About our campaign

Overview of the Campaign to Save Philosophy at Middlesex University

In late April 2010, Middlesex University decided to close down Philosophy, its highest research-rated subject; ever since, Middlesex students and staff, and many thousands of their supporters in the UK and around the world, have been battling to save it. Below is a general overview of our campaign.

(This document will be updated regularly).

I        The Background

Over the course of the past decade, Middlesex University has come to be widely recognised as one of the most important centres for the study of modern European philosophy in the English-speaking world. To the best of our knowledge, its set of MA programmes in philosophy is currently the largest in the UK, and philosophy is the highest research-rated subject in the university. (One indication of its reputation is provided by its results in the UK’s Research Assessment Exercise or RAE: building on its grade 5 rating in RAE 2001, philosophy at Middlesex was awarded a score of 2.8 on the new RAE scale in 2008, with 65% of its research activity judged ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’).

More importantly, work carried out at our Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy is characterised by a unique emphasis on broad cultural, artistic and intellectual contexts, and a marked sense of social and political engagement. Middlesex Philosophy is one of only a handful of programmes left in the UK that provides both research-driven and inclusive post-graduate teaching aimed at a wide range of students, specialist and non-specialist. It currently contributes close to half of its total income to the university’s central administration.

Nevertheless, late on Monday 26 April 2010, the Dean of the School of Arts & Humanities, Ed Esche, acting on the instructions of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research and Enterprise Waqar Ahmad and the Deputy Vice Chancellor Academic Margaret House, informed staff that the university had decided to close down all Philosophy programmes. All undergraduate and PhD recruitment has been terminated; the MA programme will run for another year, since it has 24 part-time students (for whom it’s a two-year programme) who have now reached the end of their first year. The BA programme will be ‘taught out’ over the next two years.

In his meeting with Philosophy staff, the Dean acknowledged the excellent research reputation of Philosophy at Middlesex, but said that it made no ‘measurable’ contribution to the university.

In a letter to all Middlesex professors sent on 7 May 2010, Vice-Chancellor Michael Driscoll confirmed that as far as the university management is concerned, staff had been unable to ‘present a credible case for a sustainable future for teaching and research in Philosophy’.

Closure of Philosophy is part of a more general assault on humanities provision at Middlesex in recent years. History was closed down a couple of years ago, English and Translation programmes have been severely downsized, and Modern Language recruitment was suspended earlier this year.

II       The Case for closure

The Dean told staff that the decision to terminate recruitment and close the programmes was ‘simply financial’, and based on the fact that the university believes that it will be able to generate additional revenue if it shifts more of its resources away from teaching (so-called Band D) humanities subjects. He emphasised the relatively low recruitment level to the single-honours undergraduate programme in Philosophy, averaging just 12 new students per year over the last three years. The Vice-Chancellor subsequently explained that ‘failure to act would have left Philosophy requiring continuing subsidy from other subject areas and undermine the ability of other areas to succeed in their teaching and research.’

In fact – and leaving aside the question as to whether academic decisions should be taken on ‘simply financial’ grounds – the management’s case for closure is unconvincing even on its own terms.

1. Recruitment. The university states that Philosophy has ‘only 12 students each year’. But this applies only to the BA. We teach philosophy to under-graduate students on other degrees, and large numbers of post-graduate students. On the School’s own credit count, our full-time equivalent (FTE) student numbers for 2009-10 come to 112.5.

These 112.5 FTE are taught by 6 Philosophy staff, of whom only 4 are on the ‘core’ School budget; the other 2 salaries are paid out of research income (RAE income or ‘QR’; more on this in a moment), of which they represent less than half.

As a strategy to increase BA recruitment for 2010-11, Philosophy raised its entry requirements significantly. The initial signs were encouraging. As of early March 2010 (when recruitment was terminated), applications on this programme were up 118% on last year, against an average national rise in Philosophy of just 7.6%.

In keeping with priorities agreed a couple of years ago with the university management, the primary focus of Philosophy recruitment and teaching in the last few years has been on post-graduate programmes. The number of MA students has risen steadily in successive years, to reach 48 in October 2010. There are also currently 15 PhD students enrolled in the CRMEP (and 5 PhDs were awarded in 2009).

