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Ulster University management ignores plea from global academic community regarding Irish jobs

September 8, 2016

Ulster University is risking its international reputation by pressing ahead with controversial redundancies in the School of Irish, despite an unprecedented level of objection from the academic community globally in addition to trade unions and politicians locally.

Ralph O’Connor, Professor in the Literature and Culture of Britain, Ireland and Iceland, from the University of Aberdeen, instigated a petition signed by 161 academics from 18 countries following the University’s official confirmation of the three redundancies last week. Representing some of the most prestigious scholars in the Irish and Celtic Studies field, Professor O’Connor issued a letter to Professor Paddy Nixon, the current Vice-Chancellor at Ulster stating that ‘whether intentionally or not, to make these staff redundant … would send out a clear message that Ulster no longer considers itself a serious player in this field’. ‘It ‘beggars belief’, says Professor O’Connor, that Ulster would seek to ‘let go three capable and versatile staff from a world-leading [research] unit’.

The letter also questions the University’s ‘adherence to the principle of equality and diversity’ given the staff targeted for redundancy include non-catholic staff and the only woman in the school. In a follow up letter to Professor Cathy Gormley-Heenan, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research and Impact at Ulster, Professor O’Connor warns ‘your university is about to start dismantling one of its own strongest and most prestigious research areas’. Celtic at Ulster was awarded 5* grading in the Research Assessment Exercise in 2001, and has performed strongly in every subsequent grading.

In a separate communication to Paddy Nixon, Professors Jarnoux and German of the Centre de Recherche Bretonne et Celtique (Centre of Breton and Celtic Research), Rennes, an organization heavily involved in collaborative research across the world, state that the Ulster academics now earmarked for redundancy are ‘one of the key reasons we sought to work with Ulster rather than other universities.’ They question the value of continued co-operation if the redundancy plan goes ahead.

The current importance of the work of these three academics and their school is clear from a petition signed by over 40 current PhD students and recent graduates from the discipline of Celtic Studies and neighbouring fields around the world.

Despite these representations, and those previously reported from the University and College Union (UCU) which has been supporting the three academics throughout the process, Paddy Nixon says in his response to Professor O’Connor that he will not abandon these decisions. He cites financial cuts for the decision. Ulster University has recently advertised and recruited to a number of posts, including at the highest levels of management. Nixon’s letter does not mention Celtic Studies at all and provides no recognition of the global reach and significance of the Irish and Celtic Studies field, focusing instead only on the British and Irish context.

Tracy Irwin, president of UCU at Ulster, says ‘These redundancies are completely unnecessary. They are neither financially nor academically justified. Substantial cost savings have already been made with the loss of 148 posts earlier in the year, yet the University is sacking three internationally renowned and hard working lecturers while simultaneously seeing fit to appoint three new officers at senior level, each with an estimated 6 figure salary, as well as advertising a number of other posts’. She continues ‘It is absolutely disgraceful for the Vice-Chancellor to disregard the views of the global academic community, international research partners, students and the Unions in this way. Paddy Nixon fails to understand the work that his colleagues do, and blatantly contradicts the University’s internationalization agenda by defining the discipline in such a narrow, insular manner. UCU continues to stand alongside our colleagues to fight these unnecessary redundancies’.

The redundancies are currently at appeal stage and the three colleagues will leave Ulster on 16th November if there is no shift from the University’s current position.

You can read the letters and petitions of support by clicking the links below.

Text of the letter from Professor Ralph O’Connor, Professor in the Literature and Culture of Britain, Ireland and Iceland, from the University of Aberdeen

Letter from Professors Philippe Jarnoux and Gary German or Centre de Recherche Brettonne et Celtique

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