Outcry as job cuts threaten ‘key provider’ of Jewish studies

University of Chester urged to reconsider plans for redundancies in its theology and religious studies department


The British Association of Jewish Studies has urged the University of Chester to reconsider plans to make cuts in its theology and religious studies department, saying it was concerned over the impact on Jewish studies. 

In a letter to university leaders including Chancellor Gyles Brandreth and Vice-Chancellor Eunice Simons, BAJS president Helen Spurling said Chester was “a key provider of Jewish studies” in higher education in the UK. 

In response, Professor Simons told Dr Spurling that one academic post “out of a pool of 10” was to go. 

The JC understands that the 10 members of staff in the theology and religious studies (TRS) department who have been warned that their jobs could be at risk include both Jewish studies specialists. 

Consultations on the job loss are due to begin next week. 

Dr Spurling wrote that “TRS and Jewish studies in particular are key for understanding questions of race, including antisemitism, equality and diversity, and TRS at the University of Chester has an important role to play in contributing to this national and global dialogue and educating students to become citizens in a world of diversity.” 

She added that a strength of Chester’s degree programme was that “Jewish studies is embedded at every level of the curriculum, particularly in the philosophy, ethics and religion programme.  

“This is very distinctive to the University of Chester as it promotes a truly comparative approach to religion, which is essential for understanding society today and for promoting a positive approach to relations between Jews and adherents of other religions.” 

Opportunities for students included a field trip to Jerusalem, while philosophy addressed the question of evil with specific reference to post-Holocaust thought, she noted. 

A member of staff who did not want to be identified said: "We have already lost two senior colleagues in the last 12 months. We are at the stage where any further reduction will mean eliminating from our curriculum a whole religious tradition, a complete branch of Theology, or an entire area of Biblical literature.

"At a time when religious literacy has never been more important, this would be deeply damaging to the student experience."

Professor Simons responded that she felt it would be “inappropriate for the university not to undertake this exercise as the potential consequence is being unable to afford to recruit staff to subjects where there is significant growth in numbers. This would result in some colleagues beyond humanities continuing to be subject to totally unfair staff: student ratios.” 

A “diminishing pool of applicants” was an issue for theology and religious studies, she said. 

She added that “as someone who has benefited from a trip to Auschwitz with the Union of Jewish Students and who is pleased that the university has signed up to the IHRA definition, I do assure you that we are alive to the ever-present threat of antisemitism. We will also be taking specialisms into account in any decision on individuals.”  

The JC understands that while there were four staff in the Bible team in the department some years ago, just two remain. 

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