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Dear Vice Chancellor,
I am writing to express my genuine disbelief at the plans to close the Department of Biblical Studies at Sheffield University. This department has produced by far the most influential and innovative work in the field in the United Kingdom for some decades. As well as being severely detrimental to the current staff and students, this decision have a significant effect on the reputation of the University of Sheffield.
In a world in which the study of religion in UK higher education is increasingly dominated by vacuous confessionalism, and academic rigour is being displaced by increasingly uncritical approaches to religious texts, the loss of the Department of Biblical Studies at Sheffield, and the academic tradition that it represents, is a disaster for both academia and UK civil society.
It is also very, very short-sighted. Not only did the Department score extremely well in the last Research Assessment Exercise, it did this despite the fact that faculties of Theology, which benefit from the historical accident that they are mostly in the most wealthy and socially powerful institutions in the country, skew the RAE so that Theology, rather than Biblical Studies or Religious Studies, is over-rewarded in the assessment.
I am sorry that the management of the University of Sheffield do not appear to understand the significance of your decision, which will have not just national but international consequences. Indeed, this is such a grave matter that I shall be raising this issue directly with Maroa¡ a efaovia, the new European Commissioner for Education.
I hope that, in the light of the arguments of your students and colleagues, and the letters of support from those outside of your institution, that you will reconsider this decision.
Dr Justin Meggitt
University of Cambridge
I am writing to protest against the proposed dissolution of the Department of Biblical Studies. As I am sure you are well aware, the Department of Biblical Studies has ranked among the best in the world for many years, ranking at least equal with those at Harvard, Yale, and other major American universities. The research output of its members has been unrivalled; it has had one of the world's largest and most intense graduate programs; and a reputation for brilliant and innovative teaching. It has contributed hugely to the profession in other ways, such as the publication for many years of some of the most important journal in the field, and the extraordinarily prolific Sheffield Academic Press. The closure of such a world-famous department, whatever the financial benefit, cannot but be deleterious to the quality of your students' education and their intellectual experience, as well as to the international standing of your university.
I understand that the proposal is to assign the remaining members of the department to other departments best suited to their interests, and to develop the research and postgraduate component of the work of the current department in a Biblical Research Centre. I know very well what this requires, from my own experience. It could be a very positive and creative step. The Centre for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto is an obvious analogue. Similarly, at my University, the University of Alberta, with which you have an exchange agreement, the Department of Religious Studies voluntarily transformed itself into an interdisciplinary program. However, for it to work, it requires resources. Graduate students will not be attracted to a research centre with only three members in widely separated fields. Those three members will not be able to supervise a large number of graduate students. In our experience, as in that of the University of Toronto, a research ce!
ntre requires considerable investment, both administrative and academic. There will need to be an administrative superstructure, to coordinate the activities and interests of the centre. Even more important, our experience has been that such a centre needs to be able to compete on equal terms with other units for new positions. For instance, since becoming an interdisciplinary program in 2002, we have gained four new positions. Without the prospect of renewal and the stimulus provided by young creative thinkers the research centre will die, and its members will take positions elsewhere. This would be a tragic loss both to your institution and to our discipline.
I cannot tell what the proposal means in promising that students currently in the program will continue to receive the high quality education that they could expect from taking a degree from one of the world's premier departments of biblical studies. This is clearly an impossibility. Graduate and undergraduate programs are usually symbiotic and mutually enriching. For instance, graduate students learn immensely from their apprenticeship as teaching assistants, while undergraduates benefit from the mentorship of someone there own age. One also wonders what the remaining members of the department, reassigned to new academic homes, will be expected to teach, if there are no students and there is no program.
The timing of this proposal, from our point of view, is very unfortunate, since our Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research was about to initiate an exchange agreement between the Department of Biblical Studies and our Interdisciplinary Program in Religious Studies. To say the least, we will be having second thoughts. This will be a profound loss, both for ourselves and for the graduate students at your University.
With best wishes
Professor of Religious Studies
University of Alberta
Dear Professor Burnett,
I hope you are well at a difficult time for running a British University.
I am very sad to learn of your plans to close the undergraduate part of your Department of Biblical Studies and dissipate its research arm. I hope you are aware that this would lead to the wreckage of a quite outstanding feature of British education. As you know, the Department has a fully justified reputation for research excellence throughout the world, because of the exceptional combination of creativity and independence of mind shown by members of staff in their publications and at academic conferences. These qualities enable them to make an outstanding contribution to British education as well. At a time in their lives when students frequently form and change their views of ideology, morals and everything that matters most, and should learn how to do so, this Departmentâ€™s students are exceptionally free to maintain their views or change them. The staff contribute to this process as they should, by assessing different points of view in an independent manner by means of evidence and argument, with proper awareness also of what we do not know, and they support students regardless of their point of view. England cannot afford to lose a department like this.
With best wishes, and in hope that you may be able and willing to change your minds,
(Professor P.M.Casey, Emeritus Professor of New Testament Studies, University of Nottingham)
Dear Vice-Chancellor prof. Burnett,
It has come to our knowledge that the very existence of Biblical Studies at the University of Sheffield is threatened.
We, four Swedish biblical scholars who have earned our doctorates at the Faculty of Theology, Uppsala University, and a PhD-candidate at the same university, are perplexed at hearing this news. For us, biblical scholarship at Sheffield has for many years been a source of inspiration in our own work and a sign of hope for the future of an ancient academic discipline.
We know that it is neither common nor customary to interfere in the policies and difficult processes of decision-making of a university where we do not work, but when we heard about the threats against biblical studies in Sheffield, we decided that it is not possible for us to keep silent. We therefore now take the liberty to write to you on behalf of the Department of Biblical Studies at the University of Sheffield, its undergraduate students and its scholars.
For us who have signed this letter, biblical scholarship in Sheffield and our contacts with individual scholars working there are of great importance. Their ways of developing biblical studies as cultural studies, the way they are able to combine genuine knowledge of the traditions and the knowledge of their academic discipline with work with the Bible as part of the modern world, shows us what biblical scholarship can be, and challenges us to push our own work further.
And we are convinced that we are not alone. As is well known, all the individual biblical scholars working at the Department of Biblical Studies were recognized as producing international quality research in the recent Research Assessment Exercise, and the Department received high rankings in this assessment, as well as in national Teaching Quality Assessment. The members of the staff of the Department of Biblical Studies in Sheffield working in Sheffield are well known and highly respected by the international community of biblical scholars. They have often had a decisive role to play in the development of their discipline: they contribute to the development of theory and method, they contribute to the development of the discipline from a more narrow focus on historical issues to work with the reception and interpretation of biblical texts in various contexts throughout history and they continuously challenge their colleagues to sharpen their thoughts and consider really im!
portant, fundamental, issues on our fields.
To sum up: If biblical scholarship in Sheffield ceases to exist, it will have consequences for biblical scholarship not only in Britain but also for the international community of biblical scholars.
So, why are we afraid biblical scholarship in Sheffield will cease to exist?
According to the information available to us, the Senate of the University of Sheffield was, at its meeting on 7 October 2009, asked to give its approval to a proposal which, briefly, said that the 2009-10 entry to undergraduate programmes involving Biblical Studies should be the last and that the Department should cease to function as a single entity (although students already doing undergraduate studies will be guaranteed the possibility to complete their studies). The Departmentâ€™s academic staff was to be transferred to the departments in the Faculty of Arts & Humanities most suited to supporting their longer term careers. At the same time, a â€œBiblical Studies research centreâ€ is to be established with a view to providing a focus for postgraduate study and research and a
continued point of contact and collaboration for academic staff
irrespective of their new home departments. Thus, biblical scholarship would have a future at the University of Sheffield, but without any basis in undergraduate programmes and with the biblical scholars shattered at different departments.
At the meeting of Senate, the vote on these proposals was postponed thanks to the intervention of the Sheffield University and College Union and the Union of Student. We are not really sure about the situation at the moment, but a decision to suspend undergraduate admissions for the coming academic year may have been taken already while the other proposals are being reconsidered.
