This is a collection of longer or shorter complaints by PhD researchers in the Department of Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London. Most of them were previously filed independently as feedback in our Annual Progress Monitoring Form and/or in the Spring Check-in Survey conducted by the college.
We speak out here against the disastrous effects of the so-called Goldsmiths Recovery Programme that our college’s Senior Management Team (SMT) launched last year. We fully align ourselves with the general fight against this destructive marketisation of Goldsmiths led by the college’s Warden, Frances Corner. As the management incompetently marches on with its plans, we are losing so many of our academic mentors and supervisors – people who contributed so much to the culture of our department are now understandably driven away by this hostile environment – along with all our hugely valued members of administrative staff, due to the deletion of their current positions and the non-viable centralisation of administration in the institution.
The Department of Sociology has previously published testimonials from students and staff on the vital work of our admin staff for learning and research, as well as the department’s official responses to SMT’s problematic “Connected Curriculum”.
In light of the above, we decided to make our individual complaints public to put more pressure on Goldsmiths SMT and Council. While we collectively mourn for the loss of Goldsmiths as it was, we also demand that Frances Corner is fired immediately, along with the rest of the current SMT members, and that management at Goldsmiths is finally democratised!
My experience of Goldsmiths has been mixed. The academic and admin staff in the Department of Sociology are wonderful. They have helped me with grant applications, struggles I have had with my pedagogical practice as an AL, and are the main reason I am still at this institution. It is a sincere shame that many of the staff who have been most kind and gracious with their time have been forced to leave for many reasons. I would like to make a specific note of the academics Rebecca Coleman, Yasmin Gunaratnam, and Les Back who have all left the university and helped me so much through the course of my studies. On top of this, one of the support staff members, Chloe Nast, whose job is under threat from the mismanaged restructuring, was crucial to me securing funding from the British Sociological Association and is of huge benefit to all in the department. It is a shame that SMT are so determined to ruin all that is good about this university, marketing it as a bastion of diversity while actually gutting it from the inside. My PhD was incredibly disrupted by Covid and strikes in its first and second years, and I had hoped to come back to find a community that could help and support me in my third year. I have instead found this support in my peers on the PhD programme and on the picket line, with the university doing all it could to oppose this. Tom Wadsworth, PhD researcher in Visual Sociology
My experience as a PhD researcher in the sociology department has been extremely positive. On a college-wide level, I am appalled at the callous actions of the Warden and senior management in driving through their short-sighted plan of reforms, such as the axing of essential administrative staff, which has had deeply detrimental effects on the quality of the student experience. Kim Harding, PhD researcher in Sociology
I am deeply disappointed and frustrated with the so-called "Recovery Plan" that Goldsmiths' Senior Management Team (SMT) is leading. The utterly irresponsible and uneducated behaviour of the college's Senior Management and Council has led to significant disruptions in my studies and is having a horrific impact on my access to proper research admin support and academic expertise at Goldsmiths. While numerous of our academic mentors (whose expertise and mentorship are the reason why students attend this college) have left and/or are leaving our department as a result of this, we have also been without a PhD research officer for a year, and the role of our precious departmental research officer is to be deleted in a few weeks. I hold the SMT and the Warden personally, Mrs Frances Corner, completely responsible for that destructive situation. I stand in full solidarity and support with our academic and admin staff. This is an unacceptable situation! To the extent I am concerned, I demand that the Warden is fired immediately and that Goldsmiths' autocratic management is democratised through a proper electoral system ASAP. I am truly thankful to my former and current supervisors – Kat Jungnickel, Nina Wakeford and Nirmal Puwar – to our PhD community tutors – Les Back, Vikki Bell and Sara Farris – and to our research officer – Chloe Nast – for their valuable mentorship, administrative overwork and emotional labour. People like these are what make Goldsmiths an exceptional hub of critical thinking and research, and this is what the SMT is incompetent to grasp. — Additional comment — On the day we found out that Les Back will soon be yet another member of our department’s academic staff to leave Goldsmiths – along with Rebecca Coleman, Yasmin Guinaratnam, Michaela Benson and so many others – our PhD WhatsApp group-chat filled with despair, anger and sorrow. Over the last year, and after a very hard period of distanced studying and isolation due to Covid-19, Les Back (along with Vikki Bell and Sara Farris) was the mentor who pulled our community back together by leading our weekly meeting sessions; always starting with a therapeutic check-in round and moving into deeper theoretical and methodological discussions. Losing Les means losing an invaluable part of our academic existence at Goldsmiths. On that day, after crying, I attempted to write a letter of complaint to the college’s Warden, SMT and Council members, which straight away became the following enraged cry: Mrs Frances Corner, Goldsmiths Senior Management Team and Council members, Shame on you. Shame on all of you and each of you separately for as you associate yourselves with higher education it only results in hubris. Shame on the elitist systems that brought you forth for only teaching you how to accumulate material wealth on the backs of the students, hardworking educators and administrative employees that you were assigned to help flourish but you eradicate instead. Shame on your racist classism that rips out our hearts and throws them into the sewage you call “evolution.” Shame on your ignorance of how a university’s purpose is not to make money but to direct financial resources into promoting exceptional education, critical thinking and ethical research. Shame on you for turning Goldsmiths into the field of your immoral, inhumane and autocratic economic practices. Shame on the shamelessness that fills up your egos and blocks your view of our lives. Shame on you for believing you are Goldsmiths. Shame on the destruction you bring upon our wellbeing and mental health as your rotten corruption fills our bodies with pain, rage, despair and sorrow. Shame on your flamboyant emptiness. Shame on your uneducated inflammatory conduct that drives out our mentors and supervisors, the true reasons why we are here; and leaves the rest of us to sink into the cesspit you secrete. Shame on your “let them eat cake” attitude. Shame on the government for promoting the existence of the systems you represent. Shame, shame, shame – what a shame. Shame on you, Frances Corner. Shame on you, Elisabeth Hill.* Shame on you, David Oswell. Shame on Goldsmiths Senior Management. Shame on Goldsmiths Council. Shame on all of you and each of you separately. You are fired. Kindly have your desks cleared out by tomorrow morning. Sincerely, One of the students you work for. * This was written before finding out that Elisabeth Hill is to leave Goldsmiths. George Kalivis, PhD researcher in Visual Sociology
I am happy to do my research at Goldsmiths. Before I join Goldsmiths 2 years ago, I was really certain that the college would be a wonderful, supportive ‘base’ for my PhD. But the cut of academic resources has produced a less friendly environment for my continuous progress. Under the current 'recovery' plan, I am afraid that the college has failed to provide us with abundant support. Meanwhile, the plan is making more staff feel 'unsafe' about their academic positions, research environment and personal development at Goldsmiths. At the sociology department, we have witnessed so many renowned academics leaving Goldsmiths in the past 2 years. The current situation is continuously damaging the research environment. I am very sure that without abandoning the recovery plan, the college will face more strikes and disappoint more people. More importantly, the departure of academics is destroying the local culture of Goldsmiths. For instance, I believe that members of the SMT have known about Professor Les Back’s departure and have read people’s furious reactions on Twitter. We are finding a consensus on the current situation: only the SMT should resign and leave Goldsmiths. Xu Liu, PhD researcher in Sociology
There is a saying: a fool burns his house for a bit of ashes. It looks like SMT in Goldsmiths are doing the same. By cutting the academic resources and urging the senior academicians, like Professor Les Back, to leave, the SMT is spoiling the academic prestige not only of the institution but of us all. As my supervisor Les Back is leaving, one can only imagine the irreparable impacts on my academic journey. I have been totally in confusion. Has the SMT ever thought that they cannot survive if they make holes in the boat they are in? Dinesh Poudyal, PhD researcher in Sociology
I feel that I have to highlight how the planned restructure at Goldsmiths has greatly impacted my progress, both by disrupting university life and by jeopardising my mental health. The uncertainty that has dominated life at the university for the past year is not beneficial to (anyone's) studies and is pushing important thinkers out of Goldsmiths, impoverishing the institution and our community. Maria Georgouli Loupi, PhD researcher in Sociology
Whenever yet another invaluable, irreplaceable member of staff leaves, there goes another bit of my trust in Goldsmiths’ future. Silvia Bombardini, PhD researcher in Visual Sociology
