<p>On 3 January, the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies (SHAPS) management sent a group of removalists to clear out Research History Desks (RHD) in light of desk reallocations to help facilitate staffing changes for the new academic year.</p>
On 3 January, the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies (SHAPS) management sent a group of removalists to clear out Research History Desks (RHD) in light of desk reallocations to help facilitate staffing changes for the new academic year.
Due to the removalists arriving during the University shut-down period—when most students were not on campus—graduates were left scrambling to collect their research material before it was packed by removalists to storage.
“We hadn’t been told they would be doing this on that day, nor had we been told what they would be packing up,” said Mike Jones, a History PhD candidate who just passed his third year review. “One of my colleagues was overseas, so I went and retrieved her filing cabinet and brought it to my office as it contains sensitive material related to her research. A group of us then went up to the school office to raise this as a significant issue.”
In discussing the issue, a University spokesman said, “Students were notified of upcoming changes to desk allocation a month in advance and were sent follow up correspondence and reminder emails.” This conflicts with information provided to Farrago by the History Postgrad Association (HPA), which maintains that the School sent students an email announcing desk allocation changes on 12 December, asking students to clear out their belongings by 22 December—giving them only ten days to retrieve their materials. Further to this, the HPA reports that no follow up correspondence was sent to students until 21 December.
Other changes made by SHAPS in an effort to make more office space for the growing staff team include converting RHD spaces into offices and the roll-out of hot-desking (having multiple students work at the same desk during different time slots) in all 32 desks in the North Wing of the Arts West. The West Wing’s 34 spaces were also subdivided to make 50 desks. Although the RHD spaces in the West Wing will be allocated as sole-use desks for graduates, they will only be available to students in the final 18 months of their candidature.
The announcement of these changes has been met with opposition from the HPA, which maintains that hot-desking has not maximised desk usage as the School anticipated but has instead dissuaded students from using these RHD spaces.
“Hot-desks are an inappropriate working environment for researchers in the humanities who work with large quantities of books, documents and other research materials on a daily basis,” said the HPA.
PhD candidate Jones added, “Many of us have lots of books and research notes, some have OHS issues, and some of us—including me—are planning to do a lot of writing in January. I don’t have a car, I live in a small flat and the idea of moving all my stuff out for a month and having nowhere solid to work was deeply problematic.”
The HPA has held three meetings with the SHAPS management since the announcement of these new policies—including an impromptu meeting on the day removalists cleared out RHD spaces.
“While communications between the School and students have since improved, these changes were initially imposed without consultation and came as a surprise to students and academic staff,” the HPA reported. “One senior SHAPS academic staff member stated that she was only informed of these changes by students, and only after their announcement by the School.”
The few concessions granted to students by the School during these meetings have primarily concerned an improvement in communication.
“We were able to delay the date of the ‘desk spill’ from 22 December to the end of University shut-down period in January, and also to expedite the allocation of sole-use desks,” the HPA noted.
The latest meeting occurred on 25 January, where students raised ongoing issues with the desk allocation. The School has undertaken to respond to them in due course.