Stella Sandford response to Vice-Chancellor Driscoll’s update, 1 June

Dear Colleagues,

I am writing, as Director of Programmes in Philosophy and Religious Studies, on behalf of the academic staff in Philosophy in reply to the Vice-Chancellor’s message to all university staff of Friday 28 May.

We believe that the message seriously misrepresents both the situation in Philosophy and the process leading up to the decision to close recruitment to its programmes, including MPhil/PhD recruitment.

In order to allow for a transparent discussion at university level of the issues raised by these matters, we would like (i) to make the following ten detailed points, below, and (ii) attach a copy of the Plan sent by Philosophy to Executive on 31 March 2010, in response to its request, conveyed via our Dean, that we produce a plan demonstrating that the Philosophy & Religious Studies subject group can make a 56% contribution to the University from 2010-11 onwards; along with the response by our Dean recommending closure.

We omit the 9 spreadsheets accompanying our Plan, the main points from which are summarized in the other two documents.


1. <“This decision followed six months of detailed consultation with Philosophy staff…”>

Detailed consultation with Philosophy staff began on 8 March 2010 (less than 3 months ago) when they were informed by their Dean – Ed Esche – that the Executive had ordered the suspension of recruitment to all philosophy programmes, including all MA and MPhil/PhD students.

Prior to this, Philosophy staff had a single meeting with their Dean, in October 2009, regarding the 2 undergraduate Philosophy programmes only, which had failed to pass through the School APC to university Academic Programme Planning Group ( APPG). Staff proposed a new strategy to increase recruitment to the BAs and requested it be allowed one year to be tested. When programmes were suspended on 8 March, Philosophy undergraduate applications to Middlesex were up by 118% compared with 7.6% nationally.

At the meeting in October, no mention was made of the prospect of closing any of the postgraduate programmes. Indeed, all 3 MAs passed through APPG and were scheduled for a 5-Year Review and Revalidation to be held on 26 February 2010.

This Review and Revalidation event was postponed (now cancelled) on 19 February at 5-working-days notice by David Malpas, the Associate Dean for Resources, as Acting Dean (while the Dean was on leave), without any consultation or explanation to staff.

2.  <“… and ratified initial analysis from the School of Arts and Education.”>

The ‘initial analysis’ presented by the School of Arts & Education to University Executive on the morning of 8 March omitted c.£300,000 per annum of income from Philosophy & Religious Studies – a fact that was immediately apparent to Philosophy staff on being shown the relevant spreadsheet (for the first time) later that day, at the meeting at which they were informed of the suspension of all their programmes.

3. <“… following a process used regularly to assess the viability of courses within the University…>

We assume that ‘courses’ here refers to what the university currently calls ‘programmes’. The ‘regular process’ here is Review via School APC and university APPG. As noted above, the undergraduate Philosophy programmes were held back from APPG by the School APC. However, all 3 Philosophy MA programmes passed through APPG and were scheduled for 5-year Review and Revalidation, prior to the highly ‘irregular’ executive School management decision to postpone and then cancel the Review, without any procedure or consultation.

MPhil/PhD recruitment in Philosophy was subject to review as part of the 5-Year School Review of the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy in February 2009, at which a plan for 2009–2013 was agreed by School management. No further reference has ever been made to this plan by the School or University.

Four staff in Philosophy act as Directors of Studies for MPhil/PhDs and 7 PhDs have been submitted within the last 15 months alone. 13 students (10.5 FTE) are continuing their studies.

4. “<… highlighted a decline in undergraduate student numbers (over several years)…”>

This is acknowledged – see Strategy doc to Executive of 30 March, attached; and an effective strategy was in place in increase them (increasing entry requirement by 60 UCAS points)

5. <…” low research funding (a decline in Hefce research funding and a lack of any external research funding at present) and lack of income from other areas.”>

The 2008 RAE sub-panel report for Philosophy at Middlesex noted: “research income and its use are excellent.”

Philosophy is the highest RAE2008-rated unit in the university. The small relative “decline in Hefce research funding” is that of the per capita decline nationally for all humanities subjects.

In September 2009 Philosophy completed a 3-year AHRC project grant of c. £245,000. In March 2010 (as soon as it was eligible given the previous grant) it applied to the AHRC for a further £192,000 fec 2-year project grant – the decision on which is pending.

6. <“This has meant that Philosophy requires significant cross-subsidies from other programmes, which restricts the School’s ability to invest in and develop other areas.”>

There are no cross-subsidies from other progarmmes identifiable on any of the spreadsheets for Philosophy & Religious Studies produced by the School. We presume this refers to the 2% ‘deficit’ involved in the 53% ‘contribution’ for 2009-10, relative to the 55% requirement. On this basis, presumably, the projected 59% contribution for 2010-11 (relative to a 56% requirement) represents a projected 3% subsidy from Philosophy “to other programmes”.

We note that during the RAE funding cycle 2002-9, we were informed by management that part of the university top-slice of the Philosophy QR was used to ‘subsidize’ poorly research-rated areas in the Business School.

7. <” This combination of circumstances led to the proposal to phase out the teaching over two years. This was discussed with the Philosophy team in October 2009…”>

“The proposal to phase out the teaching over two years” was NOT discussed with the Philosophy team in October 2009. The first they hear of it was on 8 March, at which point Executive had ordered a suspension of recruitment to all programmes. It was never “discussed”. We received it as an Executive decision.

8. <“… and the Executive invited them to submit alternative options for addressing the above issues. However, none of the ideas received would resolve the issues identified and ensure the viability of the programmes.”>

Yes, on March 8, the Executive invited Philosophy staff “to submit alternative options for addressing the above issues.” We did so, in the paper of 30 March, attached here.

“However, none of the ideas received would resolve the issues identified and ensure the viability of the programmes.”

We dispute this. Indeed, we dispute that the Dean’s response to our paper (also attached here) makes a reasonable case for closure in the light of that paper.

We also note that when, during the deferral of an Executive decision in mid April, we made a request to Margaret House that we use the time for further discussion with the Head of Department of Law about possible future collaborations, we were told that: ‘this would not be helpful’.

9. We will leave it to our suspended students to dispute the veracity of the description of their disciplinary hearings.

10. <” In accordance with the University’s Staff disciplinary Procedure, a suspension on full pay may be made where there are allegations of possible misconduct. “>

This is incorrect. The university has moved immediately to ‘stage 2’ of the formal procedure for GROSS misconduct (a separate category in its procedures from ‘misconduct’). Furthermore, it appears to have failed to fulfill its own requirements for so doing. In this respect, the staff suspensions are a (possibly ‘gross’) violation of the University’s own Staff Disciplinary Procedure.

Dr Stella Sandford
Principal Lecturer in Modern European Philosophy
Director of Philosophy and Religious Studies Programmes
Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy
School of Arts and Education
Middlesex University
Trent Park Campus
Bramley Road
London N14 4YZ

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3 Responses to Stella Sandford response to Vice-Chancellor Driscoll’s update, 1 June

  1. Pingback: Campaign update Tuesday 1 June | Save Middlesex Philosophy

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