I am extremely disappointed that the mass redundancy plan that is being pushed through by Goldsmiths Senior Management Team has caused so much disruption and hardship for the student and staff community. I hold the SMT entirely responsible for the several weeks of teaching that I have missed out on this academic year, and fully support the industrial action taken by teaching and administrative staff in response to a thoroughly ill-thought through and damaging “restructure”. It is an extremely measured reply to the lack of respect shown for the work that is done by staff at all levels across the university. The huge loss of dedicated administrative staff and subjects like Black history and queer studies, which broaden the research environment of Goldsmiths, will negatively impact on the ongoing educational experience of every student, and make me personally feel less at home in my place of study. Beth Bramich, PhD researcher in Sociology
Support from both my supervisor and the Sociology Department at Goldsmiths continues to be excellent. Particular thanks to Vik Loveday for her support with teaching. However, this support has continued to be undermined by the Goldsmiths Restructuring programme as follows: Firstly, the proposed redundancies of administrative staff are already proving detrimental to PhD student development. In terms of the day to day aspects of "crafting" a PhD, administrative staff are vital for navigating the bureaucracy of the institution. Bridget remains sorely missed in this regard. In terms of wider development opportunities such as publication, accessing funding and supporting pedagogic practice, departmental administrators are the invisible forces that make all of this possible. Secondly, the impact on the strike on staff morale, and the subsequent departures of key figures in the department, especially Professor Les Back, are seriously undermining the sense of a supportive community that is actually needed to complete a PhD. This sense of community is not a "nice to have", but is fundamental to the completion of research degrees, and therefore to the reputation and academic standing of Goldsmiths. Overall, the impact of the restructuring has made Goldsmiths an exhausting and demoralising place to be. It is odd that, in an institution set up for the specific purpose of teaching and learning, this seems to be a low priority for Goldsmiths SMT. Goldsmiths' teaching community – in which I include all support staff for the reasons set out above – is Goldsmiths' greatest asset, not a collection of financial "liabilities" to be managed. Anousheh Haghdadi, PhD researcher in Sociology
My decision to pursue an MA at Goldsmiths in 2012 was almost entirely based on the creative reputation of the university in general and the Sociology Department in particular, while my decision to pursue a PhD in 2018 was almost entirely based on the sense of community, passion and inventiveness that I experienced first-hand within that department. It did not cross my mind to join any other university for my PhD studies – I wanted to come home to the department. I have been a loyal champion of the Goldsmiths “brand” for a decade, taking part in alumni volunteering and so on. I hope that one day I will again feel proud of my connection to Goldsmiths, but it has been gravely disappointing to see the department hollowed out through such a misguided restructuring programme, and to see the serious stress and exhaustion my colleagues are experiencing as a result. I am on my fourth supervisor in three years. The loss of a skilled and dedicated administrator like Bridget is particularly galling, and it seems completely inappropriate to expect us to liaise with senior academic staff on administrative matters. It’s dispiriting to even write a complaint like this when you suspect your opposition has already been priced in by those who see it as their responsibility to “take the wider view” and triangulate between various localised interests within the organisation. I would simply ask that you take a closer look as well as a wider view. Communities, reputations, “brands”, the spirit of an institution etc. don’t emerge overnight, need to be cultivated, and can only withstand so much before they dissipate altogether. It’s starting to feel like a ghost ship. Please consider the possibility that you have miscalculated, and are killing the golden goose. Take a closer look. Oliver Holtaway, PhD researcher in Sociology
My progress has been impacted by the changes instigated by the Senior Management Team. The Sociology department has been under considerable strain trying to highlight the damage the cuts will make to us students. It has been unsettling and enraging to see how little the staff in the department have been valued, especially the administration staff. Whilst there is great solidarity between staff and students, there is the never-ending stress of the actual cuts and risk of further cuts to the department and elsewhere at Goldsmith. This is undermining the creativity of the research community. Brenda Herbert, PhD researcher in Sociology
