Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Middlesex Philosophy II

This would be amusing if it weren't so absurd (from here):

A Middlesex university spokesman said: "Philosophy is only able to operate with subsidies from other subject areas in the university. The university has no choice but to address this issue, particularly in the context of announced, and further anticipated, public funding cuts. We recognise this is a difficult period for philosophy staff and students, and will be working with them to determine the best way forward."

Except, of course, that the university has pretty clearly already established that there is no way forward; the department is being shut down. This is precisely the problem: the university did not go to the Philosophy department and say, "We have some problems, and we need to find a way to get this department less dependent on subsidies from other areas." They did not propose any restructuring, any alternatives, or anything but closure. They've already shown that they are not interested in working with the Philosophy department to determine the best way forward.

I do have to admire the cleverness of the last sentence, though, which implies that this is really just a matter of disgruntled people who want to save their position. It's not, in fact, a difficult period for philosophy staff -- they are almost all certain to get positions elsewhere, and in some cases probably at better pay and benefits. With the students there may be some rougher transition -- but as a rule they, too, will be able to find places elsewhere. No, the problem is the sheer, unadulterated stupidity of the move, which will destroy an internationally renowned department (the explicit justification for which was to make it easier to squeeze money from students), brands Middlesex as an anti-intellectual university that does not regard serious teaching and research as among its primary goals, and will earn it nothing but unadulterated contempt the world over. I like the commenter's suggestion at the above link that perhaps Middlesex should now remove the word "university" from its title; that conveys, in a sentence, the real issue here.

(Incidentally, one of the bizarre things in the comments is that several people read the claim about graduate students as the claim that the department only has twelve students; but that's not right. It gains about twelve graduate students a year, and graduate students stick around for a while. The graduate program at Middlesex seems to have about 60 students at present, which is actually fairly big for a prestigious research program. [UPDATE: Apparently the 'twelve students a year' referred to the BA in particular; the department has been working to increase the degrees. It also, of course, teaches students from other degrees. And there are, of course, the graduate students. I should have realized that graduate students don't count because they can't usually be squeezed for as much money as undergraduates. But the Middlesex Philosophy department says that its focus on post-graduate education was due to priorities set by administration several years ago.])

I think one could argue that it's all a sign that philosophy can no longer trust universities to serve its interest; and thought should be taken for how it can survive -- as it has before, on many occasions -- independently of such degenerating academic structures. How true that is, I'm not sure, although it's an argument for which one could point out more than one supporting fact; but it's worth thinking about.

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