However, we fear that a decision as the one proposed on 7 October will, in fact, mean the end of Biblical Studies in Sheffield. It is well known in the academic world that without an undergraduate programme, where new generations of students can become interested in working within a certain field, it is very difficult to get postgraduate students. In the specific case of Sheffield, it is also well known to the international community of biblical scholars that the research culture of its Department of Biblical Studies is based on its outstanding undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. If the undergraduate programmes cease to exist, one of the very fundaments of the research culture ceases to exist, and the idea of a â€œBiblical Studies Research centreâ€ becomes impossible to carry into effect. Scholars shattered in different departments will also have difficulties forming a community which guarantees the postgraduate students an academic milieu where they can grow into in!
ternationally recognized scholars. We are convinced that good research grows out of ongoing, day to day, formal and informal, relations and interactions between teaching and research, teachers and students, and between scholars, and that such an ongoing interaction needs good structures, such as the structure of a Department with undergraduate and postgraduate programmes as well as a staff of scholars and teachers.
Therefore, we urge you not to dismantle the Department of Biblical Studies by destroying an excellent undergraduate programme and by
setting up a Biblical Studies research centre along the lines sketched in the proposal from 7 October, i.e. a research centre that is not connected with an undergraduate programme that contributes to the research culture.
It is our strong hope the Department of Biblical Studies at the University of Sheffield will be able to continue its work and develop it further, in the service of its students and the international academic community.
Malin Ekstram, PhD candidate in Old Testament, Faculty of Theology, University of Uppsala
Dr. Mikael Larsson,Old Testament studies
Dr. Inger Ljung, docent in Old Testament Exegesis, lecturer at the Faculty of Theology, University of Uppsala
Dr. Lina Sjaberg, Old Testament, currently teaching at the Faculty of Theology, University of Uppsala
Dr. Hanna Stenstram, New Testament, researcher at the Church of Sweden Research Unit, Uppsala
Dear Vice Chancellor
I am writing to you on receiving an outline of the plan to discontinue undergraduate studies in the Biblical Studies Department at Sheffield, its post-graduate endeavours to be continued in a research centre. I understand that the reason for this proposal is to deal with the effects of the economic downturn on Sheffield's finances.
I am sure that your policy-making committeees have dealt very thoroughly with the problem, and that you are left with the sense that there is no serious alternative. But in the present instance, given the world-wide reputation of Biblical Studies at Sheffield, and its power to attract full-fees postgraduate students from overseas, it does seem that desperation may have clouded judgments. Economics, like Biblical Studies, is hardly an exact science! Once the undergraduate base is lost - and we may presume that 'suspension' amounts in effect to permanent closure of a programme, since the world moves on very quickly, and no one will champion a department that has lost its identity - the post-graduate base is bound to follow, so that the entire source of income, which I imagine in Sheffield would more than cover the real costs of staff, will dry up. Once finally made, a decision in favour of closure will be irreversible. I am sure that further consideration, and exploration!
of other alternatives, can lead to a better judgment.
(Emeritus Professor of Ancient Near Eastern Religions,
University of Edinburgh)
Dear Professor Burnett (Vice-Chancellor, University of Sheffield)
I write as a former graduate of the University of Sheffield. I achieved a first class honours degree, with the Faculty of Arts prize, in English Literature in 1990. In 1995 I graduated with a PhD in Biblical Studies (fully funded by the British Academy). I went on to obtain a British Academy Postdoctoral award on the strength of my research work in Sheffield. From there I took up posts at other U.K. universities, while always (until recently) thinking of Sheffield as a place to which I might one day return. I am now a senior lecturer in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at Glasgow. I hold the University of Sheffield in very high esteem and am deeply appreciative of this universityâ€™s role in my intellectual life.
I was therefore extremely shocked to find that the University is severely contracting its operations in the field of Biblical Studiesâ€”indeed to such an extent that the very future of the area at this university seems to be jeopardised. While I could not think more highly of the staff who will head up the proposed research centre (without undergraduate teaching) I donâ€™t think that anyone is under any illusion that a research centre with only three core staff looks like a stable ongoing commitment. The arrangement looks precariously temporary and ad hoc. It also suggests, to the many academics worldwide who know Sheffield through its reputation as a cutting edge contributor to Biblical/Religious Studies, that the university is in deep financial straits. The news is out, so to speak, on the international grapevine. Any new potential PhD students will be well aware of this andâ€”despite the reputations of their potential supervisors at Sheffieldâ€”will be likely to look else!
where. No-one wants to graduate from a programme that is a pale shadow of its former self or, worse, no longer extant.
As a unit of between 6-8 staff, the department of Biblical Studies at Sheffield has always punched well above its weight and its staff numbers. As an undergraduate I participated in the departmentâ€™s lively and well-subscribed undergraduate programme. As a postgraduate I was one of at least 50 PhD students from all over the world. Reputations and contacts built up over many years solidified Sheffieldâ€™s reputation as a world-leader in the fieldâ€”indeed without doubt the major centre for Biblical Studies in the UK. Former graduates sent their students there. Such networks take decades to establish. They are, however, very easily lost.
I urge Sheffield University to re-consider a relatively modest reinvestment, taking a non-viable staff-base of three (plus one temporary junior appointment) back up to six and thus re-securing the departmentâ€™s position as a world-leader in the field. I also urge the re-instatement of the undergraduate programme from whence many of the departmentâ€™s strongest PhD candidates came. Anything less than this quite frankly looks like closing the department down in a staggered phase-out. If this is not the intention, I regret to say that it is bound to be the effect.
Dr Yvonne Sherwood
Senior Lecturer, Department of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Glasgow
Dear Vice-Chancellor Burnett;
I write to add my voice to those urging you to reconsider your decision to close the undergraduate program in biblical studies at Sheffield. I do not know any of the scholars there personally, but I do know the department to be a source of original and provocative scholarship, and any move that threatens its vitality would be a blow to the larger field of biblical studies. I believe that, even today, biblical studies has a vital role in the university as a venue for students to explore their religious beliefs and differences, and as a cornerstone of humanistic study. In the hope that you share that recognition, I urge you to sustain that role at Sheffield.
Daniel E. Koshland Professor of Jewish Culture and History,
Dear Professor Burnett,
I am deeply shocked to learn of the proposal to close the undergraduate programme in the Biblical Studies Department at the University of Sheffield.
My relationship with the Sheffield scholars goes back twenty years. I was an undergraduate at St Andrews when I first encountered the work of Cheryl Exum, David Clines and Philip Davies, and that encounter was very intellectually exciting. It was largely due to reading their work that I became an academic myself, and now of course I know the staff at Sheffield personally. My sense of dismay comes both from my admiration for their work and from my regard for them as colleagues in my discipline.
The Biblical Studies Department at Sheffield has an excellent international reputation. Current and former members of staff are well-known and highly respected in international scholarly societies, including the US-based Society of Biblical Literature. The staff currently employed in the department are some of the most brilliant scholars in the field, and their research is at the frontiers of the discipline. Not only is the department unique in its focus (i.e. its separation of biblical studies from theology); it also plays a significant role in the culture of biblical scholarship. Wherever one goes within the academic world of biblical studies, the department at Sheffield is held in the highest esteem.
The staff currently working in the department at Sheffield are creative and highly original thinkers. They have been influential in the shaping the direction of biblical studies. It is simply unreasonable to expect scholars of this calibre to work within cognate departments rather than within their own discipline, especially if they are not able to teach a biblical studies curriculum. All reputable academics are interested in mentoring the next generation of scholars in their field, and without an undergraduate curriculum such a project cannot even be begun. Moreover, it is surely obvious that a postgraduate programme cannot function without a department. A research centre without a department cannot begin to provide the collegiality and autonomy that academics in any field require in order to produce high quality research.
Implementing the proposal would mean the end of a long tradition of academic excellence in biblical studies at Sheffield. The impact on current staff and students should not be underestimated, and the impact on alumni should also be considered. The impact would also be felt at national and international levels.
The reputation of the department, and its continued high performance in RAE, student survey, and teaching QA, ought to suggest investment rather than dismantling. I urge you to reconsider the proposal, to reverse the decision to suspend admissions for the coming session, and to ensure the continued survival and success of the Department of Biblical Studies.