The GRPN applied for a TaLIC grant in August 2021 for our Counter Canon Challenge (CCC) project. The project was supposed to take place during the autumn term this academic year. Our project was meant to span six departments and involve the Goldsmiths Library, the Student Union, and several student societies. We were not notified of the award until December 2021. We didn’t receive the details until January 2022. In our April 2022 about the project we wrote: “Although the application was submitted in time, due to structural issues at Goldsmiths, the selection and announcements of awardees was not [formally] made until January 2022. The project was designed for the autumn term. In January, after we were made aware that we would be funded, we scrambled to follow up with the lecturers who had invited us to participate and the ones that we hoped to confirm. […] We intend to run the project during the autumn term. We will prepare for this work starting in August.” In the correspondences with the TaLIC administrators, they noted being short-staffed as the primary cause for the delays. Administrative staff are crucial for the functioning of an institution as vast as Goldsmiths. The Warden and the larger SMT’s decision to dismantle the administrative structure of the institution is preventing it from functioning as a research institution – the very purpose of the institution. Stephanie Guirand, PhD researcher in Sociology / Member of Goldsmiths Racialised Postgraduate Network (GRPN)
I am appalled by the current governance of Goldsmiths, which completely dissipates the university of its pulse, its lecturers. This is not any more the university that I choose to do my PhD at and it is a shame that many of us PhD researchers cannot see a future at Goldsmiths. On top of that, I feel that especially those PhDs that teach/convene, are taken for granted and squeezed out: we do the job of a lecturer but are being paid a fraction for term time only. All in all, my experience at Goldsmiths is deteriorating. Corine van Emmerik, PhD researcher in Sociology
I would like to take this opportunity to express my sadness at the departure of one of my supervisors, Les Back. He has been very supportive of my work at Goldsmiths, both in my PhD and otherwise. It is inexcusable that he has been put in a position where he feels he has to leave, given the pressures on staff redundancies in other departments. Goldsmiths is failing in its commitment to PhD students and the rest of the student body. And while I cannot praise more highly the support I've received and continue to receive from Alex Rhys Taylor and from Les, it is a chronic failing of the University that we should be put in this position. I’d also like to note the valued support from Alison Rooke and Rebecca Coleman who have also left the department. I welcome some kind of communication from the Graduate School on the matter and I'm well aware that some of my PhD colleagues who are much earlier in their research process are feeling very worried about the situation and how the continued actions of SMT may affect their research. Claire Levy, PhD researcher in Visual Sociology
The wholly unnecessary restructure and redundancies at Goldsmiths have created a chaotic environment at the university over the last year not conducive to learning. The SMT and Warden are behaving in a way reminiscent of directors running a ruthless multinational corporation. The perceived interests of the business are being pursued at the expense of quality of education and the well being of students and staff. I would not recommend Goldsmiths to prospective students. Zakariya Cochrane, PhD researcher in Sociology
First as an MA student, and then as a PhD candidate, I've had exceptional experiences with Goldsmiths staff and their commitment to push the boundaries of their field. But this past year has only left me with a feeling of deep sorrow that so much I love about being a researcher at Goldsmiths is gone, or threatened to be gone. I am extremely concerned about the upcoming years I will spend at Goldsmiths for completing my PhD in visual sociology. We have lost amazing lecturers, readers, and professors in the past two years. They had all contributed to a unique research culture in the department of sociology, motivating and uplifting our community around collective aspirations for the future of the discipline. Now, I am worried, so very worried about the conditions in which I will be able to complete my thesis. It feels as if everything that supports our research community today can be gone tomorrow. The ongoing restructuration can only have a severe impact on the student's learning experiences. Seeing major readers and professors not being replaced, or replaced with staff on precarious contracts and pay, is violent towards staff as much as towards the students who attend Goldsmiths on both short and long terms. Our university's uniqueness will be missed. And what is happening to Goldsmiths is known to so many outside the university. Its reputation is forever injured. But sometimes I wonder if that's any of SMT's concerns. Not any of the desperate emails that Frances Corner sends to students will make us forget the harmful impact she has on the academic disciplines we love. Floriane Misslin, PhD researcher in Visual Sociology
