Monday the 28th of March was slated as D Day for Modern Foreign Languages at Swansea University, as Swansea University’s council were set to meet with management to discuss the proposals to cut the MFL department by almost 50%. Students gathered outside the Abbey in protest to the cuts, just as they did back in December at the Funeral for Modern Languages. Elena Cresci was there and writes here about her second MFL protest, complete with videos, shouting and megaphone action galore…

Photo by Roisin O'Connor

For the second time this academic year, students gathered in protest against the sweeping cuts to the Modern Foreign Languages department. While the Funeral for Modern Languages was undeniably a success in terms of turnout, the news that the Council’s Meeting was postponed until March was a disappointment to many of us. In contrast, the MFL Welcoming Committee had a markedly different outcome; while Council recognised the need for restructuring and possible cuts in MFL and other departments discussed at the meeting, Management were told they needed to consult directly with MFL and other departments in order to draw up a revised plan. It may not answer students’ call for ‘no ifs, no buts, no Modern Language Cuts’ entirely, but it’s a far better resolution than the prospect of an MFL department chopped in half.

To say the protest was last-minute would be an understatement. Bright and early that Monday morning I found myself rushing into university to meet the mini leafleting army Ben Lowell Sluckin and I had assembled late the previous evening. I’m sure our army would have been a tad bigger had the Council meeting not been rearranged to fall between the end of campaign week and the 15th anniversary of Varsity the following Wednesday. Tactical rescheduling? Who knows.

Management had, however, arranged a consultation meeting with students who wished to air their grievances over the proposed cuts. For Ben and I, this meeting was a mere token gesture, and we weren’t entirely convinced it would do a great deal. After all, the meeting was with the very people working to push these proposals through. While credit should be given to Management for coming to meet us, the consultation was too little too late.

Ben and some early morning literature for Swansea's students!

Armed with our brightly coloured leaflets, we headed to the Mall to leaflet drop on unsuspecting students who were probably hoping for a Monday free of student politics after the blitz of leaflets, manifesto pledges and badges from the week before. “And there I thought campaigning was over…” quipped President elect Luke James, who joined us along with Welfare Officer elect Charlotte Britton. “Do you know about the protest happening this afternoon?” I’d shout after students rushing to their lectures, shoving leaflets into the hands of anyone who seemed vaguely interested, while others were most certainly still in campaign week mode, avoiding anyone who looked like they were canvassing for votes like the plague.

Truth be told, I was worried. The Funeral for Modern Languages had been organised months in advance and was a huge success, whereas The Welcoming Committee was most certainly a last-minute affair in the middle of a week where the majority of students had their last few tests before heading off for Easter holidays. I needn’t have worried – as I pegged it from my lecture finishing at 3pm, I was greeted with a more than decent congregation of students outside the Abbey. Relieved was not even the word, as I began to roll out the required banners and hand out various flags. Then someone handed me a megaphone, and we were off!

We were most certainly vocal as the old “No ifs, no buts, no modern language cuts!” rang out across the Abbey. Anyone heading to the meeting certainly could not ignore us, which was exactly what we hoped. Surprisingly, unlike in December, Vice Chancellor Professor B Davies came out to meet us and to receive the 3,000 signatures strong petition. The VC claimed the importance and the strength of Modern Foreign Languages at Swansea “is not in question.” He waxed lyrical about wanting to “broaden the [MFL] courses”, the modernisation of MFL and the importance of languages to the employability of students. The VC made some valid points… except they were all points in favour of our protest. Surely the VC wasn’t on our side? Then the clash point came as the VC said:

“If people could get more enthusiastic about attracting more excellent students, we want more of you here, not fewer, we can grow and develop and strengthen into the future. I’ve been very disappointed about some of the negative coverage. We are not trying to destroy anything.”

This was when the silence broke and the VC was inundated with angry shouts from students and staff alike. Students failed to understand how Management could emphasise the “importance of Modern Foreign Languages” while at the same time stating that cuts of over half would not damage the department. It wasn’t long before the VC had to retreat to the meeting with the parting words: “Please believe that we are looking for a positive way to continue the strength of Modern Foreign Languages.”

It’s safe to say I’m not exactly biased in this matter. Furthermore, I’m sure we’re part of the “negative coverage” the VC stated he was so disappointed in. For this reason, I decided to speak to my fellow protestors and let them do the talking. If “negative coverage” means giving a voice to the anger felt at the proposals, then so be it. Here’s a selection of student perspectives from the day:

Want to see more videos from the day? Head to our Youtube channel! (Note: Due to technical difficulties we still have a few more videos to upload from the day, so stay tuned for those, including a great one with RAG President Becca Taylor, Societies and Services Elect Tom Upton and Conservation and Ecology President Aiden Ramsey! Triple whammy or what?)

Were you at the MFL protest? How do you feel about the result? Would you be prepared for a third demonstration? Comment, e-mail, Tweet, Facebook… as always, we’re all ears!