Dr Sarah Nicholson
Lecturer in Old Testament Studies
University of Glasgow
No. 4 The Square
Glasgow G12 8QQ
Dear Professor Keith Burrnett,
For more than ten years there have been close ties between the Department of Biblical Studies in Sheffield and Biblical Scholars at the Faculty of Theology at the University of Oslo. There has been collaboration in terms of research and publishing at individual and department basis, joint seminars and PhD-collaboration. We have found the Sheffield group of Biblical scholars to be very congenial colleagues, in the forefront of Biblical studies in terms of theory and new methods as well as in approaches to the teaching of the Bible in terms of its relevance for to-days world. In all of these areas I consider the Department to be a leading milieu on a world basis, as well as on a UK basis, as their. It is therefore with disbelief that we have received the news that the University is contemplating, it seems even planning, to close down thedepartment. A strong undergraduate programme is in itself important as a service to the community, with that special contribution to modern teaching of the Bible that Sheffield represents, and it is also a necessary basis for recruitment to graduate programmes. And the suggestion to close the department as a unit of collaborating scholars, moving them
into separate departments, and expect them to be able to run an effective graduate programme, as a "virtual reality," is, in all respect, just a way of closing down an area of study and research which has made the the University of Sheffield highly respected and which is unique in presenting Biblical studies in a non-sectarian, secular context.
We understand the economic difficulties that many universities are facing these days, and realise that it may be difficult to fill all the positions that are now vacant. But I strongly urge you to keep the Department intact as a group of scholars. I am certain that colleagues and friends of the Department will be willing to show support also in the future. I would for instance be happy to come to Sheffield once a year to participate in student seminars, workshops, without honorarium.
Professor of New Testament Studies, University of Oslo
Dear Professor Burnett
Future of Biblical Studies Department
As a graduate of the Biblical Studies Department (1984), I write to ask you to do everything in your power to prevent the closure of the undergraduate programme in that department. As a former student, who benefitted greatly from my time as an undergraduate, I was very surprised to find the future of the programme in jeopardy.
The department has an excellent national and international reputation for both its undergraduate and post-graduate teaching, not to mention its prolific research output over the years of its existence.
In my work in training in a Church of England diocese, I am daily indebted to those who worked hard to enable undergraduates to acquire foundational skills in the area of Biblical Studies. Part of my current work is to enthuse others with the same passion for the study of the Old and New Testament that was passed on to me.
If the programme is lost, I believe that it would not only disadvantage those who want and need to acquire skills provided by the programme, but could also damage the broader profile of the university.
I hope that you will feel able to take my comments seriously â€“ I know that they will be echoed by many who work in varying professional scenarios having been influenced by the sterling work done with undergraduates over the years.
Revd Canon Dr John Lawson
Director of Training, Diocese of Wakefield
Canon for Education, Wakefield Cathedral
Dear Keith Burnett,
The Biblical Studies department at the University of Sheffield is spoken of with reverence and admiration every where I go. That anyone would consider dismantling this beacon of liberal arts education merely as an adjustment to economic hardship is ill-advised and incredibly sad.
I am confident that though you may not have been aware of the international reputation of the department before this October, you are now familiar with its iconic status. The Bible's words, history, and language, and the shifting in perceptions of those words, history, and language have been masterfully demystified by several generations of the University of Sheffield's Biblical Studies faculty. Students graduate with powerful analytical tools sharpened through three years of dissecting such a complex text. The reputation of the faculty cannot be separated from the achievements of the students trained by them.
I understand that as the Pro-Vice Chancellor you are burden with the responsibility of a wider picture whose parameters necessarily are measured in part by monetary cost. I ask that you consider the currency of this letter as a testament to a value that you may not be able to measure. The cost to the University of Sheffield, to the field of Biblical Studies, and to the greater goals of a Liberal Arts education should you carryout your plans to dismantle the department will be substantial.
Dear Professor Burnett,
Colleagues of the Department of Biblical Studies informed me about the proposal to close the undergraduate programme in Biblical Studies at Sheffield, which surprised me very much, because the department has an excellent reputation all over the world and its faculty is of outstanding quality. Our department of Art, Religion and Culture is co-operating with the Sheffield department for many years now, and it would be a great disappointment for us to be forced to end this longstanding relationship, which is beneficial for both sides.
I would strongly advise you to reconsider your decision for three reasons:
(1) The research of the department as well as the graduate education is of an excellent quality. Sheffield graduates frequently continue their career at other academic institutions because they are in the forefront of the field and have been trained very well.
(2) The orientation of research and teaching at the department is unique within the UK: Sheffield is the only place where Biblical Studies are not undertaken in a context where theology is the dominant discipline; this unique approach, with a strong input from religious studies, cultural studies, gender studies and critical theory, cannot be missed! This profile was one of the reasons of my university to honor Prof. David Clines with an honorary doctorate in 2001.
(3) Because of my administrative experience as vice-dean of Humanities at the University of Amsterdam I very much inclined to think that the decision to continue and postgraduate education in one way or another is not realistic unless there is also an undergraduate programme; there has to be a continuous stream of undergraduates in order to have sufficient postgraduates; if the postgraduate programme should rely on students coming from other departments the most likely scenario is that it will remain very small and therefore probably eliminated after a couple of years.
I really hope you will reconsider the proposal to close the Department of Biblical Studies and that you find other solutions for coping with the consequences of the financial crisis for your university.
Prof. Jan Willem van Henten
Jan Willem van Henten
Directeur Graduate School en vice-decaan FGW
Hoogleraar Nieuwe Testament/Professor of New Testament
Universiteit van Amsterdam
As a former student of this department, I was most concerned to hear of the University's decision to cease recruitment to the undergraduate programme, as it would appear inevitable that this would lead to the end of the department altogether. Sheffield University's Biblical Studies Department has a reputation beyond its size for sound scholarship and a pioneering spirit. Sheffield University's Biblical Studies Department has never been content just to go along with the flow, but has been prepared to challenge unjusitifable nostrums and strike out into uncharted territory. And where they go, others usually follow. Unlike many University Departments, they give their students a thorough grounding in the literary and historical study of the Biblical literature, and the chance to learn both Greek and Hebrew, whereas departments which subsume this study into e department of Theology or Religious Studies often seek to teach such a wide range of subjects that students end up knowing!
little about any of them. Students of Sheffield University's Biblica Studies Department get a thorough grounding in the subject, and the staff also offer excellent opportunities to those wishing to pursue further research.
I do hope the Universtiy will be able to see its way clear to reverse this lamentable decision, and to allow the work of such a beacon of academic excellence to continue.
JOHN E STATON (BA Sheffield; DipTheol. Bristol)
Dear Professor Burnett
I am writing to add my voice to the many that have already contacted you concerning the proposals for the Sheffield Biblical Studies department. These are difficult times financially, but what I have read of this decision, and the controversy surrounding its implementation, leads me to conclude that it is a short-term expediency that will not only ruin a world-renowned department and with it a reputation for scholarship that has been painstakingly built up over many years, but will also cause untold damage to the reputation of the university. Or should I say additional damage? Even closing undergraduate intake for a year, as has been proposed as an interim measure, smacks of a one-sided compromise that will only undermine confidence in the course and result in a 'self-fulfilling prophesy'.
It is my hope that, not just for the sake of this department, but for the reputation of the university as a supposedly academic institution, you will have the courage to reverse this deeply unpopular and unwise decision.
Paul Keeble BD
Research Fellow at the Urban Theology Unit Sheffield and the University of Birmingham.
Director of Urban Presence
Dear Vice Chancellor,
I am quite certain you have been receiving far too much e-mail in recent days related to this subject. But I must express my surprise that the issue has come up at Sheffield, which has always struck me as being a vibrant and productive place for Biblical studies. Journals, monograph series, graduates and scholars associated with the school are world renowned. To eliminate undergraduate study altogether would seem rather strange â€“ Iâ€™ve not heard of a university that does excellent graduate work in a field but offers nothing in the way of undergraduate programs in the field in question.
It may be that all of this has been miscommunicated to the public, but having heard from many sources about what is happening, I thought I would emphasize that the planned program elimination is unlikely to do anything other than have a negative impact on the reputation of Sheffield University, at least as far as the academic study of religion is concerned.