2. Finances and ‘subsidy’. Some of the university’s larger and more vocational teaching areas, such as Business, obviously generate more income than its smaller humanities subjects. Management claims that Philosophy is ‘subsidised’ by other subjects, however, are not correct. In reality, the actual subsidy goes in the opposite direction. In addition to covering its portion of the management and administrative costs of its School (in our case, the School of Arts and Education), a subject group at Middlesex University is expected to make a ‘contribution’ to the ‘centre’. The management currently demands that a subject area contribute at least 55%  of its gross income to the centre (and although such contributions are often measured in different ways, this is considerably more than most other universities demand). As it stands, by what they call ‘the credit count’ method of calculation, the Philosophy & Religious Studies subject group already makes a 53% ‘contribution’ (Philosophy’s contribution on its own stands at 45%). Using the figures projected for recruitment by the university’s Admissions department, if our programmes had remained open then the contribution from Philosophy & Religious Studies would have risen to 59% for 2010-11 (with Philosophy on its own at 53%). From 2003-2009, moreover, a significant portion of Middlesex Philosophy’s research income was actually diverted to support research in Business and Management, which performed poorly in RAE2001.

Philosophy’s annual Research Assessment Income is currently worth £173,260: our six members of staff generate no less than 5% of the university’s total research income, a proportion that is around six times more than the per capita university average.

In 2006 Philosophy also won a substantial 3-year AHRC grant (‘Concept and Form’) worth £230,000, and a new AHRC grant application, for a project on transdisciplinarity, was submitted earlier this spring. We are well-placed to make similar bids in the future.

Incredibly, if Philosophy is closed down and the staff made redundant, Middlesex University will nevertheless continue to receive our c. £170,000/year research funding through to the beginning of the next funding cycle (i.e. probably to 2015 or 2016).

Meanwhile, at the same time that humanities programmes like Philosophy are being closed down, spending on administrative salaries and consultant fees has rapidly increased.

For more detailed information on the financial contribution Philosophy makes to the university please see our FAQs.

III     The Campaign against closure

The decision to terminate Philosophy immediately generated widespread outrage among colleagues at Middlesex. Most of the academic professors at the university signed a forceful letter to the Vice-Chancellor condemning the decision, and the local branch of the university and College Union arranged an emergency meeting for all Middlesex staff on Wednesday 12 May.

The national and international response has been extraordinary. More than a thousand people signed a petition in defence of Philosophy within hours of its posting; as of 11 May more than 14,600 people have now signed it. A Facebook page set up to Save Middlesex Philosophy currently has over 11,700 members.

A group letter to the Times Higher Education, protesting the closure, was signed by some of the most well-known figures in the field, including many people whose work is intensively studied by students and staff at the CRMEP: Alain Badiou, Etienne Balibar, Judith Butler, Toni Negri, Jacques Rancière, Gayatri Spivak, Slavoj Zizek and many others. We have received other group letters from a wide range of organisations and associations, including the British Philosophical Association, the American Philosophical Association, the Collège International de Philosophie, the Australasian Association of Philosophy, the Canadian Philosophical Association, the Société Française de Philosophie, the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy.

Hundreds of individuals, including many of the most prominent people teaching Philosophy in the UK, have also written letters in our support. A small sampling of these letters is posted here. We are now starting to receive letters signed by entire academic departments.

If you would like to write a letter to defend Philosophy at Middlesex, please send a message to the Board of Governors via the email addresses listed here. If you are willing for us to post your letter on this site please CC it to savemdxphil@gmail.com.

IV      The Occupation at Trent Park

In early May, Middlesex Philosophy students took matters into their own hands. The Dean and the Vice-Chancellor Academic had proposed a meeting with students on the morning of Tuesday 4 May; when the management cancelled this meeting at short notice, more than 60 students converged on the Dean’s office in the ‘Mansion’ building at Trent Park to demand an explanation. The Dean refused to meet with them, or to contact them by phone. The students decided to wait all day, and then all night, and all through the next day; the initial sit-in thus turned into an occupation of the Trent Park Boardroom and its adjoining corridor. Police came to the campus to consider management accusations of trespassing; they left after an hour or so, apparently after deciding that the management had no case.

The students’ demand was very simple: they asked the management to enter into negotiations leading to a reversal of the decision to close the Philosophy programmes. Management refused to respond.

On the afternoon of Wednesday 5 May, the students organised a rally in support of this demand. When the rally ended many more students joined the occupation, and expanded it to take control of the entire Mansion building, the main building of the Trent Park campus. The steering group of the occupation explained their actions and their intentions that evening, in an open letter.

On Thursday 6 May, university managers finally met with students, only to confirm the termination of recruitment to all the Philosophy programmes; the meeting ended in an impasse.

