Some of Thursday's protestors
Students at St Mary's University College, Twickenham are appealing for a meeting with senior management this week, to discuss plans to merge two schools, and to voice their concern over the suspension of the head of one school who had objected to the merger. On Thursday, a group of about 50 students held a silent protest outside a meeting of the board of governors. They were hoping to discuss the plans and wanted to ask for a one year moratorium on the decision, but in spite of a five hour wait, were not allowed to speak with anyone officially.
The merger plan, and suspension of theology professor Dr Anthony Towey has caused shockwaves through the Catholic education world. A number of leading academics at the £8,000 a year college have already resigned in protest. Cambridge Professor Eamon Duffy has resigned as an honorary fellow. Dr Robin Gibbons, a theology lecturer at St Mary's for 20 years has given up his post and Professor Gavin D'Costa has withdrawn from a keynote lecture he was due to give at a conference at St Mary's in 2014. Other staff are on leave.
On Friday, the Chair of Governors, Bishop Richard Moth, issued the following statement:
'At a meeting of St Mary's University College Governors last evening it was decided to go ahead with the establishment of a Centre for the Study of Catholic Theology and to implement the merger of the Schools of Communication, Culture and Creative Arts and Theology, Philosophy and History into a new School of Arts and Humanities.
'The Governors expressed regret over the actions of certain individuals, both those associated with this institution and those whose identity remains unknown, who have been maintaining a campaign of misinformation leading to a distorted picture of recent events.
'St Mary’s continues to be committed to providing research-based high quality teaching in theology and religious studies. This is reflected in buoyant student recruitment in this area and across St Mary's. Our relationships with collaborative partners are very important to the life of St Mary’s and our long tradition of service to the Church will continue to be at the heart of all we do.
'Our new Centre for the Study of Catholic Theology, which will be led by a Research Professor, will prove an exciting context for deep understanding of Catholic thought and its application in our world and will provide a focus for our treasured Catholic ethos across St Mary's.
'St Mary’s is blessed to have a committed and highly effective staff. Our academic record speaks for itself and we are all proud of the unique environment we are able to offer to all our students in a truly stunning location.
'The Governors have total confidence in the Senior Management Team who have worked diligently and in accordance with our constitution, due process and our Catholic ethos in what has been a difficult time as we continue to strive to gain our university title.
'This is a time of great opportunity for St Mary’s and I am confident that the University College will continue to develop and move forward as a centre of excellence.'
+Bishop Richard Moth
Chair of Governors
More than 700 students and lecturers have joined a Facebook campaign opposing the merger and 200 have signed a petition.
In a letter to Bishop Moth the students write:
Dear Bishop Moth,
You have heard the senior management team’s viewpoints, and now it is time that you hear ours. We were hoping to speak with you on Thursday and were highly disappointed when you showed us such little acknowledgement during our silent protest. Therefore, we respectfully ask that you schedule a time to meet with us. It is imperative that you understand why we are so passionately against the merger and why we feel disregarded and disrespected by the senior management team. Since we are the primary stakeholders of St Mary’s, we believe that meeting with us to discuss these matters is your rightful duty.
Please respond forthwith as to when a meeting would suit you.
We look forward to speaking with you soon.
Yours in Christ,
Heather Kuhlman (on behalf of the concerned SMUC students)
See also: Growing concerns as Catholic college plans closure of separate Theology department: http://www.indcatholicnews.com/news.php?viewStory=21066