Dr. James F. McGrath
Associate Professor of Religion
Dept. of Philosophy & Religion
4600 Sunset Avenue
Indianapolis, IN 46208-3485
Dear Vice-Chancellor Burnett,
I was with great shock and sadness that I read of the planned demise of the Department of Biblical Studies at Sheffield. Publications from Sheffield's Department of Biblical Studies have played a profound role in my formation as a Biblical Scholar here at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary over the last six years. When browsing the overwhelming amount of publications available in Biblical Studies, those issuing from Sheffield always stood out as among the most cutting-edge, well-written, and downright provocative. There is no doubt in my mind that some of the most creative Biblical Studies research has occurred at Sheffield and has served to illumine the field as well as bring the good word of Sheffield's name and reputation to places far and wide. I urgently appeal to you to reconsider the present course of action with regard to the Biblical Studies department.
Sincerely, Rene' Such Schreiner
PhD Candidate, Theology and Ethics
Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
Dear Prof. Burnett,
As a lecturer for New Testament at the University of Aberdeen I urge you to reconsider the plans for Biblical Studies in Sheffield.
The degree offers a unique opportunity to focus on biblical studies.
Furthermore, quality in research and teaching are closely interlinked. The continuation of the postgraduate part without the undergraduate basis will have a detrimental impact on research at all levels.
I hope that you will not proceed with the plans that jeopardise such an important asset to the university and to worldwide biblical studies.
Dr Jutta Leonhardt-Balzer
Lecturer in New Testament
School of Divinity, History and Philosophy
University of Aberdeen
Dear Professor Burnett
I have just been informed that the University intends to close the undergraduate programme of the Biblical Studies Department at Sheffield University. This seems to me a really, really bad idea, when you consider the worldwide reputation and prestige of this department, and the hundreds of searching, thoughtful, well-rounded graduates the department produces. In a world where holy books are regularly misused for partisan, fundamentalist and violent ends, we can ill afford to lose a shining beam of enlightenment such as that shone by the Biblical Studies Department.
Rev Cannon Nick Jowett
Dear Vice Chancellor,
Biblical Studies: Review and Consultation
Following the meeting with the Pro Vice Chancellor yesterday (12th October), at which I was shocked to learn of the unwarranted plans to dismantle the Biblical Studies Department, I wish to add my voice to the numerous protests that the University has already received.
I understand that you have been made aware of the multiple improper procedures adopted in the handling of this matter (including lack of advance consultation with staff and students, the imposition of confidentiality upon staff until after the Senate meeting, misrepresentation of past UG intake levels, based on misinterpretation of data, and premature limitation of UG places offerd for 2009-10), and gratefully acknowledge your undertaking to instigate a proper review and consultation. However, an urgent and outstanding problem remains in the Senate's decision to suspend recruitment of UGs for 2010-11 and 2011-12 (a surprise in itself, as this appears to go beyond the Senate's remit as a forum for debate!) If this is implemented, it will effectively cause the demise of the department, as its survival depends upon the maintenance of the delicate balance between UG and research departments. Among other reasons is the fact that many PGs depend upon teaching internships to gain t!
he experience necessary to compete in the employment market for academic posts, and if this becomes unavailable at Sheffield prospective PGs will go elsewhere. I would therefore respectfully request that, as a matter of extreme urgency, the plans for recruitment for the next two academic years be reinstated immediately.
As Vice Chancellor, you cannot be unaware of the international renown of the Sheffield Biblical Studies Department, surely a significant asset to the University, not only for the prestige it affords, but also since this fact attracts students from all over the world, thus increasing the University's revenues. I would suggest, therefore, that the closure of the department would be significantly detrimental to the University best interests.
Val Taylor (Current PhD Student)
Dear Professor Burnett,
With great concern I heard that the Department of Biblical Studies at the University of Sheffield should be dissolved and that the Department should cease to function as a single entity.
The consequences would be a great loss for the international community of Biblical Studies.
The Biblical Department in Sheffield is one of the international leading research institutions in its academic field. Within the last decades, many new and inspiring trends of research emerged from Sheffield and lead the way for other researchers to follow.
In order to maintain this high standard, a department with shared research goals is required. Once the department's academic staff is transferred to other departments in the Faculty of Arts & Humanities, this will barely be possible.
Without the structure of a department the appeal for students from abroad will also decrease. One of the unique characteristics of the department is its sole focus on Biblical Studies without Theology as a leading discipline. Hence the Department of Biblical Studies in Sheffield is able to offer more varied and more specialised approaches to Biblical Studies within one department than most other institutions are.
Furthermore the training of young scholars is essential for the future of any Department and contributes substantially to the quality of its research. To put an end to an undergraduate programme of Biblical Studies means putting an end to high quality education and diminishes the possibility to further talented young students in this field of research. Only a constant undergraduate education can guarantee a sufficient number of postgraduates.
The high quality teaching of the Department of Biblical Studies is also recognized internationally, with Sheffield graduates usually being able to continue their career at other research institutions.
Therefore I emphatically ask you to reconsider the dissolution of the Biblical Department at Sheffield University.
Let me add my voice to those who have already expressed themselves regarding the plans to close the world-class Department of Biblical Studies. I appreciate the financial difficulties your institution is in, but abandoning a department of the calibre and reputation of this one can only bring short term gains at a very long term cost to the university.
The Department of Biblical Studies not only has a tremendous legacy of research on the part of its faculty members but an impressive tradition of inspiring innovative critical research by other academics around the world due to the many global contacts the department had fostered over the years. Added to this is the respect the department has earned in terms of its high quality pedagogical methods.
I spend one year in the 1990s in Sheffield after completing my PhD in biblical studies at the University of Edinburgh, turning my dissertation into a manuscript for publication in the (then) Sheffield based Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series. The Department of Biblical Studies embodied the highest ideals of the open exchange of ideas and I was made more than welcome to join in the seminars although I had no formal affiliation with the university (my wife was studying in the library department). I found my experiences in the department to be inspiring and highly educational and some of the contacts I made have lasted to this day.
In closing, I would ask that you reconsider this counter-productive decision, the ultimate academic cost to the University of Sheffield would greatly outweigh any financial savings.
Dr. James R. Linville
Chair, Department of Religious Studies,
University of Lethbridge,
Lethbridge AB, Canada.
Dear Professor Burnett
I am Lecturer in Hebrew Bible at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, and am writing to express my deep concern at the possible termination of the undergraduate programme in Biblical Studies at the University of Sheffield, and the dispersal of the academic staff in Biblical Studies to other departments in the Faculty of Arts. On a number of levels, the effective closure of the department would be a very great loss indeed, not simply to the University of Sheffield, but to the international community of Biblical Scholars.
Although I was never an undergraduate at Sheffield myself, I completed MA (1997) and PhD (2001) degrees in the department, and during my time there I had the privilege of teaching Hebrew to undergraduates (1997-2000), as well as contributing to the Dictionary of Classical Hebrew project. The undergraduate community formed a vital part of an exceptionally vibrant department. Undergraduates, an international community of research students, and several of the world's leading biblical scholars together contributed to a uniquely stimulating environment for academic study. It is very difficult to see how the department's international reputation, built up over more than 60 years, can be adequately maintained if these three elements are split up.
Sheffield has long had a reputation for producing some of the most innovative research in Biblical Studies in the world. This is not simply due to the outstanding research published by the academic staff, but to the entire ethos of the department. This is what has drawn students at all levels to study at Sheffield, many of them, like myself, going on themselves to academic careers at universities in the UK and overseas. The opportunity that the department has offered to postgraduates to teach in the undergraduate programme has proved enormously beneficial. The very high value of our Sheffield doctorates notwithstanding, had I and my fellow doctoral students not had this opportunity to teach, it would have been exceptionally difficult, if not impossible, for us to move on into academic careers. I have now held academic posts in the West Indies and New Zealand, my teaching and research experience at Sheffield proving decisive in obtaining both posts.
Dismantling the department would not simply have serious consequences within the University of Sheffield, but would have much wider consequences for the Biblical Studies guild as a whole. I know that I am not alone in holding these concerns. Over the last few days the internet has been alive with expressions of disquiet from scholars the world over whose academic work has been inspired by the work done in the department at Sheffield. Please do not allow this to come to an end by dismantling the department.
