keep even half of their third year modules running?”
“A good university is one that caters for, and protects all subjects, and doesn’t just look after the ones that it is particularly good at” said Darragh. Discussing student response, he said “amongst the students that I have spoken to, there is a feeling that both the department and the university have let us down majorly, people are beginning to question what we pay £3000 per year for if our modules and degrees can’t be protected from savage financial cuts.”
This feeling is widely held, with third year Katie Wynn commenting how “the Part II restructure that took place in time for my third year was a brilliant, positive change for the department and the increase in half modules has permitted me to tailor my final year as I wanted it; focusing on areas that interest me. But this option has been severely limited for those about to start their final year.”
Working together with Darragh and the LUSU Vice President for Academic Affairs, Danny Ovens, Professor Geyer hopes to recruit more staff into the department and has recently submitted a request for three new crucial staff positions. Due to the financial climate at present, he said “we do not know if this request will be successful.” However, if the request is approved, Ovens notes that “the number of modules will go up and students will be informed in due course – allowing them to change modules up until week two of the next academic year.” Ovens believes that “by working together we can come up with a solution” but warned that “it will be difficult considering the immense financial constraints.”