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Oh, the humanities!


STAFF in the Arts & Humanities and Social Science departments are set to move from their Strand Campus homes to a new site based at Kingsway, off Aldwych. The relocation is motivated by the College’s strategic growth plan, which intends to recruit 150 extra academics and 2,250 extra students by 2016 in the Arts & Sciences Schools.

An email sent out to students in the affected departments describes the site at 22 Kingsway: ‘This new accommodation has a flexible structure to meet academic needs and is only a six minute walk from Strand reception. A 14 year lease with a nine year break clause has been negotiated, which will be appropriate for the College’s medium term planning.’

The following departments will have offices moved to 22 Kingsway:
• Classics • Comparative Literature • Culture, Media & Creative Industries • Digital Humanities • English Language & Literature • European & International Studies • French • German • Hellenic Studies • Spanish, Portuguese & Latin American Studies • Theology & Religious Studies including Middle East & Mediterranean Studies

The proposal has been met with a mixed reception from students and staff, with some undergraduates questioning whether it is a sensible move.

Rena Minegishi, a second-year English Language & Literature student, said of the plans: ‘I think it’s awful that this is happening. I think it’s super important that students can easily access and communicate with their professors, especially in humanities… It’s so disrespectful; non-STEM subjects have just been pushed to the side. And I was really pissed off that the already disjointed King’s was going to be even more fragmented, and said the students could collectively file a complaint. If [the outgoing departments] don’t even know what the interior of the building is going to look like, why has this happened in the first place? Why are we pushing out professors?’

The decisions concerning the affected departments will be made in accordance with the College’s Investing in Strength strategy and are under the authority of the Expansion Implementation Group, chaired by War Studies Professor and Vice Principal, Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman.

Professor Freedman spoke to Roar! about the decision to move selected departments to the new site: ‘The need to acquire more space on the Strand site has been pressing for some time as staff and students can testify. We have been looking at a variety of options, but appropriate property in central London is hard to come by. We were therefore delighted when we got the opportunity to lease 22 Kingsway, which is a substantial building, a few minutes walk away from the established Strand Campus and the Maughan Library, and with flexible internal space.

‘Because the lease was only signed during the summer, a lot of work had to be done quickly on how best to use the space. The only way to ease the space problems on the Strand was to find a new building for many of the academic staff already based there. Given the fragmented and often sub-standard quality of much of the current accommodation of Arts & Humanities, and the potential quality of the space at Kingsway, this appeared as the natural candidate for a move. We could bring together dispersed departments and reinforce its many interdisciplinary and interdepartmental initiatives, accommodate the School’s outstanding growth in externally funded research projects and in obtaining research fellowships.’

The move is primarily in the interests of postgraduate students, as there is no intention to hold undergraduate seminars or lectures at the site. Freedman believes the site will massively benefit the postgraduate community in the School, saying: ‘There could be better space and facilities for graduate students [at 22 Kingsway], allowing them to be more closely integrated into the research community.

‘Since the decision in principle was made, we have been working closely with staff and students to come up with the optimum fit in terms of academic activities and the internal organization of the space. We have listened closely to staff concerns and brought in outside experts to help us come up with new designs for the layout of individual floors.’

The consultation with students and staff, which includes department representatives liaising with both groups, is projected to finish at the end of January.

Frank Polatch, a department representative, said: ‘People were (are) annoyed, certainly. I think in the English Department we are always slightly marginalised; we get all our funding cut, and moved up to one of the most soulless streets in central London, whilst the Law Department gets a massive new redevelopment when they already have a load of space in Waterloo. When I was in a meeting with Jo [McDonagh] and some others, a few people seemed quite excited about making a new space with the character of an English Department, and they had some quite ambitious plans, and I am with them personally.’

Asked whether his job as a professor in the War Studies department influenced his role as chair of the Expansion Implementation Group, Freedman said: ‘My academic specialism is irrelevant to my role in this process. I have been acting as a Vice Principal.’

The Strand Campus master plan includes the redevelopment of the quadrangle and the space beneath it, which involved an architectural competition won by Hall McKnight in October last year. Freedman said: ‘The Quad redevelopment will soon be starting and that will require moving some science activities.’


You can follow Ben Jackson on Twitter at @bjacksonuk


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