Lecturer in Hebrew Bible
University of Otago, New Zealand
Dear Professor Burnett
I wish to express my extreme concern about proposals concerning the Biblical Studies Department at the University of Sheffield, which I believe are tantamount to gradual closure. I am a Sheffield graduate, having graduated with First Class Honours in Biblical Studies in 2008. The teaching in the Department is excellent and I never fell below first class marks in any paper or exam during my three years. I am now well launched into MPhil/PhD part-time in the Department. I am proud to be a member of such a world-famous academic department and I feel privileged to be taught by such eminent lecturers.
I am appalled to hear of plans to close down the undergraduate section of our Department. I feel that assurances of the continuation of post-graduate provision are hollow. I do not believe that a healthy postgraduate constituency can exist without its undergraduate counterpart. If the closure of the undergraduate section of the Department is allowed to continue, then it is inevitable that the postgraduate part will die. I cannot believe that a university with the reputation of Sheffield would allow one of its most famous departments to become extinct. The loss to the world is unimaginable.
Of particular concern to me is the proposal that the intake of undergraduates for 2010-11 be suspended. I would urge that, as a first step, this undergraduate intake be reinstituted immediately before potential students decide to go elsewhere. Please do all in your power to make sure that undergraduate and postgraduate students may continue to benefit from, and offer benefit to, the University of Sheffield in the Biblical Studies Department.
I am shocked and outraged that Sheffield University would even consider shutting down one of the finest Biblical Studies Departments in the world.
It should also be noted sir, that I am mostly at odds with the department's presuppositions, methodologies and outcomesâ€”but nonetheless very much value their contribution to the world of Biblical Studies.
I ask you politely, dear sir, to do all that you can to save the Biblical Studies Department at Sheffield University in the best interest of the world (and I do not exaggerate here!).
Bill Anderson PhD (Glasgow)
Bill Anderson PhD
Associate Professor of Religious Studies
Concordia University College of Alberta
Dear Prof. Burnett
I heard alarming news from a colleague in UK about closing of the undergraduate programme at Sheffield. I am a Research Fellow in Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies and want to express my concern about the plans. Scholars in Helsinki know Sheffield for its excellent scholarship. Not a minor example of this is that two of the invited speakers in the next international congress of IOSOT (International Organization for the Study of the Old Testament), to be held in Helsinki 2010, come from Sheffield, that is, Diana Edelman and Cheryl Exum (see http://www.helsinki.fi/teol/pro/iosot/general/programme.htm). The continuation of biblical studies is vital, not only for the University of Sheffield, but for wider international scholarship and community.
Jutta Jokiranta, PhD
Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies
University of Helsinki
Dear Professor Keith Burnett,
I am writing to join the many who are expressing their shock and dismay at the proposed plans to reduce the size of the Biblical Studies department at the University of Sheffield.
I appreciate that you will have received an abundance of messages from high-profile academics and alumni who are much better placed than I to comment on the impact such changes would have worldwide and for the university itself. However, as a recent graduate of the department (Sept. '05 - July '08) I feel I must speak to defend the undergraduate programme that is under such severe threat.
I immensely enjoyed the time I spent studying in the department. I found the environment extremely intimate and inviting with students enjoying a special close relationship with lecturers that served only to inspire us in our studies. It was a privilege to study under renowned scholars, some of whom I am sad to hear are leaving, who were engaged in such pioneering research. The unique programme itself gave me invaluable skills relating to critical and literary interpretation as well as stretching my abilities and very perceptions of the world through the assignments that were set.
The mix of undergraduates themselves were unique within the university. During my time at Sheffield I was heavily involved with Student Representation within the Halls, being a secretary in one of the Junior Common Room (JCR) Committees. In my role I brushed shoulders with many bright individuals studying many of the universities other award-winning subjects. However, none seemed to so deeply appreciate the honour of being a member of such a centre of excellence, as those within the Biblical Studies department. People from all races, religions and political leanings delighted themselves in engaging with a text that has shaped the course of the world from an academic approach that not only led the way in studying the Bible's text, but also its' context, historical impact and interpretation.
The undergraduates themselves, as I am sure many of the current and former teaching staff would agree, contributed a great deal. The broad mix of students, each with their own unique perspectives and each with their own unique dissertation topics, stretched the work of the department, its' scholars and the field itself in an invaluable way.
Though I feel the current predicament of the department alone is a great source of distress I cannot plead with you enough to reconsider the proposed plans to cease undergraduate admissions as I fear it would only be destructive for all parties affected.
Thank you for your time.
Dear Professor Burnett
Ever since I entered the field of Old Testament studies as an undergraduate, I have known the Biblical Studies Department at Sheffield University as a by-word for excellence, erudition, academic rigour and, most importantly, originality and cutting-edge thought. These unique qualities have contributed not only to the achievements of Sheffield's own students but have indirectly benefited many who have been fortunate enough to be taught by its alumni and former academic staff. It seems inconceivable that such a source of learning should be under threat of closure.
In a wider context, I believe that Biblical Studies is a discipline that provides a powerful force against the uninformed and irresponsible biblical interpretation that is so often peddled today. Current topics need to be addressed by those who have the necessary academic integrity and analytical skills to bring about informed debate. These, our future scholars, are todays undergraduates and therefore Sheffield University has a vital contribution to make in preventing the inevitable dumbing down that would result from this proposed closure. The world of Biblical Studies would be seriously the poorer.
I would therefore urge the Senate of the University of Sheffield to reject any proposals that would result in the closure of the Universities Biblical Studies Department or the discontinuation of its undergraduate program.
With best wishes,
Dear Professor Burnett,
With deep sorrow and great disappointment I learned about the news concerning the closure of the Department of Biblical Studies of the University. I am a PhD graduate in 1997 and have always been proud of being a graduate from the Department. The Department has been instrumental in all these years in training and providing excellent educational service to many people who are keen in the Biblical studies from all over the world, and it is definitely a very sadden news to us that the University has planned to close down the Department for unknown reason and has not taken step to inform both the students and the public about the rationale behind the closure.
>From what I learn from my colleagues and through the data provided by the students, it appears to me that the Department is a few in the Arts Faculty that is not in deficit. The faculty consists of renown scholars who are good at both teaching and research. In the past, as a PhD student, I had attended a course offered by Professor Cheryl Exum on the subject of Biblical Criticism (with application to the Book of Judges), and up to now I must confess that this is one of the best lectures that I have had so far. The research done those day under Professor Clines is both inspiring and thought-stimulating which proves to be a life-long learning experience for me. Thus, I wonder why such a good Department is forced to close down, and afterall, the Department is contributing very positive to the development of the University as a whole.
I recalled a time when I shared a meal with my fellow student from Germany during my Sheffield days. I asked him, of all courses, why did he choose Biblical Studies, and his answer is astonishingly clear: because Biblical Studies is the 'Prince of all the Disciplines'. As the students remarked over the web on 'Save the Biblical Studies', the Department of Biblical Studies of the University is the only place where one can learn about the Bible in the whole United Kingdom, it creates in me a sense of uneasiness and unjustice when the University has taken step to close the Department. Thus, I am writing this email to appeal to you to reconsider the decision and to allow the Department to operate and take in new students.
(PhD graduate 1997)
Dear Professor Keith Burnett
I am sending this note to ask you to reconsider the plan for closing the undergraduate programs at the department of Biblical Studies at your university. I consider it a responsibility for higher educational institutions in the werstern world to continue providing the bibilcal / theological education not only for those in UK but also for people overseas.
With best wishes,
School of Theology, Kwansei Gakuin University
1-155 Ichiban-cho Uegahara
Nishinomiya 662-8501 Japan
Dear Professor Burnett
I am writing to ask you in your role as Vice Chancellor to reconsider the decisions being made about the future of the Biblical Studies department at Sheffield.
I was an undergraduate student from 1993-1996 who finished with a BA (Hons) in Biblical Studies.
When I arrived at Sheffield I really didnâ€™t know what I was getting into. I was surprised to find that my lecturers were keen to knock my Christian faith into touch rather than encourage it. At times, I felt bludgeoned as they tried to get us beyond crass faith statements into an exploration of the underlying context, worldview, language and history of these incredible ancient documents. They weren't always easy days for me academically.
