By Sophie Squire
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2869

‘We’ll keep fighting’ to save African history course—professor Hakim Adi

Chichester university bosses want to scrap a ‘one of a kind’ masters course on the history of Africa and the African diaspora
Issue 2869
African historian professor Hakim Adi from Chichester University

History  professor Hakim Adi from Chichester University (Picture: Chichester University)

Professor Hakim Adi “couldn’t believe it” when University of Chichester bosses told him he should crowdfund to keep running a course he teaches on the history of Africa.

Bosses want to scrap the unique masters by research (MRes) course on the history of Africa and the African diaspora. They plan to make Hakim—the first history professor of African descent in Britain—redundant. 

Hakim said that, in a meeting following the suspension of admissions to the course, management said he should think about getting funding through the Crowdfunder or Kickstarter websites. “I had to ask him to repeat what he had said several times. I couldn’t believe it,” he told Socialist Worker. 

It’s part of a bigger battle with the Tories’ and bosses’ who want to run universities like businesses, and attack race and gender studies as “woke”.

The University of Chichester started to reveal its plans in May. “I was told in a meeting that the university wanted to review all taught postgraduate subjects,” Hakim explained. “I was told that programmes that weren’t recruiting enough students were vulnerable to being cut. 

“I assumed this review would take months. So I was surprised to find out that the university had decided to suspend the MRes last month. 

“When I filed a grievance and said that scrapping the course and making me redundant was discrimination, university bosses said it wasn’t. They said their plans were simply about money, and this was a ‘money finding’ exercise.” 

He added, “My first thought was the students. I asked if they had been told, but the university said that the news had to be kept confidential— of course, I told them straight away. 

“That’s when our campaign began. The students have been leading the fightback and have written to other academics and organised a petition that now has more than 11,000 signatures.” 

Chichester isn’t the only university where bosses are attacking courses that cover racism and colonisation.  In Brighton—where UCU union members are on indefinite strike—are pushing through a wave of job cuts that cull academics teaching race and gender studies. 

“The MRes is the only one of its kind in Europe,” said Hakim. “It was proposed at the 2015 History Matters conference, where we discussed why so few black students study history at university.  

“We created a course that rejected a Eurocentric view of history, where Africans are centre stage and the agents of change. 

“We also wanted to teach about history from the bottom up and about the resistance and empowerment of African people and people of African diaspora. We started the course by teaching about the Haitian Revolution and went on from there. 

“All of this was meant to encourage people of African descent to return to education. We accepted students who didn’t have a history degree and those who didn’t have a degree at all. 

“It’s sad that more people have heard about the MRes because it’s been suspended. The university never marketed it. They left that for me and the students to try and do on social media. 

“So far seven students that took part in the course have gone on to do PhDs, all but one at the University of Chichester.” 

But Hakim said the university doesn’t see the real value in the course despite all its successes. “Universities are being run like businesses,” he argued. “They see a course like ours and think, ‘Well African history is niche and unnecessary. Scrapping it can save us some money’. 

“It’s important to say I’m not the only member of staff that could be made redundant. Around 20 of us are vulnerable, but the university is keeping quiet about that. So economic reasons are one part of why this is happening. But there is also an ideological battle going on as well. 

“History has always been under attack as it teaches students critical thinking and an understanding of the world. 

“The right and those in power will say that teaching about African history or workers’ or women’s history— what they call “woke nonsense”—is somehow rewriting history. But this history is important to us all, and there’s a real hunger from students to learn about it. 

“During my first semester at Chichester, I taught a module on the history of Africa and African diaspora to a class of all white students. 

“They voted to say it was the best module that they had that year and that it was so interesting because it was history they had never heard before.” 

“We need to fight to keep this one-of-the-kind MRes. Because if the bosses here can scrap it, then where will it end? I’m determined to keep fighting, and so are the students.” 

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