04 May 2010

Letter from Professor Simon Blackburn, University of Cambridge

Dear Dean,

I wish to add my voice to those who have protested against the
threatened closure of Middlesex philosophy department. You may say
that it is unsurprising that a philosopher should object to this
move, but this goes beyond Trades Union solidarity to the heart of
what a university needs to be.

As the world shrinks and international cooperation becomes ever more
important, the humanities are crucial to our futures. We cannot act
together with others without understanding their culture, their
ideas, their ethics, their religions and their politics. Without
communication the alternatives are conflict and destruction. The
humanities educate us into at least some understanding of these
things, and among the humanities philosophy is most directly
concerned with them.We must also give others some understanding of
the ideas that animate our own culture, and this means first
identifying and testing them ourselves. It is the special
responsibility of philosophy to keep alive that investigation and the
critical and analytic spirit that it requires. This spirit was first
identified in Socratic Greece and has infused the whole history of
the West for more than two thousand years. Nothing worth calling a
university can be crass enough to think that this spirit is
dispensable, in the name of materialism or economic progress.

It is not apparent why the philosophy department was singled out,
given its place at the top of the research profiles of your
faculties. One must hope that the decision was not taken in awareness
of the size of the stakes and the catastrophic example it offers to
the rest of the world.

Yours sincerely,

Professor Simon Blackburn, FBA, FAAAS

02 May 2010

Ian Pears on Middlesex Philosophy Fiasco

On to Middlesex

The wave of cuts which began in places like Sussex, King’s London and Hull has now hit Middlesex, which has announced it is going to close its philosophy department despite the fact that it is one of the highest rated departments in the university.

Read the full article

01 May 2010

Open Letter to the Management at Middlesex University

From the editors of 'Storm Breaking upon the University'

An open letter to Michael Driscoll (Vice-chancellor), Waqar Ahmad, (Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research and Enterprise), and Margaret House (Deputy Vice Chancellor Academic), University of Middlesex.

We believe you are responsible for taking the decision to close down all the Philosophy Programmes at Middlesex and the renowned Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy. We are dismayed to hear about this decision, which is not only regrettable, but unwarranted and misconceived.

We understand that the Dean, Professor Esche, told staff that the Department’s high research reputation makes no ‘measurable’ contribution to the University. This is untrue. In financial terms, the Department’s QR funding amounted (according to HEFCE’s own figures) to over £150,000, in 09-10. 42 new MA students were recruited in 2009, a figure that is the envy of most philosophy departments in the UK. This itself represents an appreciable stream of income and it makes the decision to close down philosophy at Middlesex all the more perverse.

The reason why Middlesex did so well in the RAE, and that it recruits so well, is the outstanding reputation of CRMEP both within the UK and internationally. It is one of the leading centres for continental philosophy in the UK, achieving a 5 in the 2001 RAE and a GPA of 2.8 in the 2008 RAE – the same as Leeds, Nottingham and Edinburgh and above Warwick, Durham and Glasgow. Professors Eric Alliez, Peter Hallward and Peter Osborne, along with Dr Stella Stanford, and Dr Christian Kerslake are all outstanding researchers who are respected in the profession and beyond. Moreover, they have produced academic progeny who have established excellent reputations of their own and are helping other Universities to thrive. This is a sure indication of the good health of Philosophy at Middlesex and of the high quality of its teaching.

Of course not all contributions to a University are “measurable” in financial terms. This does not make them less important or mean that they do not bring substantial benefits (including economic ones) to the University. Philosophy’s contribution to the national and international esteem, reputation and good standing of the University should be valued very highly. Such things are hard won, and once the department is closed down, not recuperable.

We ask you to consider the immense damage that will be done to Middlesex by closing a department with such an impressive research reputation. Already there has been a national and international outcry, both within the discipline and beyond. Prospective students – both undergraduate and postgraduate – will be put off, and prospective and current staff will not regard Middlesex as a safe place of employment. It will certainly weaken the loyalty of the best academics at Middlesex working in other areas.

