The long weekend sees the launch of a book by David Hewson called "Saved", describing the fight between Wye's locals and the College.
In January 2006 residents of the Kent village of Wye formed a group to oppose plans by Imperial to build a science park, converting farmland it owns to that purpose. The plans went as far as to require a new junction on a motorway, with financing to be helped by building housing in addition to the park.
At the same time save-wye.org was formed to comment on the proposals. This quickly became a news source, acquiring private emails from inside the College and publishing them to the world. The information revealed during this process has formed the basis of the "Saved" book, detailing the behind-the-scenes deals behind the biggest development plan Wye has ever scene. Live! has a word of warning for the reader: the website itself reads very much like a fight between Middle England and the evil empire of Imperial College, managing to over-hype things to a level which puts even Live! to shame.
Local opposition and a number of other factors eventually led to the Wye Park project being scrapped. Looking at views from both sides seems to give totally different pictures: from Wye, the message seems to be that the plan was already well advanced, with a substantial sum of money already invested in it. From an interview with Imperial's Deputy Rector, Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, comes the story that the plan was not well advanced - his job was to determine if it was viable - and that less than £1m had been spent. How much money is a lot is a relative matter - to (some of) the residents of Wye £1m may be seem like a substantial amount, but the College administration is unlikely to lose any sleep over it.
What of the college?
The village may well have been saved from an influx of outsiders and the destruction of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, but as the project dies the future of Wye College looks increasingly shaky.
Wye has had a strange history with Imperial. It was acquired almost as a "repossession" on a loan from Imperial for new library facilities, when Wye College was a loss-making part of the University of London in its own right. As an Imperial campus Wye just about broke even, but only by offseting research and teaching against conference income. This practice is no longer allowed, with each section of College expected to self-fund. Consequently Wye's academic activities became a liability.
With the Department of Agricultural Sciences losing nearly £2m a year, the decision was taking to axe agricultural teaching at the former agricultural college, whilst retaining and reinforcing the successful business course. Despite this the financial problems in the Faculty of Life Sciences continued, leading it to be merged with the Faculty of Physical Sciences, undoing the break-up of the original Royal College of Science.
With the business course somewhat of an oddity, in that it was not attached to the Tanaka Business School, this has also been disposed of. The course will be administered by the University of Kent, but the same course with the same staff is attracting barely 1/3 of the students as before. This may be partly down to confusion: some students currently at Wye believed they would be studying a business degree in South Kensington, with the Tanaka Business School. Consequently the number of undergraduates at Wye is set to shrink dramatically, as the last agricultural sciences students leave, followed by the last Imperial students.
The future of the Wye College now looks increasingly bleak: with Wye Park gone and the new Kent-branded course attracting little interest, ideas for undergraduate teaching are fast running out. College of course still has a nice conference venue in the countryside and quite a pretty place to conduct research.
Does anyone care?
At save-wye.org they have some details about what has become of the people involved in Wye Park, indicating that the whole affair may have turned out badly for them. On the council side there are stories of questionable behaviour of their officers in other parts of their duties, while the futures of Imperial's Rector and Deputy Rector are brought into doubt. What they have missed, however, is that the future of Wye is of little interest to most at Imperial and even slightly further afield: it is far away and has little in common with the rest of the college. Far from being the total disaster it is painted as, Wye Park appears to have been a grand idea which failed to materialise: more a minor irritation than a career-changing balls up. The same extends to the Live! readership: articles involving Wye receive only quarter of the page views of others.
There are no doubt many who care greatly about the future of Wye College, particularly given its long history. It seems that few of them are at Imperial. The big questions must be: Is this the end? If so, is it a fitting one for a college with a long history, which was once among the top players in agricultural sciences?