Northern Ireland

History students hit back at Queen's vice-chancellor Johnston

Queens university
Image caption The vice-chancellor announced major cuts earlier this year, including slashing almost 240 jobs and more than 1,000 student places.

History students have hit back at the vice chancellor of Queen's who said: "Society doesn't need a 21-year-old that's a sixth century historian."

Patrick Johnston made the comment in an interview with the Belfast Telegraph.

"I don't talk about producing graduates, I talk about producing citizens that have the potential for leadership in society," he said.

The controversial remarks sparked a backlash of anger from students online.

It also led to the creation of the Twitter account @QUBsixthcentury.


Mr Johnston went on to say that society "needs a 21-year-old who really understands how to analyse things, understands the tenets of leadership and contributing to society, who is a thinker and someone who has the potential to help society drive forward.

Shannon Downey, a history student at Queens University, said that the chancellors comments were "inappropriate".

"I was shocked", she said, "I know first-hand that history students have to do a great deal of work and I appreciate everything that the staff and faculty of the history department do for us.

"Historians analyse all of history, not just the sixth Century.

"During my course I have learned about politics, culture, religion, languages and even law."

Image copyright Shannon Downey/Twitter

Shannon tweeted: "Awkward moment when my VC, who will give me my degree in history in July, thinks society doesn't need historians anymore."

Paul Loughran, is the vice-president for community QUB Student Union, he said Senator George Mitchell, who chaired the Good Friday Agreement and was once the Chancellor of QUB had studied history.

"It de-values the faculty and I think it was hypocritical of him", he said.

"I think it was his mask slipping and it shows how he really feels about the arts and the humanities."

The vice-chancellor announced major cuts earlier this year, including slashing almost 240 jobs and more than 1,000 student places.

He also said the university had resized and reshaped itself, amalgamating several schools and has stopped offering single honours degrees in sociology and anthropology.

Rachel Sloan, a history graduate from Queen's University and now teacher, said that she finds the comments "ironic".

"He basically described all the qualities of an historian when explaining what he wanted from a graduate, in the same quote where he said society didn't need them.

Image caption Mr Johnston made the controversial comment in an interview with the Belfast Telegraph on Monday.

"He's completely contradicting himself.

"If humanity subjects like history weren't important, then why have they made it compulsory for students to study at least one of them at GCSE?"

'Sincerely apologise'

Mr Johnston met members of his school of history yesterday afternoon and later issued an apology on Twitter.

"I was happy to have the opportunity to provide clarification on comments made within the Belfast Telegraph article of May 30, 2016 which related to the study of history," the statement read.

"In the interview I wanted to stress that a university education is more than the study of any one subject and that the aim is to produce graduates who have the potential to become leaders within our society.

"History graduates at Queen's are thinkers who have the capacity to help drive society forward.

"I sincerely apologise if there was any misunderstanding in the interview and would place on record that I have regard for students, colleagues and alumni from history."