Beck letter

30 April 2010

Dear Michael Driscoll, Waqar Ahmad, Margaret House & Ed Esche,

Your decision to close the philosophy department and the CRMEP at Middlesex is inexplicable and disgraceful.

For decades philosophy at Middlesex has been reknowned not simply as excellent, but exceptional, standing on an at least equal footing with departments at older and more established universities such as Essex, Warwick and Sussex. When I chose to do my MA, and subsequently my PhD at Middlesex, having studied mathematics at Cambridge, I did so quite simply because it was the best place in the country to study and research the kind of philosophy I was interested in.

Building on the reputation established by the philosophy department, the CRMEP has over the last decade or so created a vibrant, vigorous, innovative research environment that attracts post-graduate students from all over the world, regularly gets world-class scholars to attend and address its conferences and seminars, has a proven track record of winning large scale funding from the AHRC, and consistently out-performs not just philosophy but other humanities’ UOAs from new and many old universities in the RAE. Not bad for a new university, frankly.

But none of this, apparently, can be measured.

And, of course, in one sense you are absolutely right. The contribution of philosophy not just to the reputation of Middlesex, but to the objective reality of it as an academic institution, has been immeasurable. You should be proud of what has been achieved. But above all you should be grateful to the staff in the philosophy department and the CRMEP who have worked tirelessly and against the odds to secure this unique achievement of which you have been the chief beneficiaries. It simply beggars belief that you cannot see this. All I can say, as someone who now works for one of your equally struggling competitors, is thank you – thank you for levelling the playing field.

In another sense, of course, you are completely wrong. What is perhaps most outrageous about the Dean of Humanities reported statement that the CRMEP and its research excellence made no “measurable” contribution to the university is not the contempt it displays for academic values, nor the worrying implication that senior management simply do not know what a university is or what it is for, but the fact that it is quite patently false.

The RAE is a measure, an objective and officially sanctioned measure. Does the Dean of Humanities statement, therefore, indicate that the management of Middlesex University no longer recognise the legitimacy or validity of the RAE? If so, will they be withdrawing the university from all subsequent RAEs? And since apparently the senior management of the university, who have now publicly admitted that they cannot or do not know how to measure the contribution of academic units to the university, refuse to accept a measure kindly provided by central government at its own cost, does this indicate that the university no longer recognises the government’s authority nor its right to assess and measure the performance of the university? Perhaps, HEFCE should be informed.

What is more the RAE is a measure to which money – yes, money! – is tied. None of this money, nor any from student fees or AHRC grants, would have been received by the university if the philosophy department and the CRMEP had not existed or their staff had not worked their socks off to obtain it. This is cold, hard quantifiable cash. Certainly more quantifiable than any pie-in-the-sky dreams about band B students. (By the way, does anybody actually know the relative margins on band D, C and B students? I would have thought that the continual grumbling from the Russell Group would suggest that the margins at the high end are not good – but what do I know?)

The fact that the Dean of Humanities does not consider any of this money a measurable contribution to the university can only mean that he and other senior management do not consider the academic units to actually be part of the university, that the only money that measurably contributes to the university is the money that is raked off by the central adminstration – in short that the central administration is “the university” and if you fail to keep up your “contributions” to “the university” then they will come round and burn your place to the ground.

Yours Sincerely

Adam Beck
Senior Lecturer in Philosophy
London Metropolitan University
(PhD Middlesex 2002)

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