However, looking back I would not change those three years for the world. They carefully sliced away from me a simplistic way of looking at Scripture and gave me tools to look at any of the Biblical texts and think about them in a more serious manner. They equipped me with a knowledge of Hebrew and Greek that has proved invaluable down the road. They taught me about historical criticism and lots of other types of -isms that have helped me understand something of what texts meant to their writers and first readers, and thus what those texts might mean to me now.
I didnâ€™t have any sense at that point in my life that I might end up in church leadership, called to be a priest in the Church of England but the work I did then has proved invaluable now. I meet too many people, I see too many Christian leaders who need a deeper understanding of the Bible than they have. People who have a penchant for saying â€˜The Bible clearly saysâ€¦â€™ when the Bible doesnâ€™t say lots of things â€˜clearlyâ€™. We need academic institutions and world class academics like the University of Sheffieldâ€™s Biblical Studies department and the world of academic biblical study will be severely impoverished without them.
Taking away the undergraduate programme not only endangers the future of your postgraduate work but it leaves the UK without any first-class universities engaging in the kind of work that has had such a major impact on my life and understanding of Biblical texts.
Carrying out these plans would be the most heinous of crimes. I urge you and your colleagues to reconsider.
With all good wishes
Rev David Green
Curate, St Philip & St James Church, Walderslade
Diocese of Rochester
Dear Professor Keith Burnett,
I heard about the downsizing of the Biblical Studies Dept. and then most recently, the Senate's proposal regarding the closure of both the undergraduate and postgraduate divisions. This is indeed--very, very alarming news!
Sheffield's biblical studies Dept. has attracted students from all over the world, from N. America as well as many countries in Asia. Some 18 years ago, I picked Sheffield as my first choice to pursue my doctoral studies in Old Testament because of its prestige as an internationally known university, and for its broad range of world-class senior scholars. Sheffield has in turn graduated internationally known biblical scholars who carry on its flame in senior administrative and teaching positions in places all over the world. I supported the Sheffield recruitment banquets/conference in Toronto (Canada) every year with much pride and appreciation--as someone who has been shaped and trained by the department both academically and professionally.
I would like to join the others, my fellow graduates from the Dept. of Biblical Studies, to urge the Senate for your serious reconsideration in preserving our Department. With our intentional and continuous efforts in recruitment, Sheffield's biblical studies Dept. will continue to draw postgraduate and undergraduate overseas students in the next decades to come.
Barbara M. Leung Lai (PhD, 1997)
Barbara M. Leung Lai, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Old Testament
Director, Chinese Ministry Program
25 Ballyconnor Court,
Canada M2M 4B3
Dear Professor Burnett:
I am distressed to learn that the University of Sheffield is contemplating a plan that will result, in effect, in the dissolution of
the Department of Biblical Studies and the dispersal of the department's talented staff and energy into other areas of the Arts and Humanities Faculty.
I do not presume to comment on the difficult issues that you and the University must face that would have brought this plan to the forefront of your deliberations.
I can only speak to the worldwide impact that such a demise would have on field of Biblical Studies.
Over the years, I have lectured at Sheffield, collaborated with its distinguished faculty on research and publishing projects, and served on the editorial boards of scholarly journals that were established and nurtured by faculty from Sheffield's Department of Biblical Studies. Indeed, the influential scholarly output of this group of talented scholars has made Sheffield an internationally famous center of concentrated, innovative, multi-disciplinary and non-sectarian study of the Bible. In this respect, the University of Sheffield has been like no other University in the UK and in North America. The Society of Biblical Literature, founded in the late nineteenth century, can boast more output of research and publication in Biblical Studies, but only because it is a society of professional scholars whose home bases are in universities and colleges throughout the world, many of them distinguished.
I urge you not to diminish the profile of the University of Sheffield by going forward with the proposals in the form they now have. I hope that you and your colleagues will find a way to allow the multi-disciplinary work in Biblical Studies at the University to continue as a vibrant contributor to your students' education and to world-wide scholarly knowledge.
It is difficult for me to see that a post graduate research institute as proposed, with a dispersed and skeletal staff, and lacking a clearly identifiable home in undergraduate and post graduate education, will prove to be an adequate successor to the innovative tradition of Biblical studies in Sheffield.
Burke O. Long
William R. Kenan Professor of Religion and the Humanities
Research Professor of Religion
Dear Professor Burnett,
I am writing to you concerning the shocking news which has just reached me concerning the future of the Biblical Studies department at Sheffield. The proposal to suspend undergraduate admissions for the year 2010/11 is baffling to say the least and will most certainly be damaging to the University of Sheffield's reputation as a whole. A solid undergraduate intake is integral to the vitality of any university department. Should this proposal go ahead, the loss will not be restricted to the undergraduate level alone but will also be felt at the postgraduate level where, deprived of valuable teaching experience, numbers will begin to dwindle. In short, suspending undergraduate admissions for 2010/11 would be a death knoll for the department.
I myself was never a student (undergraduate or postgraduate) at Sheffield, but I have the great privilege (and it is that - a privilege) of being on close terms with many who have worked and studied at the department - both those who are a product of the excellent undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, and those who have worked hard to develop and maintain those programmes. I can assure you that, around the world and at all international gatherings of biblical scholars, the Sheffield department and the staff who run it are viewed with nothing but the very highest esteem. It is highly regarded as a place of excellence, both in terms of research and teaching, and has significant international standing within the academic community.
The proposal to suspend undergraduate admissions for 2010/11 is both short-sighted and dangerously damaging, not only to the department itself but to the reputation of the University of Sheffield as a whole. I strongly urge you to reconsider.
Dr Matthew A. Collins
Research Fellow - Dept. of Theology and Religious Studies
University of Bristol, UK.
Editor - Walter de Gruyter Publishers
To Whom It May Concern,
I am very disappointed to hear that the university is considering eliminating the undergraduate programme in Biblical Studies. Of course, much of this comes from feelings of intellectual solidarity and personal feelings of affection I have for the people in the department I have come to know over the last several years, but I am moved to write to you because of a deeper and more important consideration.
Any reasonable person recognizes today that the world is becoming increasingly polarized and polemical in religious matters. The Bible is in danger of being molested by radicals who wish to see a particular application of its words and ideas trump modern traditions of diplomacy, pluralism and civil dialogue, and acts of aggression and even violence between hard-line faith groups are regularly justified by relatively Medieval interpretations and applications of Biblical doctrine. On the other hand, the Bible is in danger of being completely abandoned by communities frustrated with the radical religious zeal, angered by the lack of intellectual engagement of its contents and thus finding themselves more and more isolated from a meaningful interaction with it as an important testament to human culture.
The Biblical Studies department at University of Sheffield has always held a paramount position in mediating between these two extremes. It has been a bastion of careful, responsible consideration of the Biblical tradition, recognizing its great merit in the shaping of political and social worlds over the last two thousand years even as it has regularly promoted research that brings critical questions to bear on that legacy. The Biblical scholars who have emerged from the department in the last 30 years stand at the forefront of the field in this regard, providing countless waves of students with the opportunity to find a true golden mean in approaching the pages of the Bible, respecting the place of its contents in the formation of currents of piety while challenging the thinking person to be aware of what that means in the shifting ideological landscape of our time.
The department has also done a tremendous service to the study of the Bible, Judaism, Christianity, and the ancient and classical world within the discipline itself. We find ourselves all too often falling into discreet "camps" of scholarship: researchers in North America quite regularly ignore the major innovations of Continental European work, and the Europeans often times reject out of hand critical insights produced by North American scholars who arrive at their conclusions through the use of intellectual models that have lost popularity on the Continent. The scholarship cultivated and promoted by the Biblical Studies department at Sheffield has regularly helped to bridge the gap between these geographically oriented scholarly trends, producing an enormous amount of publications that have helped English-language audiences in North America become familiar with what is happening across the Atlantic, and thereby allowing these scholarly audiences a chance to engage in a larger discussion of mutual benefit throughout the guild. The roster of contributors to the publications sponsored by the department is truly representative of academic diversity within the field, and the department has regularly brought those diverse modes of thinking into contact with each other.
It is my sincere hope that Biblical Studies at Sheffield will remain a priority and an integral part of the undergraduate experience. Students entering through the university will emerge with a truly heightened sense of awareness and appreciation for a collection of texts that remains absolutely essential to the Western cultural experience, private and public, religious and secular. To deny students this aspect of the university experience is to sacrifice a fundamental aspect of intellectual discourse that we, in the academic world, are charged with preserving.
