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Queen's University graduates reveal why they snubbed vice chancellor

Queen's University Belfast vice chancellor Patrick Johnston. Picture by Hugh Russell
Brendan Hughes

STUDENTS have spoken of the moment they publicly snubbed the head of Queen's University Belfast during their graduation ceremony.

Several history and anthropology graduates refused to shake Patrick Johnston's hand and others gave him a campaign flyer.

The protest came weeks after the vice chancellor caused uproar among history students after claiming that "society doesn't need a 21-year-old that's a sixth century historian".

Students have also been voicing concerns over school mergers at Queen's and the cutting of some degree courses, including single-honour anthropology, through the 'Save Our Schools' campaign.

Rónán Mullan was among those who did not shake hands with Prof Johnston as he made his way on stage during Tuesday's School of History and Anthropology graduations.

He said he was expressing his concerns that the vice chancellor appears to think that "social sciences aren't really that necessary".

"He knew when I looked at him in the eye he was getting the silent treatment. It was literally spur of the moment but I think it needed to be done," he said.

The 41-year-old from Downpatrick in Co Down, who studied social anthropology, added: "It was more in defence for the lecturers and staff who are maybe facing closure and redundancies."

Magz McQuoid, who also studied social anthropology, used her appearance on the graduation stage to hand Prof Johnston a rolled-up 'Save Our Schools' poster.

 Several history and anthropology graduates refused to shake Patrick Johnston's hand

"He said congratulations and I said, 'That's a bit hypocritical coming from you since you're closing my degree course'.

"I was really nervous but I thought it was the right thing to do and I should stand up for what I believe in – and what's right."

The 24-year-old from west Belfast described social anthropology at Queen's as "phenomenal", adding: "The marketisation of Queen's and course closures is extremely unfortunate.

"Yesterday for me was to let Patrick Johnston and QUB management know that they cannot devalue our university, staff and students, our experiences and our degrees."

The vice chancellor met members of his School of History and issued an apology on Twitter following his divisive remarks in an interview in May with the Belfast Telegraph.

Students and staff have also been highly critical of Queen's over cuts to jobs, student numbers and courses, the planned merger of university schools and tough research funding targets for probationary lecturers.

The ruling senate this year endorsed an 'institutional shape and size review', which also proposed raising entry grades for degree courses to a minimum of an A and two Bs.

The Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences will see the greatest upheaval – history, politics and sociology are among the subjects that would see the most significant drop in student numbers.

Unions have also warned that new minimum enrolment numbers for undergraduate and postgrad courses could lead to the end of some single honours degrees.

Prof Johnston has previously said the review will allow Queen's to "drive forward a series of game-changing contributions to current and emerging global challenges that will have a profound and beneficial impact on society”.

He said there would be a £50m, five-year investment including a recruitment drive for academics.

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