Deaf geographies, and other worlds.

Cherry Picking…

My recent reference to the UoB ‘cherry picking’ my 2009 Review document to justify discussions regarding the planned cuts at the university have raised some eyebrows…  and I’m likely to get some flack for it. So here is an explanation, for the record, of what I said and did – and why.

Yesterday, the BBC published a report saying that the TUC had succesfully backed the campaign to save the course. In the report, they quote a representative from the university as saying:

“The money-saving aspect is a secondary reason. The BSc is being withdrawn because of academic considerations. Part of this is to due the students’ own assessment, but also its relevance to the wider interest of the faculty.”

As the author of one of the reports that was used to gather evidence of ‘the students’ own assessment’ I wrote to the BBC complaining that the review document that I wrote in 2009 had not been fairly represented. I used the phrase ‘cherry picked’.

Today, the UoB has said that “Punctilious and distinguished academics made this decision and to suggest they twisted the truth to back it up is a dangerous fantasy.”

Did they cherry pick? Did they twist the truth? You judge from the evidence.

— this is what I know for certain —

I was originally commissioned by CDS to write a Review of their Undergraduate Degree programme in August of 2009. I was told that this was part of a wider university review into SACHS, and asked to contact former graduates to find out:

  1. Where CDS was succeeding and failing and how improvements could be made
  2. What responses were from previous graduates to future plans already in process

I was told that the report would be confidential, used internally, and only used by CDS to reform the degree and to contribute to the larger SACHS review which was being prepared. I carried out the report honestly, critically and unbiasedly and reported information back to CDS. CDS changed a number of their proposals based on the information I discovered.

I submitted the final report in January…

Somehow, between then and  now, the university has got their hands on the review – and read it in such a way that they feel happy reporting it thus in a briefing document for the 10th May Senate meeting (I can’t provide a link to this, it’s internal only to the UoB, but it’s a matter of public record):

In terms of the impact upon potential future student and the deaf community, we have considered the profile of current and past students and the availability of alternative programmes at other Universities. We have considered the review commissioned by CDS, but funded by the Faculty [that’s my report], which consulted with past students in the wider community to establish an understanding of future expectations for such programmes, and a paper from Professor Kyle suggesting an alternative future vision for the provision of undergraduate education in deaf studies and interpreting. These consistently indicate that the current programme is no longer the best means of serving the needs of the deaf, interpreting and deaf studies communities, and that a fundamental rethink is required. Accordingly, the discontinuance of the current programme is not considered to raise equalities issues related to the wider issue of the provision of sign language interpreters since the current degree structure does not qualify students as interpreters.”

— that’s it for certain —

In addition, I have been told…  following the Senate meeting on the 10th May, that a representative of the Faculty had stood up within that Senate meeting and made repeated references to the ‘Gulliver report’. All of the references were damning… I was also told, following this, that Senate – having no other means to judge for themselves – accepted the proposal to include CDS’s BSc in the cuts and that the representative of CDS there, having no detailed knowledge of the report – had no means to reject the quotes as misrepresentative.

Is this Cherry Picking?

There are a lot of errors in the quote above. However, the one that’s most pertinent is the suggest that my report stops at the point where that it suggests that the current programme is not the best means of serving the Deaf community and that a fundamental rethink is required. It in no way stops there. What it actually suggests is that investment and encouragement is necessary to make sure that the Degree survives and to make it the best in the UK.

To represent it, therefore, as consistently indicating anything that would justify closing the degree… is inaccurate, and wrong.

Similarly, to use the review in such a context, without acknowledgment of its original raison-d’être or its internal argument… is inaccurate, and wrong.

That would be enough…

Whether I was mislead on the public quotes from the report in Senate… is a moot point. The person who told me is convinced, and there’s no public access to Senate to allow me to check… I’ll have to wait until the minutes come out, and they may or may not cover things in that much detail. Also, note, I’m quite careful to say that I’d ‘heard’ it was used… not that I know it was. It’s enough for me that my review was used out of context, as authoritatively arguing for a certain outcome, and that it was presented as such to a decision-making forum who had no knowledge of the source context…

Perhaps this is not cherry picking… perhaps it’s not twisting the truth… perhaps it’s simply a case that people can’t read everything they are given.

In which case… having been made aware of the potential misuse of this document, and the pivotal impact that such a misuse might have had in the overall process, I’d consider it the UoB’s responsibility to clarify this to all those whose decisions may have been affected… and commit to re-examine the situation based on a subsequent full and completely independent study that takes all the evidence into account, whether it’s inconvenient for the university or not.

As I’ve said elsewhere, if – having done this – the UoB decides to close down the degree, then that’s up to them… my objection is not the closure itself if it proceeds as a fully informed decision with the UoB aware of the potential loss incurred in reputation and research…

Rather, my objection is that if it’s not done right, then it’s a terrible waste that is incurred without full knowledge… and that, to me, looks like a knee jerk response to cut something that they don’t really understand.


This entry was posted on May 21, 2010 by in Musings.
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