How does it feel to lose your job? A lecturer tells all

Sam North writes an open letter to readers explaining the happenings of the past few days.


On Sunday, The Independent reported that creative writing lecturer Sam North had been fired from his job. It alleged there was a culture of bullying in the department.

Yesterday, The Tab reported that, although North lost his job, he was in fact offered a new position by the department after an outpouring of affection for the tutor.

Here, in a first for The Tab, North writes an open letter to students, explaining what it feels like to face leaving Exeter.


“Dear Tab readers,

The first thing to do is perhaps explain why I was fired in the first place – I failed, after five whole years, to bring in any research grant income.

This is how it works: university isn’t like school, it doesn’t hire people who teach a subject; it hires expert leaders in designated academic fields, who are then given an opportunity to advance knowledge in their field, and at the same time teach it to others. This duality is important to recognise.

Sam North

It is designed to foster a research culture, where academics work at the cliff face of their particular area and you, the students, have the opportunity to tuck yourselves in behind them and benefit from their progress. (It is your responsibility to do this, and one of the things we, as universities, have to watch out for is not to baby students along as if they were still at school, because the fee-paying structure can tend to steer us towards doing this, and that’s a mistake because the world outside requires individuals who are active, rather than passive.)

So – the government and other grant-giving bodies make grants of money in order to allow academics to achieve their research programmes, and this makes up for a significant percentage of a university’s income, and an important element in the building of its reputation.

Exeter sets a very high bar in this regard, as in every other. I failed to reach that bar, and the box remained un-ticked. But life goes on, also, around the edges of the boxes, and this is where an unusual thing happened yesterday: the community, let’s call it, of the English Department (students and staff, ex-students and ex-staff) didn’t think Exeter, as a whole, would gain from my sacking and that it made for an unfair reaction to my abilities; it was an injustice.

I felt picked up and absolutely carried along

And they fought hard for my reinstatement, all the way up the chain of command. It was emotional. I was arguing, yes – curiously enough I was utterly prejudiced in my favour – but from the outset I felt picked up and absolutely carried along in the most amazing and gratifying way.

When at 6.10 pm last night I received my written offer of re-employment, I had the sense I wanted to clear out my whole office, shampoo the marks on the carpet, re-organise all my filing, re-configure all my modules and start again.

We have the extremely talented novelist Jane Feaver joining us in September; we are going to make a sterling creative writing department.

There are so many people I’d like to thank, but perhaps, within the university itself, the most potent focus of students’ approval of this turn of events should be centred on my creative writing colleague Andy Brown, who has himself taught me so much, and on Jo Gill, who, as most of you know, works hard to make students’ experience here a rich one.

Finally, the reaction of so many students has meant a great deal to me – thank you – it made for a particularly exciting way of feeling the impact we might have on your lives; and that’s a powerful motivating factor for all of us who research and teach here at the university.

My favourite comment came on the Facebook page called ‘save our sam’. Amongst all the praise and excitement someone said something like, ‘Oh, he’s all right, I suppose, some people like his way of teaching, others don’t..’

No – actually, my favourite comment came when I got home, and my son joined the Facebook group late in the evening and wrote, ‘Hey, I’m Sam’s son and I just wanted to say thank you to everyone for…’ etc. I was able to ring up his drum-teacher and say lessons were back on, after all.

The mortgage can be paid, and perhaps I’ll splash out on a new pair of shoelaces. Like I say, it was emotional.”