The biblical-studies constituency of Blogaria is all abuzz with the startling, dismaying news that the University of Sheffield is moving to dismantle its academic program in Bible. While the UK can boast a number of strong departments in this area, once you bracket the faculties of Oxford and Cambridge, Sheffield had to rank as one of the top programs in the country — especially given its long track record of scholarship that is not just sound and reputable, but that changes the shape of the discipline itself. To the extent that I understand things — and I make no pretense of being an insider — Sheffield lost two faculty members going into last year, and then was frozen out of replacing one of those positions, then was marked down for shrinking enrollments and diminished staff (both attributable, one might think, to the prior decision to not replace departing staff), with the administrative decision that the department might not recruit or accept any incoming undergraduates.
Such a decision would in all likelihood mean the dissolution of what has been a vibrant, provocative, agenda-setting centre of scholarly deliberation. Sheffield has a recognizable brand, and an administration’s decision to gut (and eventually to kill off) one of its most distinguished, distinctive faculties suggests a degree of managerial myopia that would make even David Brent or Michael Scott recoil in horror.
It’s not clear whether the resulting uproar will change anything; when managers commit to ill-considered programs, they often stick resolutely to their plans rather than acknowledge a misstep. Still, I could hardly be more startled or disappointed. If anything, Sheffield’s leadership should have seen an opportunity to reinforce and enhance the standing of the Biblical Studies program, which would still have an exceptional core staff of scholars in Hugh Pyper, Diana Edelman, and James Crossley. Rather than taking the opportunity to lead from strength, the University seems bent on eliminating one of its strong points, for reasons that remain unclear in the larger institutional perspective.
Not for the sake of Hugh and Diana and James, nor for the sake of the students do I ask that Sheffield reverse course on this ill-starred maneuver, but for the sake of the decision-makers whose records will forever show that they chose to dismantle a front-rank program that helped put Sheffield on academic maps, and used the savings to buy legal pads and paper clips.

5 thoughts on “Bafflement

  1. I should add that I have a certain personal stake in these developments, since they might loom ominously over Glasgow’s impending reorganization of its departmental structure. At the same time, this would make an ideal season in which some foresighted institution might scoop up these outstanding scholars, thus stealing a march on Sheffield and other schools with ambitious Biblical Studies programs.

  2. As an alumnae of the Sheffield overseas programme in Biblical Studies, I am deeply saddened to hear this news. I guess that Sheffield has also discounted the numerous international students who have sought their university simply for the experience of such a unique environment (and the daily paternoster ride to and from the department during busy class times alone was worth the trip!). Funny, none of the recent solicitations for donations from Sheffield have mentioned this news…

  3. After further surfing, I see that this is, indeed, old news and that the decision appears to have been reversed. That’s a relief! With my hands full these days, I’ve gotten so behind the news. I guess there are benefits to reading months-worth during one long night of insomnia.

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