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Press Statement: Students launch discrimination case against the University of Chichester after African History course is axed

A group of students are taking legal action against the University of Chichester alleging discrimination and breach of contract after it terminated a groundbreaking programme in the History of Africa and the African Diaspora while they were part way through their studies.

The 14 students were all studying on the Masters by Research (MRes), History of Africa and the African Diaspora course or conducting research for a PhD. The course was unique in Europe and attracted students from all over the world, as well as many from the UK. It was led by Professor Hakim Adi, one of the UK’s pre-eminent historians and the first African-British historian to become a Professor of History in the UK. Professor Adi was shortlisted for the Wolfson History prize in 2023.

Despite the course’s highly respected reputation, it was suspended without warning in July 2023 with the University stating that the programme was no longer economically viable. Professor Adi was made redundant shortly afterwards. The move came as a complete shock to the students and staff, as well as fellow historians, teachers, activists, and advocates of the importance of African history. Professor Adi’s redundancy is being challenged. 

After going through the university’s internal complaints procedure and failing to achieve a resolution, the 14 students are now bringing legal action. Their civil claim alleges that the university discriminated against them and is in breach of contract as a result of both the action and the process. 

The students are represented by the law firm Leigh Day which issued a letter before action on the students’ behalf on Thursday 15 February. 

In a linked case, the Black Equity Organisation is also bringing legal action and issued a Judicial Review of the university’s actions, last month. 

The students’ case has already gained significant national media coverage and seen a motion being tabled in the House of Commons. An online petition gained over 14,000 signatures and an open letter has been signed by more than 300 academics and teaching staff from history courses in the USA and Europe.

In the letter to the University of Chichester lawyers say the rationale appears to be based on the premise that the MRes in the History of Africa and the African Diaspora does not recruit enough students to justify the continued existence of Professor Adi’s post. They say no account appears to have been taken of the fact that the university has not adequately marketed the MRes. Furthermore, Professor Adi’s employment preceded the development of the MRes and therefore should not be associated with one course. In addition, no account appears to have been taken of the recruitment of PhD students Professor Adi supervises, nor the fact that many have been recruited directly from the MRes. Finally, the university has never before expressed dissatisfaction with recruitment to the MRes.

The students are represented by Leigh Day’s Partner, Jacqueline McKenzie who has instructed Elaine Banton, an employment and discrimination expert, of 7BR Chambers. Ms Banton also represents Professor Adi.

Leigh Day partner Jacqueline McKenzie said:

“This sudden decision by the University of Chichester to close down this unique course has stopped our clients’ academic careers in their tracks. On top of that, the university has made an eminent and highly respected Black professor of African history in the UK, who was last year nominated for the Wolfson History prize, redundant at short notice. In our clients’ view, the University of Chichester has clearly discriminated against them and breached its contract with them in its handling of this process. They are urging it to reverse this decision and ensure sure that they can resume their studies as soon as possible.”

Kehinde Adeogun, Director of Legal Service at Black Equity Organisation said:

“Kehinde Adeogun Director of Legal Services at BEO states ‘The impact of the University’s decision is shortsighted and reaches beyond the students on the MRes and those studying for a PhD. The reason for including the course in its postgraduate programme was as an acknowledgement of the lack of teaching, research and learning in the history of Africa and the African Diaspora. Suspending the course without consultation when the issues are still prevalent, decreases the opportunity for change, the aim of which is to see the effective inclusion of Black history into the curriculum that is taught and studied in UK schools, especially in the context of key debates around decolonising the curriculum.”

Professor Hakim Adi said:

“As a result of the MRes we encouraged many more Black students to embark on PhD research. We established one of the largest cohorts of Black postgraduate history students in the country. As a result of the measures taken by the University of Chichester, these students have been left without appropriate supervision and their studies have been completely disrupted.” 

Jabari Osaze - MRes Student said:

“I am greatly dismayed that the University of Chichester has decided to close the Masters of Research in the History of Africa and the African Diaspora programme.  As a student in the United States, I recognize just how unique the programme was.  I have spoken to large numbers of African Americans who would have been interested in enrolling in the programme. Chichester University should have focused its efforts on recruiting more students like me but instead it seems they undervalued the programme.  They have treated their students and the world-renowned expert historian who ran the programme extremely poorly.  They are now offering academic support to MRes students’ guidance by scholars who are not trained in the history of Africa and the African Diaspora.  It has been painful to be disregarded in this manner.”  

A student who did not want to be named -  PhD student said:

“The removal of Professor Adi as supervisor has caused insurmountable disruption and deep distress to me personally, impacting on other areas of my life." 

The students are crowdfunding for their legal claim.


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