My complaints against the current SMT are many. How they treat students and staff, how they are attempting to dismantle the university. These complaints are too many for a blog. But here is my feedback to the Graduate School, submitted as part of the Annual Progress Monitoring of PhD students, framing the complaint in terms of the impact on doctoral education and research: The SMT’s constant push towards restructure and redundancies makes studying and doing research at Goldsmiths increasingly difficult. My supervisor left last June 2021 – luckily there was a suitable and willing replacement in my case. However, 11 academic staff have left from my department (Sociology) and a further three highly experienced administrative staff (including the DBM and our PhD coordinator) have gone. This loss of administrative staff with both high levels of skill and also valuable institutional memory has made day to day study and research much more challenging. The loss of academic and pedagogical expertise has a direct negative impact on the PhD cohort in our department. Losing their networks beyond Goldsmiths has also had a negative impact. For example, our PhD administrator (who worked here for over 20 years and whose role was not replaced when they left in June 2021) regularly circulated PhD and early career job opportunities, conferences, professional development training, funding and fellowship opportunities. These were specific opportunities tailored to the kind of sociology we do here at Goldsmiths, suitable for our early career sociologists, which were sent from a network of alumni and academics who had decades long relationships with the sociology department. These networks were facilitated, maintained and shared by an administrator embedded within the department and PhD culture. That is one small example, but there are many more like it. Our departmental research administrator is another highly skilled professional whose work is vital and underpins the research culture and infrastructure in Sociology. According to the current restructure, we will lose these expertise, experience and a fantastic professional from the department under the centralisation. The restructure is quite simply gutting the department of the specialised skills that made the research culture lively and successful (both in intellectual terms, and in bringing in funding for projects). Again, this embedded, discipline-specific work is not something that the Graduate school can reproduce. As well as staff being centralised, I also hold the senior management team responsible for loss of staff due to creating a difficult working environment, and an uncertain future through a restructuring process that includes multiple rounds of redundancies. This impacts individual PhD students and the PhD cohort, with large numbers of Sociology students losing one or both supervisors in the past year. Not only is this a loss of expertise, but in a doctoral research degree this relationship is central to the education and training being provided. These relationships matter. Students came to this college to work with specific staff who have now left in response to the restructure. These ruptures to core working relationships cannot simply be patched over. I want to highlight that this creates an increasing workload for staff that do stay, and a precarious research environment for doctoral students, taking time and energy away from research and writing and limiting further opportunities. High-quality supervision and doctoral training simply cannot be delivered with multiple waves of redundancies and high staff turn-over. It damages the research culture and infrastructure. It is important that the Graduate School advocates for PhD students in this matter, which includes defending the academic and administrative staff at departmental level who support them. I am aware that some staff will leave in the normal course of events in any university, however, what I am talking about is high numbers of staff leaving in a very short period of time, and essential administrative roles being left unfilled. Much is lost in terms of institutional memory, networks and expertise with this kind of sudden exodus. This will be compounded further through the planned centralisation and further waves of redundancies. Solidarity with my fellow students across the college. Solidarity with my GTT/AL colleagues. Solidarity with GUCU, Unison and all the staff impacted by the “restructure”. Zoe Walshe, PhD researcher in Sociology
The SMT's treatment of recent financial difficulties has been shambolic and the proposed recovery plans are horrific. They do not consider students, staff – or anyone's, in fact – experience in mind. It has been truly saddening to see how Goldsmiths has changed over the years. It was only the kindness and generosity of the many academic and administrative staff I encountered over the years that has made my time at Goldsmiths such a unique and rewarding experience. To have to see so many of them leave due to the increasingly hostile and precarious environment imposed by the SMT is absolutely maddening. It really didn't have to be this way. Adrien De Sutter, PhD researcher in Sociology