Over the weekend of 8-9 May, supporters of the occupation packed the Mansion building (converted into an experimental ‘transversal space‘) to attend a full programme of lectures, discussions, films and meetings about a wide range of topics, including Marxism, student activism, university politics, Spinoza, Lacan, Proust, Benjamin… (the weekend’s schedule is posted here and here). Similar events and activities took place all through the following week.

Occupation of the Mansion continued for twelve days. On Friday 14 May University managers obtained a high court injunction which gave them the legal power to drive their students out of the building. The injunction singled out seven individuals suspected of participating in the occupation, for apparently arbitrary reasons. The injunction came into force early on Saturday 15 May; the students collectively decided to request that any of the seven named individuals present should leave the occupation, and then later in the day, they finally decided to bring the occupation itself to a close, so as to join a rally outside the Mansion with Tariq Ali and move on to the next phase of the campaign.

On Thursday evening, 20 May, students and staff from Philosophy and several other endangered humanities programmes at Middlesex went on the offensive again, and staged a one-night sit-in of the library at Trent Park.  The management immediately called the police. After a brief discussion with the protestors, the police decided that the University’s injunction did not apply to the sit-in, and left them undisturbed.

Further campaign events are planned for the coming days and weeks; please check https://savemdxphil.com/ regularly for details.

*  *  *  *

As it stands, university managers have said and done nothing to suggest that they are prepared to reconsider their decision to ‘phase out’ all philosophy programmes over the next two years.

Local, national and international support for the campaign and the occupation continues to grow day by day. As many supporters of the campaign point out, what is at stake in this struggle goes far beyond the fate of a small department in an under-funded post-1992 institution: alongside other embattled departments in universities all across the country, it has become a central site in a much broader campaign to protect and renew education in general and the humanities in particular.

The Campaign to Save Philosophy at Middlesex
contact via: savemdxphil@gmail.com
Last updated: 21 May 2010.

20 Responses to About our campaign

  1. Pingback: Occupation at Middlesex University - Occupations

  2. Pingback: Overview of the campaign | Save Middlesex Philosophy

  3. Pingback: Middlesex update | Progressive Geographies

  4. You need to send the URL of this website to all staff members at Middlesex, to make sure everyone is aware of its existence.

    You have my full support.

    Prof Dr Mine Dogantan Dack
    Research Fellow, Music
    Middlesex University

  5. Thomas Coles says:

    In complete support.

  6. Justin Crook says:

    As an undergrad Phil student, albeit in the Antipodes, I am aghast that this decision has been made. May you have success in illuminating the minds of the decision makers.

  7. At a time when British society needs philosophy more than ever, it is depressing that the Middlesex management can only make a flimsy, financial case for the closure of a world-leading area. Is Michael Driscoll not capable of making an intellectual case? Is Middlesex now profit-driven?

  8. ShalomB says:

    As a post-retirement, sometime Philosophy grad, I’ll be proud to support you. Will send this around to my contacts, mainly in the US, in & out of academia & labor.
    Good luck (& clear thinking),

  9. John K. Walton says:

    I encountered the Middlesex management’s way of looking at the world in my previous post (I’m now working in Spain), when I was supporting a colleague against dismissal. He was told that his work, and by implication that of the Institute in which we worked, was ‘of no value to the University’. I now realise where this comes from. It’s McKinsey – if it can’t be measured, it’s of no value. Price of everything, value of nothing. University managements now think they are running businesses, with a sole responsibility to maximise profits for imaginary shareholders. That’s why another colleague was refused early retirement until the next financial year – they didn’t want the (tiny) additional cost to show up on the current year’s balance sheet. Remember Blair’s association with McKinsey, and that Mandelson has been driving these dark processes. Remember also the drive to send academics on ‘management’ courses, and the trend towards promoting on the basis of ticking those boxes rather than academic excellence (it might be interesting to check the academic excellence, or not, of the relevant Middlesex managers). I’m afraid this is all part of a pattern. It’s like New Labour, indeed part of New Labour – the virus has got into the system, and will before long kill the organism as it replicates.

  10. Bill Roberts says:

    Closing Philosophy at Middlesex would be a tragedy for Higher Education in the UK.

  11. Lincoln Alpern says:

    Greeting and solidarity from across the pond!

    I was in the last entering class of students at Antioch College, an undergraduate institution at the time controlled by Antioch University, a network of graduate and undergraduate campuses here in the United States. In 2007, the Antioch University Board of Trustees announced they were closing Antioch College, for reasons just as suspect as those given by Middlesex University.

