Tuesday 8 June 2010
The campaign to save our philosophy programmes has just won a partial but significant victory: Kingston University in south-west London announced today that it will re-establish our Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy (CRMEP) at Kingston, by employing the four senior staff in Philosophy at Middlesex (Eric Alliez, Peter Hallward, Peter Osborne and Stella Sandford). Our MA and PhD programmes (full-time and part-time) will be re-launched at Kingston this September, and all current post-graduate students will be invited to move along with the staff. Institutions in France and Germany have also made significant new proposals for collaboration with the CRMEP, which may allow it to expand the European dimensions of its work considerably in the near future.
This remarkable turn of events would never been possible without the extraordinary local and international campaign that began six weeks ago, to save our philosophy programmes.
Like Middlesex, Kingston is a post-1992 university, with a commitment to widening participation in education. Unlike Middlesex, Kingston is expanding rather than cutting back its provision in humanities subjects, and it is investing in research in these areas. In addition to taking on CRMEP staff, Kingston will be making a number of other high-level appointments over the coming months, and is launching its own London Graduate School in conjunction with colleagues from several other Universities internationally. We believe that Kingston will provide an enthusiastic and supportive base for the activities of the CRMEP.
Although we have not won all the demands made by our campaign, the move to Kingston is a major achievement. We have found a way to keep all of our postgraduate programmes open, and to keep most of the CRMEP staff together in a single unit. We have preserved a place in London for the unique academic community that has built up around the Centre and its distinctive research interests, and this will continue to be a place where the criteria for entry and participation remain as open as possible. The campaign has directly refuted the line that Middlesex managers have repeated for many years now – a variation of the line that ‘there is no alternative’ but to follow the neoliberal way of the world, and to close down small academic departments in favour of large vocational ones. The campaign hasn’t merely proved that ‘another way is possible’: it has helped to indicate what needs to be done to make such a way a reality, and shown that there are universities in the UK and in Europe that are willing to embrace it.
We hope that the campaign will continue, evolving to become one of several contributions from a range of institutions across London and the region to a broader and deeper struggle in support of philosophy, the humanities and public education more generally. Some of the protestors who made the biggest impact in our campaign came from supportive universities such as Sussex, KCL, SOAS, Westminster and Goldsmiths. This emerging network of education activists isn’t going to disperse, and is likely to play an important role in the struggles that will soon affect the entire sector. Although the closure of Philosophy at Middlesex is yet another indication of the ongoing commercialisation of education in the UK, our campaign, along with other recent mobilisations at universities up and down the country, has helped change the balance of power across higher education. The campaign to save philosophy at Middlesex has already made a powerful intervention in the fight for public education in general and for endangered humanities programmes in particular. The future looks challenging but there is now much to build on, at Middlesex, at Kingston and across the UK.
Eric Alliez, Peter Hallward, Peter Osborne and Stella Sandford
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The decision to leave Middlesex University was very difficult. Recently it became clear that some of the steps taken by Middlesex management to shut down Philosophy would be irreversible in the short term. Management have already written to all our current undergraduate applicants, informing them that our BA programme is closed. No new PhD applicants have been able to apply since early March. Belying some apparent suggestions of last-minute compromise from his deputies, on Friday 28 May Middlesex Vice-Chancellor Michael Driscoll reiterated his determination to end Philosophy recruitment and to phase out all Philosophy teaching. Management ignored a UCU motion calling for staff suspensions to be lifted by noon on Wednesday 2 June, and we know that effective UCU action to oppose the closure and suspensions will now take several months to prepare. The national political context is also significant. A first round of severe cuts to the Higher Education budget will be announced on 22 June, with more drastic measures to follow in the autumn. Given the financial pressures that will soon apply to every university in the country, if the door is shut at Middlesex then the time for a group move may be now or never. If programmes are to be validated and new students admitted in good time for the start of the new academic year in September then we need begin the transition immediately.
We are acutely aware of the fact that such a move is only an incomplete victory for the campaign. Despite relentless local and international pressure the central demand of the campaign, to save philosophy at Middlesex itself, has fallen on deaf ears. Vice-chancellor Michael Driscoll and those managers who support his vision of a university purged of critical thinking, research and humanities teaching have amply demonstrated their contempt for the passionately argued priorities of their own students, and for the academic judgement of many highly respected scholars in and around our field, in the UK and the world over.
Kingston University, meanwhile, doesn’t yet have an undergraduate programme in Philosophy, and in order to make this move possible it will have to provide a substantial sum of transitional funding, through to the end of the current research funding cycle (i.e. for a minimum of three years). Given these constraints, Kingston is only able to take four of the six members of staff in Philosophy at Middlesex. We very much regret that we haven’t managed to find a secure base for the CRMEP that includes all Middlesex Philosophy programmes and staff. We hope that Middlesex will now honour its commitment to teach out its under-graduate programmes and that it will retain our colleagues Christian Kerslake and Mark Kelly (if they so choose) to teach them. In the longer term, we hope that Middlesex will offer to retain Christian and Mark to teach philosophy courses for programmes in other areas. In addition to providing a place for current Middlesex undergraduates to pursue an eventual MA or PhD, we hope that Kingston will launch its own undergraduate provision in due course, enabling new appointments in Philosophy.
We know that in leaving Middlesex we are leaving many courageous and embattled colleagues who have supported the campaign and whose own programmes remain vulnerable. We know as well that several of the most urgent issues of the campaign remain unresolved: students and staff are still suspended, our undergraduate programme is slated for termination, the situation of our current undergraduate students is uncertain, the criteria for further ‘sustainability’ decisions remain unclear, and the future of humanities provision is as precarious as ever. Middlesex managers have not changed their position and the union remains in dispute over the staff suspensions and the way in which closure decisions are taken. The mobilisation of Middlesex staff in and beyond our UCU branch is proof of their readiness to fight not only for a radical transformation of these procedures but also for the general principles that have animated this campaign: the defence of universal access to education and the opportunity to pursue independent critical thinking; the defence of teaching and research in terms that challenge the prevailing divisive and hierarchical criteria used to assess ‘performance’ and ‘excellence’; the defence of academic freedom and the right to protest; the defence of collective action by students and staff alike.
We will continue to do everything we can to support our colleagues and our suspended students, and to resist any further intimidation of campaign activists. Christian Kerslake, Peter Osborne, and Peter Hallward have suspension hearings scheduled for this coming week, and we will fight not just to overturn these suspensions but to discourage any future use of such punitive and inappropriate sanctions in the face of peaceful protest and dissent.
Today our campaign enters into a new phase. It has succeeded in showing that there is indeed an alternative to the narrow corporate priorities championed by Middlesex managers, and that in closing their Philosophy programmes and then persecuting their students and staff, Middlesex management have violated their own procedures, damaged the reputation of the University and lost the confidence of many students and members of academic staff. These students and members of staff will no longer tolerate management incompetence, bullying and unaccountability. Middlesex can no longer be managed in the same old way. As it changes to become part of the broader struggle for public education, our campaign will continue to emphasise collective action and direct confrontation with the forces that are driving the neoliberal assault on our education system.
One phase of this campaign is over; the struggle continues.