May letter

Sent: Thu 29/04/2010 02:33
To: Michael Driscoll; Waqar Ahmad; Margaret House; Ed Esche
Subject: Closure of the Philosophy Program

Dear Vice-Chancellors Driscoll, Ahmad, and House, and Dean Esche,

Over the next several days, you will undoubtedly hear much about the value of Middlesex’s program in philosophy:  the stature of the program, the students it attracts, the standing of its faculty.  I would like to address a more personal note, since I had the opportunity to speak at Middlesex two years ago.

I was invited to address the work of the contemporary French philosopher Jacques Ranciere, about whom I have recently published a second book. Since there are not yet many people with great expertise in Ranciere’s thought, I generally expect that my talks will be greeted with some curiosity and with questions of clarification.

This is not what happened at Middlesex.  My talk, which was attended by nearly fifty people (far more than I was used to for a talk on Ranciere), was followed by the most probing questions I have encountered.  The atmosphere was intense throughout.  It was, unlike many talks I have given and attended, as though a deep desire had infiltrated the room, a desire to know whether the ideas of this thinker were indeed right and apt.  I do not recall having been, before or since, in a room where so much seemed at stake in the discussion before us.  It was indeed philosophy as I had dreamed it would be when I was an undergraduate, just beginning to be seduced by its wiles.

This is not all.  After the discussion, nearly two dozen students followed us to a restaurant, where discussion continued for two more hours.

A program like this is a rare gem.  Many philosophy programs, here in the US and elsewhere, have become enclaves of remote specialization.  Not so at Middlesex.  By whatever magic they have conjured, the faculty at that program have created a haven for inquiry as it was always meant to be–serious, engaged, passionate.

With this in mind, I ask you, as one (admittedly, only one) academic to another, to re-consider the decision to close the philosophy program.  It saddens me to know that such a program is in peril.  Those whose intellectual lives it has touched will be impoverished by its loss.  These are difficult economic times, I understand.  But I urge you to do what you can to keep the philosophy program from succumbing to these times.

Todd May

Todd May
Class of 1941 Memorial Professor of the Humanities
Clemson University

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