Eleven members of staff in the 13-strong department are at risk of losing their jobs.
But amid mounting pressure, the university has now backtracked on plans to press on despite the coronavirus outbreak – and it is pausing the plans. The institution said it was ‘suspending the consultation process’.
Two of the lecturers who could lose their jobs are currently self-isolating and six of the other at-risk staff have children of school age, who are now at home.
The University and College Union (UCU) had called on the university to immediately halt the cuts so nobody was left dealing with the unprecedented circumstances of the current health crisis while fearing for their job.
The union said the university’s pledge to enforce the cuts had been at odds with recent messages from vice-chancellor professor Graham Galbraith.
Professor Galbraith wrote to staff last week, admitting there was ‘a great deal of worry and concern’ while talking about the need to ‘get through this difficult and stressful period by supporting each other and by remembering to be considerate and kind’.
UCU said that even before the unprecedented upheaval of the coronavirus crisis, the case for the redundancies had not been properly made. The union believes cuts would leave the department unable to meet the demand from existing students and see class sizes rise to some of the highest in the UK.
Under the plans, the university had intended to write to the at-risk staff next month and make eight of them redundant at the end of August.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘To push ahead with job losses during this current crisis is the wrong call from Portsmouth. Staff are doing all they can to adapt to these unprecedented circumstances and telling some of them that they may lose their jobs is tone deaf to say the least.
‘The threat to axe staff flies in the face of the vice-chancellor’s pledge to support staff and students, and his call for people to pull together and support one another.
‘The case for these dismissals had not been made anyway, so the university should now press pause and reassure its staff that it won’t be getting rid of them as they try to deal with the challenges from the coronavirus crisis.’
A University of Portsmouth spokesman said in response: ‘Due to the unprecedented circumstances presented by the coronavirus situation and following the escalation of measures announced by the prime minister last night, we are now suspending the consultation process for English literature.
‘We appreciate this is a difficult and worrying time. We will update staff with details of the process once we are in a position to do so.’
The spokesman added: ‘No decision will be made on the outcome of the proposals until all consultation feedback has been considered by the university executive board having looked at all the evidence presented.’