Students taking legal action against uni for suspending black history course

A group of students have engaged lawyers to pursue legal action against a university alleging discrimination and breach of contract after it “suspended” a black history degree for new applicants.

The 14 students were all studying on the Masters by Research (MRes), History of Africa and the African Diaspora course or conducting research for a PhD at the University of Chichester when it made the decision to halt the programme for newcomers in July 2023 because of the costs of running the course.

The university also made the course leader Professor Hakim Adi, the first African-British historian to become a professor of history in the UK and who was shortlisted for the Wolfson History Prize in 2023, redundant.

They have now employed Leigh Day solicitors to pursue a civil claim alleging that the university is in breach of contract and the firm issued a ‘letter before action’ on their behalf on February 15.

Leigh Day partner Jacqueline McKenzie said: “This sudden decision by the University of Chichester to close down this unique course has stopped our clients’ academic careers in their tracks.

“On top of that, the university has made an eminent and highly respected black professor of African history in the UK, who was last year nominated for the Wolfson History prize, redundant at short notice.

“In our clients’ view, the University of Chichester has clearly discriminated against them and breached its contract with them in its handling of this process.

“They are urging it to reverse this decision and ensure sure that they can resume their studies as soon as possible.”

She said: “For clarity, the MRes programme referred to has not been ‘terminated’ for existing students but is only suspended to new applicants pending a review.

“PhD students study individual programmes of research and should not be conflated with the MRes programme.

“The university is committed to ensuring that all existing students are able to complete their studies successfully and that alternative teaching and supervisory arrangements are in place for these students.”

In a linked case, the Black Equity Organisation (BEO) is also bringing legal action and has issued a judicial review of the university’s actions.

Kehinde Adeogun director of legal services at BEO, said: “Suspending the course without consultation when the issues are still prevalent, decreases the opportunity for change, the aim of which is to see the effective inclusion of black history into the curriculum that is taught and studied in UK schools, especially in the context of key debates around decolonising the curriculum.”

Prof Adi said: “As a result of the MRes we encouraged many more black students to embark on PhD research.

“We established one of the largest cohorts of black postgraduate history students in the country.

“As a result of the measures taken by the University of Chichester, these students have been left without appropriate supervision and their studies have been completely disrupted.”

Jabari Osaze, a MRes student said: “Chichester university should have focused its efforts on recruiting more students like me but instead it seems they undervalued the programme.

“They have treated their students and the world-renowned expert historian who ran the programme extremely poorly.

“They are now offering academic support to MRes students’ guidance by scholars who are not trained in the history of Africa and the African diaspora.

“It has been painful to be disregarded in this manner.”

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