After anticipated report falls short, UK school with threatened chemistry department may still agree to increase funding and staffing levels
By Stephen Pincock | May 9, 2006
Sussex University could accept a recommendation to increase funding and staffing levels for its threatened chemistry department in coming days, despite the fact that its vice-chancellor told staff on Friday (May 5) that authors of the much-anticipated report had failed to examine all the options and needed to do further work.
A group of academics led by Jonathan Bacon, dean of the School of Life Sciences, has been undertaking an urgent review of plans to reshape the School of Life Sciences, an issue since mid-March. They were set the task after furor erupted over plans to shut down the chemistry department.
The academics' report was delivered to the university's strategy and resources committee (SRC) on Thursday, urging investment in chemistry. But the SRC did not support the report's recommendation, since the authors failed to include "detailed work on looking at all the options" other than increasing support for chemistry, the university said in a statement late on Friday.
"The papers seen by SRC will be presented for information to Senate on 12 May and Council on 15 May, together with a timetable for the further work that is needed," the university statement said. "A full update on the progress of that further work will be presented at Senate and Council in June."
However, the members of the review group have since revised their plan to include the requested extra work, chemistry department head Gerry Lawless told The Scientist. "We were asked to do a more detailed risk assessment of the five options we were asked to examine initially," he said. "We have made those modifications in light of the constructive comments of the SRC."
Given that those changes have been made, Lawless said the review group expects that their plan will be debated by the university Senate on Friday (May 12), and considered for adoption by the Council on the following Monday (May 15). He noted that the report calls for the chemistry department to appoint six more academic staff.
Lawless pointed out that that the university's vice-chancellor, Alasdair Smith, said in the statement on Friday that he wants to find an approach that enables the school to keep chemistry going. "I think that's a very strong statement and he made a very similar one at an open meeting today," Lawless said.
Smith confirmed via the university press office that the recommendations of the report will be presented to Senate and Council, as planned. He said he has nothing more to add to the statement he made on Friday.
The threatened closure of Sussex chemistry, and its replacement with a biological chemistry department, has been the talk of British academic circles since the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) first reported on the news in March. After weeks of fiery discussion, politicians in the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee held an urgent inquiry, and subsequently criticized both the plans and vice-chancellor Smith.
A spokesman for the RSC told The Scientist that the society hopes the meetings of the senate and council will result in decisions that keep chemistry alive at Sussex. "We point out that the university has gained an international reputation through its achievements in chemistry, producing Nobel Prize winners in the subject," he said. "We urge the university to invest and to build on those strengths and on the commitment of staff and students as demonstrated over the long-term and acutely in recent weeks."
Links within this article
University of Sussex, "Investing in Excellence update," May 5, 2006.
S. Pincock, "UK university chemistry plan criticized," The Scientist, March 28, 2006.
"Biosciences and chemistry provision at Sussex: update," Sussex, March 17, 2006.
"Changes to chemistry provision at the University of Sussex," Select Committee on Science and Technology, April 25, 2006
For the latest developments as they happen and for all other news pertaining to the campaign to keep the Sussex University Chemistry Department please see\n\nhttp://www.scas.streamlinenettrial.co.uk/public_html/SCAS/index.htm\n\nMany thanks\n