cc: Prof. Edward Esche, Prof. Margaret House, Prof. Waqar Ahmad
30 April 2010
Dear Professor Driscoll
I am writing to you on behalf of the British Philosophical Association, the Australasian Association of Philosophy, and the American Philosophical Association concerning the recent announcement that Middlesex University is to close its philosophy department.
We are very disturbed, both at the decision itself and at the rationale behind it.
The Philosophy Department at Middlesex has an outstanding reputation for research, both within the UK and internationally. It is unquestionably 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 (for example) Warwick, Sussex, Durham and Glasgow in the THE league table.
We understand that the Dean, Professor Esche, told staff that the Department’s high research reputation makes no ‘measurable’ contribution to the University. This claim is simply not true. In financial terms, the Department’s QR funding amounted (according to HEFCE figures) to over £150,000 in 09-10.
But of course direct financial contributions are not the only consideration. The Philosophy Department at Middlesex is surely one of its best-performing departments in research terms. This brings with it a huge boost in research reputation for the University as a whole – something that new universities struggle to achieve. One symptom of the Philosophy Department’s high research reputation is its very healthy recruitment to MA courses; we understand that 42 new MA students were recruited in 2009, a figure that almost all philosophy departments in the UK would be extremely envious of.
A further consideration is surely the immense damage that will be done to Middlesex as an institution by closing a department with an excellent research reputation and healthy postgraduate numbers. Prospective students – both undergraduate and postgraduate – will worry whether their chosen department will be next on the list, and prospective permanent staff will not regard Middlesex as a place where their job is safe.
We are also concerned about the rationale given for the decision to close Philosophy. We understand that the decision has been made on a purely financial basis. While of course we appreciate that universities are suffering financially at the moment, from what we can gather, the Department is only 2% off its target contribution of 55% of gross income to the central administration.
This is a very small shortfall, and one would normally expect that the problem could be dealt with in other, less draconian ways; particularly given that the department has all the hallmarks of long-term viability: an excellent research reputation, astonishingly good PGT recruitment, and increasing undergraduate applications.
Normal procedure – and certainly best practice – in circumstances where the closure of a department is being considered is to have a full-scale review of the department, with both internal and external expert panel members. Middlesex does not appear to have conducted such a review – something which, again, damages its institutional reputation and, perhaps more importantly, suggests that perhaps all the options have not been fully considered.
We urge you, in the strongest possible terms, to conduct such a review, so that all the options can be considered fully.
Prof. Helen Beebee, Director, British Philosophical Association
and on behalf of:
Prof. Paul Humphreys
Chair of American Philosophical Association Committee on International Relations
Prof. Graham Oppy
President, Australasian Association of Philosophy