23 May 2010
Dear Mr. Esche
You must, at this point, be very well aware of all the arguments that have been marshalled against your bureaucratic philistinism. You must, at this point, be very well aware that you have already taken your place in the histories that will be written on the degeneration of the university at the hands of managers unwilling to recognise the value of scholarship as an end in-itself. You are, evidently, willing to accept complicity with this and the notority that will accompany this complicity.
You must, also, have been aware that the decision to respond to the reasoned and entirely justified opposition to your course of action with outright authoritarianism would rapidly escalate both the scale and intensity of international opposition that you are facing.
The fact that you have turned to outright authoritarianism – the court interdict and the suspensions – is a very clear admission on your part that you fear that you cannot win an open and free debate. As Gerrard Winstanley asked, a long time ago: [I]f their cause be so good, why will they not suffer us to speak and let reason and equity, the foundation of righteous laws, judge them and us?
The fact that you have turned to outright authoritarianism forces the very large network of people who have resolved to oppose that damage that you are determined to do to the study and teaching of philosophy to face up to the reality that this struggle will not be won with good arguments or moral suasion. It now has to be accepted that this struggle will be won, or lost, by the exercise of force.
You can interdict people against protesting and you can suspend staff and students. But there are also weapons in the grasp of those who have resolved to oppose you. A strike at the university, by academics and students, seems like a logical move. An international boycott against your university, or perhaps just against its managers, seems equally logical. No doubt people in and around Middlesex are currently discussing a way forward. Those of us further away will be guided by what they decide.
There is a long and sorry history of university managers doing exactly what you are doing. In some countries these battles have been fought with a great deal more brutality than you could get away with in England. The Committee for Academic Freedom in Africa has catalogued many of these battles in Africa – battles in which strikes have run on for years and people have been killed. Right now there is a major struggle on at the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan.
But the fact that your actions have galvanised such incredible international anger and attracted such international attention has made Middlesex an international test case. This fact means that for people in many parts of the world it is clear that there will be wider consequences from what is won or lost at Middlesex.
If you do not step back from your attempt to resolve this crisis with authoritarian measures it seems highly likely that you will encounter more than letters of protest, petitions and opinion pieces in the newspapers. It seems highly likely that you will encounter direct oppositon to your attempts to run Middlesex University as a profitable business. I certainly hope so and would certainly be willing to support that in what ever way is possible.
Let it not be forgotten that Adam Smith, founder of classical economics, was first and foremost a philosopher.
Emeritus Professor, Department of Molecular and Cell Biology,
University of Cape Town