Director of Jewish Studies
Temple University Department of Religion
Dear Professor Burnett
The news that the university is considering closing the Undergradute Studies programme in Biblical Studies has circulated around the world and has shocked the international community of biblical scholars. I understand that the latest news is that no final decision has been made but that no undergraduate students are to be taken on in the academic year 2010/11. I am writing to express my dismay that such a proposal is even being considered.
As you are aware, the Department is the only one in the UK dedicated to Biblical Studies. As such it has attracted a number of undergraduate students who have gone on to doctoral studies at the University of Sheffield and now find themselves in senior positions in UK universities. I myself, although I was not an undergraduate at Sheffield, enjoyed the high quality of teaching offered to undergraduates when I did my Postgraduate Diploma there in 1992/3. I was so impressed with the Department that I continued with an MA and then a PhD.
Furthermore, the Department enjoys an international reputation that belies its small size. This undoubtedly attracts international postgraduates, and I appreciate that the postgraduate programme is not currently under threat, but I know from experience that many from North America are attracted because it gives them an opportunity to engage in undergraduate teaching at a first class institution. Without this teaching experience they will find it very hard to compete for jobs back in North America. I predict that, in a very short time, should the UG programme close, then many international PGs will be dissuaded from applying thus also putting the PG programme in jeopardy.
The loss of Biblical Studies at Sheffield would have a profound effect internationally and I am not sure whether you and your colleagues are sufficiently aware of the esteem in which the Department is held, not only by alumni like myself, but by the community of biblical scholars worldwide. I, therefore, urge you to reconsider.
Dr Lloyd K Pietersen
Senior Lecturer and Research Co-ordinator in New Testament Studies
University of Gloucestershire
Dear Vice Chancellor
You will already have received numerous letters and emails expressing concern at the uncertainty over the future of the Department of Biblical Studies, I am sure, but I am so disturbed at the prospect of my discipline losing one of its leading centres, not only in the UK but worldwide, that I could not sit on my hands. I appreciate there are economic realities, but this department is too important to be permitted to fade out of existence. Single handedly, over the course of the last thirty years, it has changed the shape of the discipline beyond all measure. As one of the only places in the UK where the Bible can be studied in its own right, it is a distinctive and unique entity which has contributed some of the greatest developments in the discipline and been home to some of the leading biblical scholars of not only the current generation, but indeed of living memory. I am not sure that the university leadership realises how much of a tragedy its loss would be to the world of biblical scholarship and actually to the university itself.
For all the review panel talks of a closure (now suspension) of the undergraduate programme only, and that only after the present students have graduated, we all know that it is going to be impossible for a programme in the field to be sustained with just four staff and no departmental cohesion as such. To proceed with the suspension would be unnecessary, and more than that a disastrous blow to the ongoing development of Biblical Studies internationally. I am just one of many graduates of the department whose life was transformed by my studies there, and I owe an incredible debt to some of the genuinely remarkable scholars who have worked in the department. The university's mission and agenda cannot be well served by closing a department with such a long standing and continuing tradition of excellence in teaching and research. You should be proud of its achievements and keen to foster its future growth and development.
I am incredibly proud to be a Sheffield graduate and owe my career as well as my personal development to this department and its staff and faculty. It could have had, and can still have, a bright future. Please do not throw it away on a whim.
Andrew Davies MA (1994) PhD (1998)
Dear Prof. Burnett,
Warm greetings from the US. Let me introduce myself. I'm Dr. Sam Tsang, associate professor of New Testament in Hong Kong Baptist Theological Seminary, the third largest theological college in Hong Kong with a full postgrad program. The reason I'm writing is to urge you to reconsider the woe the university has put the biblical studies dpt under.
I"m a Sheffield PhD grad. Quite honestly, I can say that I would not have my present post in such strigent economic times as these, if I was not a Sheffield PhD. As an international student, i chose Sheffield because of its strong reputation for biblical studies. As of now, I have seen that the dpt has dwindled down quite a lot from its peak. This is not good in attracting revenue from international students. Once you lose your international student base, the fee will suffer. If you think the economic woes are bad now, wait till you start losing your international constituents. You have no idea what "bad" would look like.
I urge you to begin inviting international scholars to come back on board so that your post grad programs will become strong again. Don't penalize our dpt simply because other dpt's have failed to pull their financial weight. We're one of the strongest dpt in the world. Now is the time to show leadership in giving the international community a place of excellent scholarship. While the other colleges will dwindle down their faculty, our dpt can absorb potential students. Please do not let all the hard work over the years, whether by F. F. Bruce, Anthony Thistleton, John Rogerson and finally David Clines, go to waste. It takes little to destroy a dpt but it would take years to to build up anything substantial. Remember, momentum downhill is always faster than up. Please reconsider, I beg you.
Associate Prof. of New Testament
Hong Kong Baptist Theological Seminary NT Dpt.
Dear Professor Burnett
I am writing to you to express my grave concerns about recent developments in the Department of Biblical Studies. The radical reduction in the number of lecturing staff with, as I understand it, no hope of an increase, beggars belief. I am concerned not simply because I am an alumnus of that department, but also because of what I and anybody else in my discipline knows: Biblical Studies at Sheffield is a centre of excellence with an international reputation. In accepting my place to undertake doctoral research I turned down offers from four other UK universities, including Cambridge. I have never regretted choosing Sheffield. In Professor David Clines I had a supervisor who stretched me intellectually and personally in ways which I doubt could have been achieved if I had gone elsewhere. I refer here to the fact that Sheffield has a reputation for innovation, tackling issues in the discipline which other institutions simply do not do. The good number of high quality st!
aff with national and international reputations has enhanced this, with students being stimulated by the range of ideas which can only be generated when one achieves critical mass. The influence of the department also extends beyond those who have been students in the department. Its academic publishing arm has a high reputation and helps to put Sheffield on the Biblical Studies map. This too must now be endangered.
The demise of the undergraduate programme is particularly worrying. I find it difficult to see how the stump of a department that is left can possibly survive in the medium to long term. Surely it is necessary for a department's postgraduate offerings to be built on a thriving undergraduate base. I realise that no department wants to take cuts, but is it really necessary to take such draconian measures as these that so negatively affect one of the jewels in Sheffield's crown?
Yesterday I received a communication from the university concerning the Alumni Fund. It said, 'If you feel that Sheffield opened doors for you in life, please help us to keep them open for future Sheffield students.' Unfortunately, it seems that for Biblical Studies those doors are being shut.
I am proud to be a Sheffield alumnus and promote the university whenever I am able. However, I am deeply concerned about the future of my old department.
Laurence A. Turner PhD
Principal Lecturer in Old Testament Studies
Director of Research Degrees
Dear Professor Burnett,
Having written a fairly lengthy, considered, and extremely critical letter concerning your institution's playing to the "mod" gallery on this matter, and having "lost" it in the final throes of this site's functioning, I find myself at a loss for more time, despite the importance of this matter.
If you, and your colleagues do not have a proper understanding of the current state of Ancient Near Eastern Studies, both in terms of the ancient texts that are appearing daily (!) and in terms of the radical reinterpretations of (in my case) the Hebrew Bible made possible through the agency of incrementally sophisticated textual and archaeological research, particularly in terms of the emergence of the monarchy and state economies in the Levant, and especially in Early Israel, then I am forced to submit to you that you (a) are winding down the curtain upon an exceptionally vital and increasingly revolutionary field of humanistic studies, in which, with a couple of notable self-serving lapses, you have had a very fine international reputation, and (b) you are turning your back on some 250 years of Western Civilization's post-Enlightenment scholarship into the roots of Western Civilization, the source of much of our literature, a great deal of our law, and a huge amount of the cultural heritage which shaped who we are today and who we will be tomorrow. Again, "welcome to the Mod Club!" That's as much a shame as if you were to turn your back upon the physical evolution of mankind, something really very interesting and currently _again_ revolutionary, that, really, however, tells us _very little_ of "who we are today."
