May 11, 2010
Michael Discoll, Vice Chancellor
Waqar Ahmad, Deputy Vice Chancellor Research and Enterprise
Margaret House, Deputy Vice Chancellor Academic
Ed Esche, Dean, School of Arts & Education
Dear Sirs and Madam,
RE: Middlesex University’s decision to close the Philosophy Department
It has come to our attention that the administration of Middlesex University plans to close its philosophy department. The University of Windsor Faculty Association (WUFA) in Windsor, Ontario, Canada urges you to reconsider this ill-conceived plan, since a university willing to let its philosophy department lapse has thereby made it obvious that it no longer has an interest in being a real university at all.
Every other human art and science has a common historical root in philosophy, and for this reason your plan in effect will cut off those other human endeavours from its own roots. Historical considerations aside, however, philosophy as a highly distinctive human enterprise inculcates habits of mind that are required of any reasonably informed citizen: critical and independent inquiry, logical analysis, and argument assessment readily come to mind as some of its key features.
Were philosophy allowed to disappear at your university, the most obvious implication would be that Middlesex University has no interest in helping to produce thoughtful, informed citizens (no matter what they do in life for a living)—and maybe even a positive interest in producing thoughtless, uninformed ones instead. While your proposed plan might serve purely economic interests, people are more than purely economic beings—and even if they were, the registration choices of your own students, given the option to enroll in philosophy courses, has to count for a significant indicator of real demand. At the University of Windsor, we could easily fill many more sections of philosophy than are currently allowed to be offered.
Philosophers by nature speak truth to power, and this fact does sometimes make powerful people uncomfortable. But they do so because they are convinced that this is the best way to ensure that only legitimate power survives, figuring that its fraudulent counterpart has no rational weapons at its disposal besides brute force. Such force, however, requires for its sustenance ever-increasing intensities to maintain whatever frail gains it has made; the reason is that human beings have a natural desire for free inquiry that cannot be long suppressed: once it tastes intellectual freedom, bondage is simply no longer an option, as the various uprisings on your campus are already making plain. Although in a slightly different context, your own history as a nation with respect to other peoples with regard to physical freedom and slavery should make this abundantly clear.
We urge you, therefore, in the strongest possible terms to reconsider what closing your philosophy department will advertise concerning the reputation of your ‘university’. (The scare quotes are justified by the mere contemplation of this closure.) Philosophy is not expected to be a money-maker; its wealth consists in ideas that serve all kinds of human purposes, including but hardly limited to the generation of monetary wealth. Instead of being a place where all ideas are equally subject to testing in a common court of rational appeal, Middlesex will become a place in which that very court has been abolished. This is characteristic of military dictatorships, not of democratic constitutions. It hardly needs reminding that the rest of the civilized world looks to the UK as an exemplar of democracy.
Brian E. Brown, President
Faculty Association, University of Windsor
366 Sunset Ave.,
Windsor ON N9B 3P4
(519) 253-3000 ext. 3366