In a week that should have been marked by celebration and recognition, Professor Hakim Adi, a renowned scholar in the field of African and Caribbean history, found himself at the centre of a storm. His nomination for the prestigious Wolfson History Prize for his book “African and Caribbean People in Britain: A History,” was overshadowed by the shocking news of his dismissal from the University of Chichester. In a candid interview, Professor Adi shared his perspective on this unexpected turn of events and shed light on the importance of his work.
MEET THE AUTHOR
Naomi Klein, a prominent Canadian author, filmmaker, and social activist, is renowned for her incisive political analyses and unwavering commitment to ecofeminism, organised labour, leftist ideologies, and her critical scrutiny of corporate globalisation, fascism, ecofascism, and capitalism.
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Naomi Klein’s Awards
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The sacking saga: a question of recruitment?
The University of Chichester claimed that Professor Adi’s dismissal was due to low enrolment numbers in the course he taught, implying that it no longer financially justified his position. However, Professor Adi vehemently questioned the university’s rationale behind such a decision. He pointed out that courses often experience fluctuations in enrolment and that tying a professor’s employment to a single course’s recruitment numbers is unusual and unjust. He said: “Who knows what the motive is? But we know what the impact is. We know what the consequence is. And that is what is completely unacceptable.”
In a statement to How To Be Books, a University of Chichester spokesperson said:
"The University of Chichester routinely reviews its portfolio of degree programmes. Recently the University suspended eight postgraduate programmes, including the online MRes programme which the University has supported since its launch six years ago. During this six-year period, despite extensive marketing of the programme, the MRes course consistently recruited very small student numbers. "Since the programme launched in 2017, the University has invested over £700k into the costs of the delivery of this programme, including staff salary costs. During the same period the University has only received c. £150k of tuition fees. This gap between income and expenditure means other areas would have to subsidise this programme’s costs, to the detriment of those other programmes and their students. This would not be sustainable, and the University has had to come to the difficult decision to suspend a number of programmes that fit into this category, of which the MRes is one. "We will continue to support all students affected to complete and achieve their qualifications, including a small number of related doctoral students. Consultation with students is being offered on both a 1-2-1 and a group basis, ensuring that they can be updated on their studies in the forthcoming academic year now that the confidential discussions with the member(s) of staff affected have concluded. "Through our normal consultation process we always offer the opportunity for staff to propose alternative solutions to ensure the viability of a course that has been suspended. Throughout the consultation, there was regular engagement with staff affected, but no viable counterproposals or solutions were found."
Professor Adi responded that recruitment is not the responsibility of individual professors but rather falls under the purview of university management, including marketing and department heads. He felt that if recruitment struggles were the primary reason for his termination, it begs the question of why senior administrators were not held accountable. “Every year of the course, I used to go to my line manager and say, we need more promotion, we need to publicise it in a particular way. And it was never done,” he said. He claimed that since the incident, a handful of people had offered up their PR and marketing services to the university pro bono, but received no response.
The impact on inclusive history
Professor Adi’s course, the Master of Research in Africa and the African Diaspora (MRes), was unique in the United Kingdom and Europe. It aimed to address a longstanding problem within academia: the alienation of young people of African and Caribbean heritage from studying history.
In 2015, Professor Adi convened a gathering of young people, students, and various individuals to delve into a critical question: why do students often feel marginalised and disconnected from the field of history? The consensus among participants was clear; this sense of alienation stemmed from the pervasive Eurocentric perspective prevalent in history education at schools, universities, and in the media. Many argued that history was either inadequately presented, disregarded, or deliberately concealed.
During this pivotal conference, the attendees proposed the establishment of a course with the purpose of rekindling the passion of individuals who had been disheartened by their prior encounters with history, especially in academic settings. Despite their profound interest in history, some had been deterred during their school or university years. The envisioned course aimed to re-engage these individuals, equipping them with the skills necessary to pursue their own research endeavours or even inspiring them to embark on doctoral studies.
The MRes program sought to bridge this gap by offering a course that explored both African history and the African Diaspora, highlighting the interconnectedness of these histories. It attracted students from diverse backgrounds and enabled them to delve into their heritage, pursue research, and even embark on PhD journeys. Professor Adi proudly mentioned that seven of his students had gone on to pursue PhDs, with five of them still enrolled at the University of Chichester.
The disheartening void in history education
Perhaps the most concerning aspect of Professor Adi’s dismissal is the void it leaves in the field of African and Caribbean history education. As he rightly pointed out, there is no degree course in Britain that focuses exclusively on African and Caribbean history. While some courses touch on these subjects as modules, none provide the comprehensive approach that the MRes program did.
The implications of this gap are profound, especially in a society where diversity and inclusion are critical. History is not merely a study of the past; it’s a tool for understanding the present and shaping the future. By excluding the histories of African and Caribbean people in Britain, we are perpetuating an incomplete and biased narrative that fails to represent the experiences and contributions of a significant portion of the population.
Celebrating a history of inclusivity and activism
The academic’s book delves deep into the antiracist movement in Britain long before the abolition of slavery. It seeks to unearth a hidden history of solidarity and activism, demonstrating how ordinary individuals, across centuries, have stood up for the rights of all, irrespective of race or origin. Professor Adi passionately articulated his mission:
Additionally, Professor Adi emphasised the need for a comprehensive understanding of Britain’s history, one that acknowledges the contributions, struggles, and resilience of African and Caribbean people throughout the ages. As a result, his book strives to correct the historical omissions that have perpetuated ignorance and division.
Hence he recounted an anecdote about a young history teacher who felt guilty about her ancestors’ possible involvement in slavery. Professor Adi’s response was revelatory: “Well, it’s more likely that your ancestors were signing petitions against human trafficking, boycotting sugar, or helping Africans escape up and down the country.”
Commitment to correct history
The historian’s work unravels the complexities of history, portraying both the heroic and the ignoble, while showcasing the noteworthiness of context and circumstances. He underscores that understanding this multifaceted history can empower people to appreciate their heritage and foster unity.
Despite his noble mission, Professor Adi is no stranger to criticism. He acknowledged, “There are various racists who attack my books,” and even welcomes such attacks as a sign that his work is making an impact. His meticulous research, presented with extensive footnotes and references, allows readers to verify the evidence for themselves.
Undoubtedly, his book addresses the need for diversity in historical narratives, particularly in the education system. He lamented that many young people are ignorant of significant aspects of history, such as the struggles against racism within Britain itself.
“Racism was legal in this country until roughly the same time as in the US, around 1965,” Professor Adi noted. He pointed out that change is a constant in history and that human beings have the power to be agents of change, both politically and socially.
Throughout the interview, Professor Adi also reiterated the importance of recognising the tradition of antiracist activism and solidarity that has persisted throughout British history. He mentioned that ordinary people, often in the face of systemic racism and discrimination, have worked together for the betterment of society.
Re-evaluating the importance of inclusive history
Consequently, Professor Hakim Adi’s situation illuminates the ongoing struggle to make history education more inclusive and representative of diverse experiences. His work challenged the status quo and aimed to rectify historical injustices by giving voice to underrepresented narratives.
While Professor Adi’s immediate future remains uncertain, his legacy and the impact of his work continue to resonate. The controversy surrounding his dismissal serves as a stark reminder of the need for more inclusive history education and the importance of supporting scholars who champion these causes. In a society striving for equity and understanding, history should reflect the richness and diversity of human experiences, and educators like Professor Hakim Adi are essential to making that vision a reality.
- Sign the petition to stop the axing of the MRes History of Africa & the African Diaspora.
- Save the MRes Defence Fund.
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