Boal letter

30 April 2010

To:  Michael Driscoll (Vice-Chancellor)
Waqar Ahmad (Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research and Enterprise)
Margaret House (Deputy Vice Chancellor, Academic)
Ed Esche (Dean, School of Arts & Education)

From: Iain Boal (Retort), Berkeley, California

News has reached California of your decision to axe all the Philosophy programmes at Middlesex University and to shut the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy. The grounds for this decision, we learn, are that the Philosophy Department “made no ‘measurable’ contribution to the University.” This is an interesting case of a statement that, by its mere framing, brings disgrace upon the institution and its executives – a kind of Goodmanesque self-exemplification (though you might need a philosophy department to construe the meaning of this). Your accountants will be puzzled, offended even, to find out how many know the name of Middlesex University for no other reason than that it houses a philosophy department acknowledged around the globe as a beacon flaring in the darkness of late modernity’s knowledge factories.

Growing resistance to the wave of Bologna-style structural adjustment now breaking over the universities of Europe and beyond – with its close-to-market, fit-for-purpose deliverables, and the rest of neoliberalism’s grisly ontology – will only be further fuelled by your decision. As specialists of the bottom line who have thumbs on the windpipe of the body social, you have at least clarified one thing: the very possibility of sites of radical reflection depends now on a transvaluation of values, or else a collective exodus and the creation of social spaces where we can renew the task of building an ample life in common. Among the first acts would be the founding of a program of critical metrology, investigating the history of what modernity has chosen for its yardsticks, and what it chooses to regard as “unmeasurable”, rightly perhaps but for contemptible reasons.

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