Image: Wikimedia Commons / N Chadwick

Students take university to court over suspension of African History course

The University of Chichester is facing legal action from multiple groups including students, following its decision to suspend a course on African history and dismiss its course leader.

The university previously faced significant backlash when it proposed cancelling the course, a Masters by Research (MRes) titled History of Africa and African Diaspora, in July 2023.

It attracted significant criticism for its decision to dismiss the course’s leader and founder, Professor Hakim Adi. Professor Adi, 66, was the first African-British historian to become a professor of history in the UK.

He has received recognition for his extensive writings on Pan-Africanism and the history of the African diaspora, and has been celebrated for his work studying and teaching African history.

Students believe his departure has affected them beyond the delivery of the MRes. They argue it has left over a dozen students without a supervisor, and without a suitable replacement given that Prof. Adi was the only African history specialist at the university.

The University of Chichester’s decision to axe this crucial course and put Professor Adi at risk of redundancy is nothing less than an attack on Black academia

Jo Grady, UCU General Secretary

In a statement issued when the decision was first proposed, Jo Grady, General Secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), said: “The University of Chichester’s decision to axe this crucial course and put Professor Adi at risk of redundancy is nothing less than an attack on Black academia.”

The university has cited financial issues as the reason for the course’s discontinuation. A statement said it had made significant losses on the programme, having invested around £700,000 and only recouped £150,000 in tuition fees.

Professor Adi responded with surprise at the figures, professing to be unaware of the sums involved in supporting the program.

He described them as “astonishing”, and admonished the university for its “considerable incompetence” if the provided figures were true.

In an interview with the left-wing news site Counterfire, Adi conveyed his belief that the university should have doubled down on its efforts to recruit students for the course and promoted it more widely.

A petition against Adi’s redundancy created after the decision was announced garnered almost 15,000 signatures. It failed to cancel the university’s actions, however.

Now, 14 students formerly on the MRes course have opened legal action against the university.

They allege discrimination and breach of contract, and are pursuing a civil claim after failing to reach a resolution through the university’s internal complaints system.

In a separate but linked case, the Black Equity Organisation (BEO) is also bringing legal action against the university, and has issued a judicial review of the university’s actions.

A spokesperson for the University of Chichester insisted that the students’ claims were “misleading”, arguing that the course had not been terminated, but only suspended for new applicants pending review.


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