Is the end in sight for the Centre for Deaf Studies, Bristol?

It would be very sad if the Centre is closed, as indicated by the blog: Save Deaf Studies.

But I see they are not giving up without a fight.

So I’ve done my bit by composing and sending the following letter to the Vice Chancellor.


Dear Professor Eric Thomas


It was with great shock and disappointment, not to mention anger, that I read the University of Bristol is planning to close the Centre for Deaf Studies. If this decision is made, it will be a great tragedy given the excellent work of the highest quality that has emerged from the University over the past 35 years. That work has been of immense benefit not only for Deaf people, the Deaf community, and the careers of past and current staff, but the University of Bristol too.


It is with some shock that I read the University originally offered the Centre a subsidy of £100,000, but which has since been withdrawn.


It is hard to believe this decision in imminent, and I would urge you to bear in mind the current situation of Deaf studies internationally:

  1.  The Deaf community internationally is emerging as a bona-fide cultural, linguistic minority group (thanks in part to research undertaken by Scholars at the University of Bristol) at such an important historical juncture.
  2. The Deaf community, through the ‘Spit the Dummy’ campaign, is pressurizing the UK government to put in place a ‘British Sign Language Act’, which would considerably increase the demand for Sign Language Interpreters, and other vocations working with Deaf people.
  3. There are a growing number of Deaf and hearing academics who have obtained their doctorates in social science related subjects over the past two years.


These developments point to a future for research on Deafhood, Deaf Studies, and Sign Language interpreting.  These are historically significant times. In this context, it is difficult to believe the University is busy driving in the opposite direction. It makes no rational sense.


I write as someone who worked at the Centre for four years, from 2008-2012, as a Research Associate. I remain a Honorary Member of the University of Bristol, and so maintain ties with the institution.


The University has also been invaluable for my career as a Deaf academic. The research I undertook at the Centre has enabled me to build on work that I had begun with the publication of my PhD and research on genetics. It ultimately played a part in me being offered a Visiting Professorship at the world renown Gallaudet University, Washington DC, which I took up in January 2013, having been made redundant from CDS in December 2012.


I have read your statement explaining the reasons for discontinuing CDS. I was a staff member until December 2012, and the statement is at odds with my experience at the time. I did not feel the University was as supportive of the Centre as it could have been. For example, following the disbanding of SACHS, there were promises to re-house CDS within the University, but this did not happen.  There was a long delay in appointing a project manager who could have supported CDS and helped to find a suitable place for the Centre in the long term.


I’m also aware some staff were offered, and accepted, voluntary severance pay; but it is not the case that all staff were eligible, and the University is therefore effectively sacking staff who have served the University with such passion and energy over the years. In any case, this is no excuse for dismantling such a valuable Centre.


I appeal to you to rethink your plans to close CDS. Please commit to your original promise not to close the Centre and to offer a subsidy.  That would enable the Centre to focus on developing a top quality institution of research into sign language and Deaf culture, and sign language Interpreting.


It is not too late to put research into the rights of Deaf people ahead of the economics of the current ‘austerity’ climate. In the long term the University will be a great beneficiary.


Don’t throw away a Centre that is so revered across the world. It should be possible to work out a solution with political will and commitment. If the University is prepared to give the Centre a long term plan, there is no doubt it can continue to be a pioneering Centre for Deaf studies related research.


Yours sincerely,



Dr Steven Emery

Honorary Staff Member, University of Bristol





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s