Results of membership vote on History at Aston University




Vote Results are in!

As per SHAFR's by-laws, under Article IX, section B, SHAFR polled its members. More than 30% of SHAFR's membership voted (317 voted; 293 were required) regarding the Aston resolution (printed below), and a majority (91.8%) supported the resolution:


"The Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR) urges the Vice Chancellor and management of Aston University to withdraw their proposal to eliminate the successful History program created in 2018 and cancel plans to rescind the permanent contracts they offered to historians, all of whom they hired from overseas. The proposal is not based on financial exigency, it violates reasonable ethical standards of academic employment, and it threatens basic principles of job security and academic freedom."

Then SHAFR Council considered the resolution (again according to our by-laws procedure).  Thirteen of the fourteen members of Council voted (clearing the 80% voting level required), and 12 of the 13 voted in favor of the resolution (clearing the 2/3 positive vote required). 

Therefore, SHAFR is taking a public stand on this issue by contacting the administration of Aston University, signing the public petition, and communicating its decision through its communication media.


Thank you to all who voted.






The SHAFR members who presented the petition have also provided the following
for your information:


Aston University in Birmingham, UK, has announced the proposal to cut history and languages to “sharpen its offering” by solely focusing on Health, Engineering and Business. 21 permanent staff and 3 fixed-term staff have been informed that their posts are ‘fully at risk’ of redundancy. Especially for history, this is truly shocking. The programme started less than three years ago and has performed well above target. History had a strong Research Excellence Framework (REF) submission (completed one week before the announcement of the proposal) and substantial grants. Two out of the three people hired in 2018 have been promoted to Senior Lecturer, and one was awarded the 2019 Aston Best Newcomer Award. Application figures have been consistently increasing. 

The three scholars hired in 2018 were uprooted from other continents (two from the USA, one from Australia) and offered permanent contracts. If approved, this plan would constitute a dangerous precedent for any member of academia. In a time of increasing casualisation of labour, it would void any reasonable guarantee of job security and any protection of academic freedom. A public petition to oppose this proposal has already garnered 5,500+ signatories from 81 countries.

Brief in support of continuing provision (adapted for distribution to History organisations and colleagues):

The University executive announced on 29 March 2021 that it intends to close its Department of History, Languages and Translation (HLT). This would result in the discontinuation of history degrees (UG), languages degrees (UG), translation degrees (PG), as well as Languages for All (UG and PG, university-wide). The main rationale given is that the University wants to ‘sharpen its offering’ by solely focusing on Health, Engineering and Business. 21 permanent staff and 3 fixed-term staff have been informed that their posts are ‘fully at risk’ of redundancy. Although the University has confirmed that it wants to avoid compulsory redundancies, these are likely as the affected programmes are taught out over the next four years.

Only four years ago, the University executive decided to broaden its portfolio into Humanities. With University Strategic Investment Funding, half-programmes in English Literature (2017) and Modern History (2018) were introduced and staff hired on permanent contracts. Three permanent members of History staff were recruited from other continents (two from the United States and one from Australia); one of them left a tenured post of Associate Professor. All three have excelled in their performance, enhancing the university’s international standing. One received the 2019 Aston Best Newcomer Award and two were recently promoted to Senior Lecturer. The member of staff hired on probation, a specialist in Digital Humanities, has already exceeded his targets and is playing a leading role in the implementation of Aston University’s own digital strategy. The group has contributed four high-profile monographs and an Impact Case Study to the Research Excellence Framework (REF). History has also been open to trans- and interdisciplinary collaborations (for instance, it has accepted a request of designing and co-teaching a course for business students). Student recruitment is strong. 

As confirmed by the widespread outrage after the public announcement of this proposal, if effected, this plan would constitute a troubling precedent whose damage would reverberate well beyond Aston University. The sudden and unwarranted termination of outstanding permanent academic staff would trivialise any promise of job security and threaten academic freedom in the UK and beyond. Universities, academia, and the production of sound knowledge and education have already been put under stress by the casualisation of labour and by dangerous challenges to “truth” and “facts.” If permanent posts can be eliminated without reason and justification, the existence of stable academic jobs in any discipline is under threat, as are the conditions for producing sound knowledge in any field.

The notion that history should be studied, researched, and written only by experts in a handful of elite “world leading” universities runs counter to fundamental principles of inclusion and democracy. History is about everyone’s past, and for its serious study input is needed from a diverse group of people and institutions. Not only is the study of history relevant to other fields, but broad engagement with these fields is essential for a society’s healthy wrangling with its own past. At a time of increasing societal and political instability, it is reckless and even dangerous to reduce access to sound historical learning and expertise.

The Department’s contributions to widening participation and community engagement cut straight to the heart of Aston’s mission. The Guardian University of the Year award 2020 was based on Aston’s commitment to social mobility. History has embraced this aspect of the university strategy and made important interventions in public debates on the legacies of Empire, slavery, and on violence against ethnic minorities in British history. In October 2020, History organised Aston University’s largest event in memory, a conversation with Professor David Olusoga entitled ‘Do Black Lives Matter in British History?’ This was the largest event Aston University ever hosted, with more than 1,000 attendees and over 2,300 registered participants locally, nationally, and internationally. Cutting the History programme goes against the University’s goal of widening participation and needlessly harms its diverse student body who, while facing unprecedented conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic, now sees its programmes cut more than a year prior to the graduation of its first cohort.

If you would like to express your concern about this matter individually to university management, please email the Vice Chancellor Professor Alec Cameron



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