Good management practice in circumstances where the closure of a department is being considered is to have a full-scale external review of the department, with both internal and external expert panel members. Middlesex does not appear to have conducted such a review. Maybe this is because they can anticipate that it would quickly find that the department has all the hallmarks of long-term viability: an excellent research reputation, astonishingly good PG recruitment, and increasing undergraduate applications. Not holding a review reflects extremely poorly on the management team and again damages its institutional reputation.

In closing down its highest-ranking department for reasons of short-term financial expediency, in the face of such powerful countervailing considerations, Middlesex is betraying its own academic values. We urge you rethink this decision.

Yours sincerely

Gordon Finlayson
Andrew Chitty
Kess Van Der Pijl
Alana Lentin
John David Rhodes
Hazel Cox


On the Proposal to Close Philosophy at Middlesex

By Adrian Piper

I am an innocent bystander and do not purport to speak for or represent anyone directly involved in the evolving situation within UK academic institutions. From where I sit, the "surprising absence of comment that has so far taken place here" does not look to me to be motivated by "the old continental/analytic divide." I sense that what we are seeing is rather a classic deer-in-the-headlights moment.

Over the past few decades in the UK, various government agencies have enforced a series of astonishingly ill-considered and debilitating policies on academic institutions. These include the abolition of tenure, the insistence on self-defeating relevance requirements for obtaining academic funding, the legal attack on freedom of speech and research, the abrupt and unwarranted cancellation of senior academic positions, and now the utterly arbitrary closure of a department that meets virtually all of the criteria for funding and protection these agencies have previously demanded. Such capricious and destructive exercises of administrative power, by agencies and institutions entrusted to protect both the nation's educational and scholarly mandate and also one's own professional wellbeing in accordance with fair and equitable rules on which both parties have agreed, are deeply, horribly demoralizing – not only because they violate standards of fair play and public service, but also because they deliberately remind each one of us of our individual impotence to prevent, resist or rectify them.

With each such experience of being repeatedly betrayed, or brutally and peremptorily robbed of one's power to do one's job – to serve the educational and research needs of one's students, one's institution, one's nation and of the international scholarly community, the sense of shock, disbelief, and unreality increases; and with it, the speechless paralysis we are now witnessing. This speechlessness defines the moment in which one feels trapped in the hypnotic glare of the headlights on an oncoming driverless bus relentlessly bearing down on one, veering crazily from side to side, the steering wheel spinning out of control, on a road that offers no zone of safety because the traditional rules of the road are no longer respected. At earlier points along this route, it may have been possible to believe one could at least save oneself, by fleeing to one side of the road or the other, or by hopping onto the bus and grabbing the wheel, harnessing its power to steer it and its passengers to safety. With this latest travesty of reason, justice and good faith, it is now clear that no such impromptu attempts at rational control have been effective, because the steering mechanism itself is malfunctioning. It needs new parts.

There are several possible endings to this scenario of speechlessness. In one, the collision happens while pedestrians watch silently from the sidelines with open mouths, and there is blood all over the road: arbitrary funding cuts, departmental closures and appointment cancellations now proliferate, and accelerate without obstruction, effectively disabling academic education and research in the UK for decades to come, the survivors continuing to limp along with spirits broken by these repeated reminders of their individual powerlessness to avert the disaster.

In a second ending, the ultimate explanation of the silence is that there is simply nothing more to say. The closing of the Middlesex Philosophy Department fully illuminates the situation for what it is, and the needed response is clear – and forthcoming. The fight response of the academic community is mobilized at the last minute to avert this disaster after all; and speech and discussion on lists such as this one are replaced by concrete collective action off-list that ensures its future survival. This moment is a defining one because it can go either way.

Professorin Dr. Adrian M. S. Piper
APRA Foundation