My feeling is that, if you really do this, Sheffield will cease to play any significant role in a good number of things that concern not only the general public (despite media hype), but also a large proportion of the academic world, from linguistics to hereditary inheritance of social roles (e.g., the hereditary aspects of the Cohenite Priesthood, currently a hot-button topic in genetic research)...and that's a shame, considering Sheffield's reputation in this area. Granted that a small department cannot do as much as a larger one, but it _does_ keep you "in the field", and opens up windows for students available in no other way. By the time things get down to the popular level, or secondary-school levels, they simply aren't interesting any more.
John S. Holladay, Jr.
Professor Emeritus, the Archaeology of Syria-Palestine
Near and Middle Eastern Studies
University of Toronto
I am shocked and appalled to hear that the university of Sheffield is considering closing the Department of Biblical Studies. This department is one of the finest in the world of its kind, and to put an end to this magnificent resource would be a great loss to the world.
I studied there as an undergraduated 3 years ago, and the support of the staff, the research skills that I learnt, the ability to critically analyse sources, and the pure enjoyment of going into such depth about such little known topics have been priceless in my subsequent career working within International NGO's. It was through the hugely respected reputation for research that the Biblical Studies department enjoys so widely that I was accepted onto a worldwide acclaimed Masters degree at the Institute for Development Studies.
This is NOT an irrelevant department. There is no other department in the world like this one, where people have the opportunity to learn about the bible and its fascinating history in a secular environment. The opportunity to learn about the historical and literary aspects without hidden 'religious' agenda is what makes this department so unique. Please, do not remove this invaluable resource, or deny this opportunity to future undergraduates who want to delve into this magnificent world.
Professor Keith Burnett,
I am a graduate student of Bible & Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I am alarmed to hear that the very fine establishment of the Biblical Studies Department at Sheffield University is in the process of being closed.
I write to you to ask that you attempt to do all in your power to protect and maintain this excellent Department. They are in my opinion, publishing not only superior research, but are the main hub of biblical learning in the UK.
Bronwen A. Manning-Rozenblum
Dear Professor Burnett,
I have just heard about the pending decision to close the Undergraduate Studies programme in the Department of Biblical Studies at Sheffield. I have to say that I am rather shocked that the possibility is even being considered by the University and I am writing to you as Vice-Chancellor to urge you to reconsider the proposal being tabled.
While I fully understand the temptation to try to delete the unprofitable side of things (UGs) in favour of trying to retain the profitable (PGs) in the current financial climate, the formulation of this decision seems to me to betray a dangerously inadequate understanding of the relationship between the two sides of this internationally renowned Department. As a former undergraduate in Sheffield who went on to do a PhD in that Department and who is now a senior lecturer at a Russell Group university, I am myself an example of how the UG stream has in the past contributed, and does at present contribute, to the Department’s PG and research strength. Perhaps more serious in terms of retaining current levels of international funding for PGs, however, is the ever-present interest of international students, and especially North American ones, in gaining teaching experience before they return home. Since they will be competing for jobs against those who have several years of teaching experience gained during an American PhD programme, the removal of any possibility that they might gain some UG teaching experience in Sheffield means that eventually they simply won’t come at all.
In my opinion, if the UG side falls, then the PG side is unlikely to last for long at its current levels. The University risks dooming the whole Department to a long and slow death. Given its international prominence, this clearly has the potential to be a public relations disaster of a very high order. Can I again urge you to reconsider this decision as a matter of urgency.
Yours sincerely,Dr William John Lyons
Department of Theology and Religious Studies
University of Bristol
Dear Prof. Burnett
I am saddened to hear that the Sheffield Biblical Studies undergraduate programme is under imminent threat of closure.
As an arts graduate of the 1980s, I remember well the threat that short term economics brings to long term academic excellence.
If you lose it, you wonâ€™t get it back.
Please think again
Dear Professor Burnett,
I should like to add my voice to those who have already written to you to voice their concern about the projected closure of the undergraduate teaching in Biblical Studies at Sheffield, with all that implies for the health of the Department.
Unlike many of your correspondents, I am not a graduate of the excellent Biblical Studies Department at Sheffield, but I have been an admirer of the work done by a succession of fine scholars over many years. I am struck by the number of post-holders in Biblical Studies, nationally and internationally, who have been students of the Department.
A reputation such as that Sheffield has gained over the years is not achieved lightly; neither should it lightly be cast aside. The Department of Biblical Studies at Sheffield University holds a specific place within the academy â€“ in an age in which the threat of fundamentalisms of many kinds is more than ever evident, I can hardly think of a more important discourse to nurture, for undergraduates and post-graduates alike.
I should like to urge you and your colleagues to reconsider the decision to cease the intake of undergraduates in this subject area; the Department has the support of many scholars and graduates of Sheffield worldâ€“wide. I know that tough financial conversations are being held all over the sector currently, but this Department, with its fine reputation for teaching and research, is of vital importance in the quest to educate people to read texts intelligently and with critical acumen.
Bridget Gilfillan Upton
Dear Professor Burnett,
I join with the many who have already written to express their disappointment and surprise at the decision to close Sheffield's undergraduate programme in Biblical Studies. I am sure the magnitude of the response has made clear the esteem in which this department is held around the world, and must in and of itself raise questions about the wisdom of the decision, and the adverse effects it will have on your university's reputation.
I count among friends both past lecturers and students of the department. Nonetheless, I initially held back from comment to see if other facts emerged which might help explain the decision. However, the information that has so far been disseminated on the internet has increased my incomprehension. It does not seem as if you can claim even market forces in your defence, since artificial capping seems to have been employed to reduce the size of intake.
As for the assertion that the university remains committed to the development of postgraduate research, I must join with those who express extreme scepticism that a thriving postgraduate department can continue without a commitment to undergraduate education. You run the risk of losing what has been, on any measure, official and unofficial, a highly regarded research department that attracts income and lustre to the university.
I note that Sheffield has offered something unique in its approach to the topic of Biblical Studies, having largely successfully decoupled it from being a "theology" department, and given priority to literary, historical and political analyses of the texts. In a world where confessional ownership of these texts is both intensifying, and in which they and other sacred texts are being deeply implicated in global and local politics around the world, it seems especially short-sighted to close down a voice of secular expertise in the area. Indeed, if anything, there may be more compelling reasons to extend and the department to embrace the texts of Islam as well as Christianity and Judaism, and subject them to the same range of critical approaches.
I therefore add my voice to those asking you to reconsider this apparently hasty, and certainly poorly consulted upon, decision.
Dear Professor Burnett
I am writing to express my shock and distress at the current proposals for shutting down the undergraduate arm of the Department of Biblical Studies.
I graduated from the University three years ago, having completed my undergraduate degree in Biblical Studies. I cannot express to you how profound an effect the department had on my life. I feel proud and privileged to have studied with some of the greatest academics in the field, and I truly believe that those who study in the Department have an opportunity to learn a great deal more than they would studying other 'Arts' subjects. Studying in the Department has shaped the person I am today to a great extent. I would hate to think that others would not have the opportunity to study in such a prestigious, creative and dynamic environment with some of the best academic guidance one could ever hope to encounter.
I feel that should the University decide to stop recruiting undergraduates to the department, it would only be a matter of time before the Department would be shut down altogether.
I truly believe the Department of Biblical Studies to be a special and unique place to learn. The Department has a prestigious and great past, an unrivalled reputation at present and should be supported long into the future. Choosing to study in the Department has been one of the best decision I have ever made and I hope that others will continue to have this opportunity for years to come. I urge you to reconsider the University's plans.
Dear Vice Chancellor,
I have recently been informed that the department of Biblical Studies is in peril of closing its undergraduate program due to budgetary concerns. Closing a department of higher learning that has amassed a world-wide reputation for both its scholarship and its teaching is a rather rash and short sited decision. I would implore you to examine all possible options before making this decision, there are countless number of students that will be put at a tremendous disservice for not having the ability to pursue a degree in Biblical Studies, not to mention the worldwide disservice the University will be doing to its own reputation as the premier place for cutting edge biblical studies work. I hope that mere pounds and pence are not driving your decision and that you have pondered the impact upon the discovery of knowledge that your decision will surely foster. A healthy Biblical Studies undergraduate program is essential to great research scholarship that the Department and !
the University are so highly acclaimed for, and both will surely suffer if you close the undergraduate Department of Biblical Studies.
Bryan Lee, Ph.D.