Ok, that was a bit of an exaggeration…
The news has been going around for a few days. Sheffield University has stepped back from the brink of a bad decision and the world renowned Department of Biblical Studies will remain. I’m so happy I’m breaking out in lolcats!
There were complaints that the decision was being rushed through without adequate consultation or study of the implications, let alone informing those concerned in a timely way and even backtracking on plans to fill vacant faculty positions (this seems typical of how universities make decisions). There was a huge outpouring of support for the department with scholars from around the world writing letters to the chancellor (including me).
Most folk in the Bible blogging community know how important Sheffield is, and have been celebrating its re-won future since, I think Thursday.
For those readers of mine from outside of Biblical Studies, here is why we should all breath a sigh of relief.
It is one of the most innovative and creative departments in the world and its faculty have been at the forefront of many of the major developments in the secular, historical and literary study of the Bible for many decades. To abolish it would be to squander a legacy that made Sheffield U. an international player in religious and cultural studies. Despite being a relatively young university (at least in European terms), its reputation in these fields has made it the equal and superior to many older institutions. Universities really benefit from depth and history, although ultimately, it is the people who are there at the moment who determine the quality of education. Still, to squander a growing legacy that inspired not only the students but the faculty themselves seems unwise.
Sheffield was well on its way in those areas with biblical studies. To cut it would have been a serious miscalculation, putting short term financial concerns ahead of a hard-won legacy and potential for the future. As I wrote somewhere else, “Penny wise and profoundly foolish”.
Anyway, this is the email I got today from the Society for the Study of the Old Testament:
Dear SOTS member,
Greetings again from Viv Rowett, membership secretary. I am happy to pass on the following from Prof. Cheryl Exum of Sheffield University:
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
On behalf of staff and students in the Department of Biblical Studies at the University of Sheffield, I thank all of you who wrote to the Vice-Chancellor on our behalf. There was such a volume of mail that I haven’t been able to respond personally to each of you who sent me a copy of your letter to the Vice-Chancellor. I do plan to answer individually all the messages that were copied to me, but in the meantime I wanted to send a word of heartfelt thanks. Your letters were extraordinary, and I was deeply moved by the level of support.
The Department of Biblical Studies is no longer under review and the proposal that it should be reconfigured as a Postgraduate Centre has been withdrawn. The Vice-Chancellor has asked the Faculty of Arts and Humanities to consider a short, medium and longer term plan for the Department, and a decision has now been taken that the Department will recruit undergraduates for the Biblical Studies degree in 2010. The Faculty of Arts and Humanities will work closely with colleagues to ensure that students are appropriately supported, including through the recruitment of additional staff.
We could not have achieved this without your support and the commitment and energy of our students, undergraduate and graduate. We at Sheffield cannot thank you enough.
With every good wish,
J Cheryl Exum
Professor of Biblical Studies
Director, Sheffield Phoenix Press
Department of Biblical Studies
I do like to think that the huge bulk of mail sent had something to do with the rethinking. But even if not, Sheffield has saved a wonderful program that maintains high academic and teaching standards.