Let us just recap the events at Salford relating to the closure of modern languages.
In April 2013 a leaked internal memo outlined a damage limitation strategy to be pursued following a planned announcement that a number of subject areas were under threat and that recruitment to languages in particular was to stop.
In June 2013, an announcement was duly made in the peculiarly ponderous tone adopted by Salford’s leadership that, as the university “would no longer recruit, after 2013, to modern languages, linguistics and areas of politics and contemporary history (except postgraduate security studies programmes), the School of Humanities, Languages and Social Sciences would eventually be disestablished”. Is it me, or is that parenthetically posed “after 2013” firm evidence of windbaggery, or not?
VC Martin Hall then appeared in THES with a hand-wringing mea culpa that was – of course – nothing of the sort. He had just sacked his powerful deputy Adrian Graves for gross misconduct. He had also lost a £150k court case claiming his reputation, his predecessor’s reputation and the said deputy’s reputation, and therefore that of the university, had been besmirched by a feeble internal satirical broadside and a web site read by almost no-one outside the university. At that point, Martin was at least embarrassed enough by petitions from the ITI, UCML and 2600 signatures from former students and others to institute a review.
That review (chaired by an external academic) evidently did not report what Martin and his management wanted, so a second review was instituted.
You can read the details of this on a special FAQ. I won’t quote it in full but there are some points that will tell you all you need to know. Here are numbers 1 and 2:
1. What did the World Languages Task Group review recommend?
The review endorsed the University’s original decision to withdraw single language undergraduate degree courses. It also recommended the retention of specialist language study within joint degrees (e.g. LLB Law and Spanish) and of a revised form of the postgraduate translation and interpreting degree.
In addition, the review proposed that all undergraduates should have the opportunity to study a foreign language module as part of their degree course to help them compete in the global marketplace.
2. Why was a second review undertaken?
To investigate in more detail specific proposals for joint foreign language degrees based on analysis of forecast student numbers and financial projections. The review’s conclusion was that, while there is a market in the UK higher education sector for joint degrees, such courses would not be viable for the University of Salford in the medium term.
In other words, the first external review reported that there was a future for language degrees at Salford – and that despite the enormous damage done by negative PR and disastrous HR interventions. The second internal review said the opposite. If you struggled to get that point, then I would argue this is deliberate and typical of the obfuscation and obscurity so beloved of Salford’s management.
The second review also sounds entirely reasonable until we read point 4:
4. Can I see the reports?
We do not plan to make the reports available. (i.e. No – i.f.) The decision made is final. Our focus is now on ensuring that our students successfully complete their studies, throughout the teach out
If the evidence is so compelling, why are those who will lose their jobs over it not allowed to read it?
I won’t rise to a Zola-esque j’accuse over this, but it seems to me Martin Hall is a leader who is a) more interested in his public image as a decent and reasonable man (see endless blog entries…) than anything else and b) has presided over a disastrous blood-letting of senior staff in a three year period, much of which he has kept at a convenient arm’s length.
He has also done me a service by proving my observation on 6 September last year correct. He writes in a recent email to staff:
As a University with a powerful global reach, we remain resolute in our commitment to the value of global citizenship and internationalisation outlined in our Strategic Plan. As a result, from September 2014, as part of our distinctive Passport to Global Citizenship strategy, all students will be able to study an optional Modern Foreign Languages module.
From vibrant and widely respected modern languages degrees to “optional Modern Foreign Languages module” in less than five years? I would say that permits me to pose the question in my subtitle above. Or not?
PS. Baroness Coussins specifically mentions Salford in her speech in the House of Lords on 9 April:
In the case of Salford, the announcement is not only a body blow for languages, for prospective students and for those who would have been teaching them; it is also disastrous for international bodies such as the EU and theUnited Nations, which have in the past seen Salford as one of their principal recruiting grounds for specialist linguists.
She goes on to say pretty much what I have said above:
As for universities, I hope that more of them will acknowledge that to survive in the 21st century means more than just using fine words in the mission statement about being an international institution and producing global graduates but that in practice this means fostering languages, not abandoning them.
She is of course far too polite to name names.