Legal Battle Ensues as University Closes Unique African History Master's


The University of Chichester's recent decision to suspend recruitment for its groundbreaking African history master's program and terminate its founder's employment has sparked a wave of controversy and legal scrutiny from students and equality advocates alike.

Legal Battle Ensues as University Closes Unique African History Master's
(Photo : UNSPLASH / Tingey Injury Law Firm)

Allegations of Discrimination and Breach of Contract

A group of 14 students, including those enrolled in the course and conducting related PhD research, allege discrimination and breach of contract. After exhausting internal complaint procedures, they turned to legal action. Leigh Day, a prominent law firm representing the students, issued a letter of intent to sue the university on February 15, citing violations of their rights and contractual obligations.

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The move to suspend the Master of Research (MRes) in the history of Africa and the African diaspora, initiated in July 2023, dealt a significant blow to the aspirations of students and the career trajectory of its founder, Professor Hakim Adi. Adi, widely recognized as the first African-British historian to hold a UK professorship in history, established the course in 2017 with the aim of fostering greater representation of African and Caribbean heritage historians in academia. Shortly after the program's suspension, Adi was informed of the termination of his employment at Chichester, leading to further outcry among students and supporters of the program.

Challenges to University's Justification

While the University of Chichester cited financial concerns as the primary reason for discontinuing the course, claiming that it incurred significant costs with minimal student enrollment, Leigh Day has challenged the university's justification. The law firm argues that the university failed to adequately promote the MRes program, leading to lower-than-expected enrollment figures. Furthermore, they contend that Adi's employment predates the establishment of the course and should not be associated with its performance. Additionally, many PhD students enrolled in the program directly from the MRes, indicating its importance in facilitating further academic pursuits.

In a linked case, the Black Equity Organisation (BEO) - a civil rights charity - has issued a judicial review claim that challenges the university's decision to suspend the course on the grounds that a consultation or equality impact assessment was not carried out. The BEO asserts that the closure of the course undermines efforts to address historical gaps and promote inclusivity in academia, emphasizing the broader implications of the university's decision.

Call for Support

In response to the legal challenges, the Black Equity Organisation (BEO) initiated a crowdfunding campaign to support its legal efforts, urging individuals and organizations to contribute to the cause. Kehinde Adeogun, Director of Legal Services for BEO, emphasized the importance of addressing historical injustices and promoting diversity in higher education.

University Response and Commitment

In response to the legal challenges and public outcry, the University of Chichester refuted the claims made by Leigh Day, asserting that the MRes program suspension only applies to new applicants pending review. They assured existing students of support to complete their studies and emphasized their commitment to providing alternative teaching and supervision arrangements to mitigate the impact of the course closure.

The legal challenges to the closure of Chichester's African history master's program underscore broader concerns about discrimination, academic freedom, and inclusivity in higher education. As students and advocacy groups pursue legal avenues to challenge the decision, the university faces increased scrutiny over its decision-making processes and commitment to diversity and representation in academia. The outcome of these legal actions may have significant implications for the future of African history studies and diversity initiatives in higher education institutions across the UK.

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