Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

The closure of a department

The big news around campus right now is the closure of the Department of Cybernetics, Internet and Virtual Systems with effect from January. The department is only a few years old, having been set up in the late nineties, but rapidly declining numbers of applications from students, increasing debt due to the failure of a new course and the loss of a number of academic staff with no money to replace them has meant that keeping the department running on its own is becoming more and more difficult. Therefore, the decision was made to close it and an official statement to this effect was made yesterday.
As you can imagine, there is significant opposition to this, and a Student Action Group for Cybernetics has been set up with the aim of having the closure decision reversed. This includes a petition with the support of a number of students.
My department, Computing, is also part of the School of Informatics, like Cybernetics is, and one of the modules I take next semester is run by the Cybernetics department, so this decision does affect me, or at least in theory. However, I’m unsure whether I agree or not.
On the one hand, all of the courses will be run through to their completion, so that current students will not be asked to change courses or go to other universities, and will still come out with the same degree that they were accepted for. Because much of the administration of the courses now works at the School level, even with the department no longer existing the support structures will remain in place too, and most of the resources will be folded into the Computing and Electronic Imaging and Media Communication (EIMC) departments. It’s also possible that some courses will remain but will be taught by these departments instead. So students really should not be at a disadvantage by this, though it wouldn’t surprise me if some chose to drop out.
But there’s also the fact that if the department were to cease to exist, it will potentially devalue students’ degrees slightly, especially if their respective courses are closed too – in a few years time, students’ prospective employers may check to see if their courses are still running and find that they are not. It’s also a shame to lose something that always seemed quite cutting-edge – the only other Cybernetics department in the country is at the University of Reading so arguably we were at the forefront of technology with these courses. But then to me cybernetics has always been a bit of a niche subject and so this is probably why they have not been so successful.
If I have time I will go to the emergency meeting today to see what is discussed, but the closure seems like a done deal. It will be shame to lose it, but it is not being done without good reason and ultimately I don’t think students will lose out much.

4 Comments

  1. So I take it that all efforts to build Cybermen have failed? Dr. Who breathes a sigh of relief…
    All kidding aside, I thought that “Systems Theory” had absorbed Cybernetics back in the 80’s… at least it had when I was shopping for colleges back then (I think it was because sci-fi had taken over all things “cyber” to mean something entirely different, and Cyberneticists wanted to disassociate themselves from it?). Of course, that’s was 20 years ago, and it could all be shoveled into “Dynamics” now for all I know.

  2. I really can’t see how the dept closing will affect the value of the student’s degree. Employers don’t value a degree based on if it’s still running at the University.

  3. For what it’s worth, I studied in the Cybernetics department at Reading, and even then they were having trouble getting people to go on the courses (and stay on them). They were trying out all kind of gimmicks and course variations to try and attract people. Not only is the desire to study it pretty niche, but getting the lecturers is hard too. I can easily see how it’s not financially viable for a University.

  4. Thanks for everyone’s support on this case. I have seen the figures for recruitment and they were up 50% for cybernetics this year. In fact figures have gone up every year apart from academic year 04/05. We understand the department can’t be left as it is, this would be too risky. Some of you also asked “why cant cybernetics move into computing instead of being split up”. Well this was a good idea so I asked this in an e-mail to the dean. The following day the student union e-mailed saying the dean had complained to them and the next day another e-mail from the university arrived that was (lets just say, not very nice). Eventually they gave me the answer “it’s too much of a burden on computing”) it took them 3 days to come up with that. I think the whole situation was handled very unprofessionally especially from a top class university such as Bradford. Anyone who submits questions to the dean just gets sh*t thrown at them. Personally I’m sick of this childish behaviour from one or two members of staff. I will be forwarding all petition sheets to the VC when I get back and ask for the matter to be raised at the next Senate meeting. They have tried to silence our voices several times now. They even denied us having a petition board on our own support desk (once again the dean objected). Where’s freedom of speech gone? No official statement has been posted on the main university website and Senate are un-aware of what’s going on. It seams the whole thing is being done by the back door.