This Wednesday, students are set to make their voices heard after details of cuts to the Life Sciences department at Imperial College London began to emerge.
A meeting, due to be held tomorrow (8th December) at noon will give students and staff a chance to grill departmental heads over the cuts. After the meeting, students will be leaving masses of plants and bunches of flowers outside the Faculty Building, colloquially known as the "Blue Cube", in one of the biggest silent protests Imperial has ever seen.
The cuts affect two sections within the Life Sciences department. These are "Plant & Microbial Sciences" and "Cell Biology & Functional Genomics". Seventeen academics (listed right) across these two sections will be made redundant, leaving the two sections with just twelve academics between them. The Plant Sciences section was opened just two years ago at a cost of £2.7million, so shutting it now would appear to be a huge waste of college and tax payers' money (as some funding came via HEFCE).
Live! has been informed, by an anonymous source using our tip-off form, that some of these academics have been told to accept voluntary redundancy by 7th January 2011 to avoid being issued with forced redundancy at a significantly lower rate.
The cuts will affect students and staff right across the department. The redundancies include staff who currently hold vital positions, with both Biology and Biochemistry losing their Senior Tutors, Admissions Tutors and Directors of Undergraduate Studies in one fell swoop.
In the Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions module, four of the five teaching staff are being made redundant, despite the number of students taking the course this year standing at a record level. Meanwhile, the Biochemistry degree will lose at least six final-year modules. Many first year courses across both Biology and Biochemistry will also be affected, since most students on either course will be familiar with some of the names on the list from their first year courses. An anonymous source told Live! that the co-ordinators of 19 different courses are being asked to leave.
PhD students will also be greatly affected, however a statement from Imperial College Union says that the only explaination they have received from the department has been an email saying "The relevant core-funded academic members of staff have been informed of how this affects them".
Many PhD students in research groups led by the academics set to leave won't be able to finish their PhD, unless they can move research groups. ICU claims that the only way some PhD students are likely to be able to finish their studies is by moving institution with the academics, however this depends upon where their research funding is tied to and whether the academic manages to secure a place elsewhere.
ICU Deputy President (Clubs & Societies) Heather Jones said that the cuts "will certainly damage [Imperial's] chances of being considered a world class institution for Science in the future" - a statement echoed by many on an official facebook group.
DP (Education) Alex Dahinten issued a statement, in which he said, "these plans will result in the ruining of a very impressive section at our University. The world-class research done here will be redirected to other institutions. Top plant researchers (UG & PG) educated at our institution, who go on to give immense contributions in this field, will no longer exist".
Mr Dahinten continued by expressing his anger at the department's handling of the matter, explaining: "one of the things I find most shameful is how most of this restructure has been done behind closed doors and how the Union had to go out of their way to give input into the process. This input, which encouraged the Department to rethink their plans since they completely ignored numerous core issues, such as teaching, were effectively ignored by the Department".
"The reduction of Plant Sciences cannot be undone, and will surely come back to haunt Imperial in the future", he continued. "For one, the majority of academics which are being laid off provide the foundation of the entire Department of Life Sciences; their positions will be filled by members of staff which have no experience being a Director of Undergraduate Study, Senior Tutor or Admissions Tutor. Further, we will be able to perform incredibly limited research on modern fields such as plant genome sequencing, biofuels and numerous other fields".
Two events have been organised for Wednesday 8th December. The first is a meeting with Head of Department Professor Ian Owens and Head of Faculty Professor Maggie Dallman at noon. During the meeting students and staff will be able to grill the two influential figures, whilst the heads will be able to finally explain the reasons behind those decisions to the students and staff who will be affected.
The meeting will be followed by a silent protest, devised by Live! Editor Lawrence Weetman, which will see students and staff leave potted plants and bunches of flowers outside the college's Faculty Building.
At the time of writing, 432 people are listed as "attending" the meeting in SAF G16, with 79 adding their name as a "maybe" on the facebook event page. The much newer facebook event listing for the silent protest already stands at 152 confirmed guests, with a further 52 saying "maybe".
The number of signatures on an online petition regarding the matter have mushroomed in the last 24 hours, with the current total now standing at 875 signatures - around 100 more than when Live! last checked at around 8pm on Monday evening.
The petition carries damning comments from students, staff, academics and members of the public. Many students and former students are echoing the long-mumbled mantra that "Imperial cares more about reasearch than undergraduates", with some suggesting that this is proving to be more and more apparent. One of the more recent individuals to sign their name added: "This restructure has been conducted unprofessionally with no thought for the impact on the students. How can they justify getting rid of staff who have received awards for excellence in teaching?".
Another said, "at a time when tuition fees are going up, I wonder what exactly our next generation of undergraduates is going to be paying for".
The most difficult comment for Imperial to contend with comes from Professor Sarah Gurr of the Plant Sciences department at Oxford University. She wrote: "I am proud to have been educated at IC. The teaching was unparalled in its quality and inspired me to pursue an academic path, which has led me to Oxford. I am stunned by this outcome, not least because it will deprive future students of superb teachers, so denuding Life Sciences of something so precious, excellent research and inspirational teaching. More longterm I predict that this will lower the quality of the undergraduates applying to read Biological Sciences at IC, as the course will be imbalanced - students want to know about Food Security. Such a short-sighted, indeed blurred 'vision'".
The cuts stem from a 5% budget cut given to all departments around college, which is currently facing its biggest squeeze in living memory. The cuts have already resulted in the cull of many subjects in the Humanities Department, as well at the Imperial College Volunteer Centre. An anonymous source pointed out that "as a whole, the college is not in debt" and added that the 'restructuring' is entirely "strategic".
Students, staff and the wider public who disagree withthe cuts should sign the online petition as soon as possible. Students and staff can attend the meeting at noon on Wednesday and are encouraged to leave potted plants or cut flowers outside the Faculty Building at any time on Wednesday afternoon.