Many will already have seen the news of the amazingly foolish decision by the University of Middlesex to close what is probably the most vibrant and most important department of philosophy in the United Kingdom.
Here, for what it’s worth, is the letter of protest that I just sent:
French, Hispanic, and Italian Studies
797-1873 East Mall
University of British Columbia
Vancouver BC V6T 1Z1
April 30, 2010
Dear Professors Driscoll, Ahmad, House, and Esche:
I recently learned of the decision to close Middlesex University’s Department of Philosophy.
I share the grave concern already expressed by many colleagues worldwide about what appears to be a short-sighted policy that can only cause harm not only to the University but also to the reputation of British academia more generally.
Last year I had the good fortune to present a paper at the regular seminar hosted by the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy. I thus had the chance to experience the department’s extraordinary, and deservedly famous, atmosphere of intellectual engagement, with the lively participation of postgraduate students as well as academic staff.
The Centre, and the department as a whole, is very clearly a vibrant centre of research and postgraduate training. It is the very model of the critical thought and collaborative enterprise that should be valued by the University.
This is to say nothing of the prodigious contribution made by the department’s staff in their widely-disseminated research, in their leading role with the prestigious journal Radical Philosophy, in training a generation of young intellectuals in Philosophy and in inspiring others across a wide range of disciplines.
I can barely fathom the university priorities that allow this department, perhaps above all, to be selected for closure. It would send a terrible signal to the academic community in Britain and outside were this decision not reversed.
I implore you to reconsider.
Assistant Professor in Latin American Studies
Truly, British academia is in a sorry state when decisions such as this can even be contemplated. Apparently the given reasons are that the department “only” contributed 53% of its revenue to the central administration, rather than desired 55%, and that the university figures it can earn more of a financial profit from students on lab-based courses than from those in the Humanities.
What’s most incomprehensible is that this petty penny-pinching so damages the university brand that it is surely financially as well as intellectually an act (as Radical Philosophy put it) of “wilful self-harm” on every level.
There’s something more happening here than the simple marketization of academia, the encroachment of economic logic even in its most naked, neoliberal form. What we see here is an institution giving up altogether on the traditional vocation of the university.
Middlesex apparently no longer cares about its brand, its reputation, or even the neoliberal university’s recast mission to present itself as a center of “excellence” (to use that much-abused buzzword).
It is as though Middlesex aspires to be something other than a university. Sadly, it is not alone in this “aspiration.”