Gilbert letter

30 April 2010

Dear colleagues

I am writing to you today – as have, I know, many others already – to express my personal shock and my professional dismay at the news of the planned closure of philosophy programmes at Middlesex.

It is no exaggeration to say that to my mind the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy is one of the most important research centres in the British humanities. I have sent more than one of my own best students to study there over the years, and I have frankly lost count of the number of times that I have recommended its MA and PhD programmes to students (both home and overseas) who have contacted me for advice, including several potentially strong applicants to my own programmes. In the current competitive marketplace one does not make such gestures lightly, but it is a testament to my own professional judgement as to the quality and scope of those programmes and the individuals who teach them, and to the widely-held opinion of them shared by the broader academic community of which I am a member, that I have had no hesitation in doing so.

I am based in a research centre which, much like CRMEP, has been rated very highly at every Research Assessment Exercise (80% world-leading or internationally-ecxcellent in 2008) despite facing the challenges of being based at a new university in London. As such I can well understand the difficulties facing such institutions and the financial pressures driving the decision to close programmes. However, I also know that it is both possible and essential that new universities continue to promote such centres of excellence under current political circumstances. There can be little question as to the very strong desire of influential lobbies within the HE sector to put an end to all research funding for all but elite institutions, and there can be no question that if this desire is realised, it will prove of no benefit at all to any part or member of any post-1992 institution. As such, a threat to an acknowledged centre of world-leading excellence in a new university must be seen as suicidally complicit with the elitist agenda which threatens the very status of both our institutions.

This is surely a catastrophic strategic mistake. I repeat: it is quite clear that our ‘colleagues’ in the Russell Group, and many of their friends in government, would dearly love to see centres of excellence such as CRMEP excised from the sector altogether, in order to justify their medium-term aim of reducing our overall funding levels and excluding us from all research funding; and it is quite clear that it cannot be in our interests to allow this to happen. Given that the popularity and profitability of its programmes are well-known, one can only assume that CRMEP is likely to be offered a home by another institution if Middlesex insists on closing it; but it would be a devastating blow to the non-elite part of the sector were the centre (as seems likely) to join an elite institution.

As the editor of a leading peer-reviewed journal in the critical humanities (new formations), I can attest with some authority as to the very high quality of the research which is produced by the centre and its staff, but also to the significant contribution made by its work to the life of the wider intellectual community. The events and publications produced by the centre, as well as by the journal which is most closely associated with it (Radical Philosophy), form a focal point for theoretical and speculative debate in the English-speaking world, across a range of disciplines. I can personally say without exaggeration that my own published work has been significantly influenced, enhanced and enriched by them, while my awareness of and level of engagement with significant areas of cutting-edge research would be far poorer had it not been for their extraordinary contribution. There is no other equivalent research centre or publication about which I would make this claim in such unqualified terms.

As we all know, there is increasing pressure on British universities to demonstrate the widespread dissemination and influence of their work. It is worth noting, then, what happened when the most recent issue of new formations carried a publication co-authored in part by two members of CRMEP (Éric Alliez and Peter Hallward), produced entirely with their co-operation (the round-table discussion upon which it was based being recorded in a room made available by CRMEP). The publishers of the journal, Lawrence & Wishart, decided to make the a pdf version of the resulting article available for download for free from its website. With minimal publicity, this publication was downloaded over 6,000 times within less than a week of its release date. I would challenge anyone to show that any other group of researchers and teachers working in the British humanities is capable of this level of demonstrable influence and impact. The curbing of their activities could only be a catastrophe for Middlesex, for the cause of the new universities, and, most importantly, for the wider community of researchers, students and public which it remains our duty to serve.

Yours sincerely

Jeremy Gilbert
Reader in Cultural Studies
School of Humanities & Cultural Studies
University of East London
4-6 University Way
E16 2RD

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