Society for European Philosophy letter

Closure of Philosophy at Middlesex

SEP, May 2nd, 2010

An open letter to Michael Driscoll (Vice-chancellor), Waqar Ahmad, (Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research and Enterprise), and Margaret House (Deputy Vice Chancellor Academic), University of Middlesex.

We believe you are responsible for taking the decision to close down all the Philosophy Programmes at Middlesex and the renowned Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy. We are dismayed to hear about this decision, which is not only regrettable, but unwarranted and misconceived.

We understand that the Dean, Professor Esche, told staff that the Department’s high research reputation makes no ‘measurable’ contribution to the University. This is untrue. In financial terms, the Department’s QR funding amounted (according to HEFCE’s own figures) to £173,260 in 09-10. 42 new MA students were recruited in 2009, a figure that is the envy of most philosophy departments in the UK. This itself represents an appreciable stream of income and it makes the decision to close down philosophy at Middlesex all the more perverse.

The reason why Middlesex did so well in the RAE, and that it recruits so well, is the outstanding reputation of CRMEP both within the UK and internationally. It is one of the leading centres for continental philosophy in the UK, achieving a 5 in the 2001 RAE and a GPA of 2.8 in the 2008 RAE – the same as Leeds, Nottingham and Edinburgh and above Warwick, Durham and Glasgow. Professors Eric Alliez, Peter Hallward and Peter Osborne, along with Dr Stella Stanford, and Dr Christian Kerslake are all outstanding researchers who are respected in the profession and beyond. Moreover, they have produced academic progeny who have established excellent reputations of their own and are helping other Universities to thrive. This is a sure indication of the good health of Philosophy at Middlesex and of the high quality of its teaching.

Of course not all contributions to a University are “measurable” in financial terms. This does not make them less important or mean that they do not bring substantial benefits (including economic ones) to the University. Philosophy’s contribution to the national and international esteem, reputation and good standing of the University should be valued very highly. Such things are hard won, and once the department is closed down, not recuperable.

We ask you to consider the immense damage that will be done to Middlesex by closing a department with such an impressive research reputation. Already there has been a national and international outcry, both within the discipline and beyond. Prospective students – both undergraduate and postgraduate – will be put off, and prospective and current staff will not regard Middlesex as a safe place of employment. It will certainly weaken the loyalty of the best academics at Middlesex working in other areas.

Good management practice in circumstances where the closure of a department is being considered is to have a full-scale external review of the department, with both internal and external expert panel members. Middlesex does not appear to have conducted such a review. Maybe this is because they can anticipate that it would quickly find that the department has all the hallmarks of long-term viability: an excellent research reputation, astonishingly good PG recruitment, and increasing undergraduate applications. Not holding a review reflects extremely poorly on the management team and again damages its institutional reputation.

In closing down its highest-ranking department for reasons of short-term financial expediency, in the face of such powerful countervailing considerations, Middlesex is betraying its own academic values. We urge you rethink this decision.

Dr. Gordon Finlayson
Professor Brian O’Connor
Dr. Beth Lord
Dr. John Mullarkey
and the Executive Committee of the Society for European Philosophy

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