I was shocked to discover yesterday, initially via Twitter, that Royal Holloway University of London (RHUL) intends to close its Classics Department, ostensibly to save money. I did my degree in Ancient & Medieval History at RHUL between 1990 – 93, albeit in the History faculty. But we did several modules in the Classics department under Professor Boris Rankov and others. It is a superb department, and I cannot see how RHUL can credibly takes its place next to the great London University colleges without it.
RHUL is an excellent college, one which I am proud to have gone to. Its standards are of the very best in both Arts and Sciences. Founded by entrepreneur Thomas Holloway in 1879 and initially dedicated to educating women, it has a noble tradition and legacy. Queen Victoria herself opened the wonderful Founders Building in 1886. Its students work hard, play hard, drink hard (true!) and many have gone on to reach the heights in their chosen professions; its academic staff in my direct experience are of the highest calibre.
Where RHUL falls short, it seems to me, is in its management. Some of the communications I have had over the years and indeed content on their own website, is laced with modern management-speak. So in that spirit, I shall suggest that in recent times, the powers-that-be at RHUL have failed to “think outside the box”, “not see the bigger picture”, don’t have “the vision thing” and in general display appalling short-termism. They also appear to be unaware of, or don’t care about, the resurgence of Latin in our secondary schools in recent years: the future of Classics is promising indeed.
Faced with a financial dilemma (partially of its own making) in 1993, the college sold three prized paintings from its collection: a Turner, a Constable and a Gainsborough. I forget the sum they pulled in at the time, between £20 and £30 million, I think. One shudders to imagine what they would be worth today! In any case, this is besides the point, the college had no business in selling bequests from its founder. For many, including me, it’s a terrible stain on its reputation.
And now, despite the ability to charge students £9,000 per annum, the college appears to have money troubles once again and the solution this time is to close a faculty of vital importance to its reputation. Short-termism. If you look at the courses that the college offers, you can see that there is little fat there. All proper stuff – no Sociology, for example – hence strengthening my case above as to the excellent credentials of this college academically. So I do understand the dilemma. Nor do I have the balance sheet in front of me. But I do urge Royal Holloway to go back, put their thinking caps on, have a “brain-storm” and come up with a better answer than closing the Classics Department.
Their reputation depends on it.
Read Professor Mary Beard’s take on this here. Please support the campaign by joining SAVE CLASSICS AT ROYAL HOLLOWAY on Facebook, on Twitter as @RHULClassics. There is also a discussion going on at RHUL’s alumni group on LinkedIn.
I shall add to this post as updates become available. Thanks for your support of Classics at Royal Holloway.