    Antioch College has a strong tradition of social justice, with a history of voluntary affirmative action in hiring going all the way back to its founding in the 1850s, and a considerable contribution to the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. Up until its closing (and beyond) the college retained a strongly Marxist, anarchist, feminist, queer-positive, anti-war character. (Anti-racist too, but of late, our policies in that regard have failed to live up to our ideals.)

    From the closure announcement, the parallels between Antioch’s situation and the Middlesex Philosophy Department’s are striking. Alumni, faculty, students, staff and other stakeholders immediately rallied to the college’s defense, entering numerous rounds of negotiations with Antioch University aiming to reverse the decision to close the college. All were unsuccessful, but the final round of negotiations (after the college closed) did succeed in securing a transfer of the college’s name, campus, and other assets from Antioch University to an alumni group.

    Meanwhile, the faculty, staff, and students of the college, along with other supports, rallied and agitated against the decision all through the negotiations. After the college closed, we continued holding classes in town, holding events, meetings for the community and the various committees we’d had on campus, continuing both the educational mission and the Community Government we’d had on campus. While they’re obviously not the same, I see these actions as fundamentally similar to the Save Middlesex Philosophy movement’s occupation of the Trent Park building.

    Like you, we’ve always pointed out that the struggle is about much more than a tiny college in Ohio (in our case), for we have “become a central site in a much broader campaign to protect and renew education in general and the humanities in particular,” not just in our own countries, but in the larger global community.

    I wish I could say our struggle had ended in victory with the transfer of assets. The college has a new board composed of alumni who are very committed to reopening it in Fall 2011. Sadly, they have so far shunned the greater community which birthed them, setting up a top-down decision-making structure which excludes the faculty, staff and students who earlier were their staunch allies. Their curriculum plans are also an educational nightmare. If they are allowed to continue in this reckless manner (and be assured, resistance to injustice at Antioch is not yet dead), I fear what emerges will be a hollow institution where constituents have little participation in the essential decision-making processes, where real education is spurned in favor of glitzy neoliberal “efficiency,” and where only lip service is given to social justice.

    The struggle goes on at Antioch, as at Middlesex. I cannot predict whether we will win or lose, but the fact that we continue the struggle is in itself a victory of sorts. If humanity is to have a better future, it will be because of movements like ours. You give me hope.

    In solidarity,
    Lincoln Alpern
    Antioch College, class of 2011
    Nonstop Antioch, 2008-2009
    Antioch Community Student Union, 2010-

  12. NickT says:

    I’m a graduate of MDX Philosophy and wouldn’t be where I am now without it.

    Where are we going with this? Continuing to turn Universities into job training factories? Where’s the global vision? Where are the thinkers coming from who can lead us forward from the day to day grind? You can’t put a price on the need for such a discipline in today’s fast food, fast consumption driven world!

  13. Thierry de Duve says:

    Closing Philosophy at Middlesex would be a tragedy for Higher Education not only in the UK but in the rest of the world as well.

  14. (Dr) Rosemary Webb says:

    As an academic in history and politics at a small regional university in Australia, I’ve been shocked by Middlesex U management’s initial decision to shut down Philosophy – particularly given the Centre’s acknowledged research and teaching excellence – then intransigence on negotiations, and now punitive action against staff and students active in the campaign. More power to you: this battle is a touchstone for all of us advocating for the humanities and social sciences in university education.
    Rosemary Webb, Southern Cross University, Australia.

  15. philosophy is the matter which helps giving sense to things and specially to the practices learnt in other university fields. Cutting philosophy is like cutting the head. it looks like revolutionary but leads to non-sense. I hope this measure will be finally retired and that Midlesex university will not confused with a technical institute. I hope that Middlesexi University will be given the means to lead in technics as conceptual place, and this need philosophy.

  16. Dan Fitz says:

    What are the statistics for employment of sudents leaving this department as opposed to others? In the financial section it says the department contributes 53% to the university, ‘It is not possible to say how – if at all – the overall sum relates to the university’s actual central expenditure on facilities for teaching and research’, why not? What are the contributions from other departments? The link on your faq page to the university press statement does not link to the full statement.

    This may not be detrimental to other departments in terms of the universities internal financial organisation (Again this just doesn’t seem clear) but with a view to the structure of public funding, this will benifit courses which, in the long run, will better benifit it’s graduates and the economy.Philosophy is wonderful. Ensuring our children grow up with the same or better oppurtunities we had is better. I would ask that we think outside the confines of this university and outside the confines of academia in general.

    Not everyone will go on to teach the subject, they will need a job, in the real world, outside academic institutions.

    I value the teaching of philosophy, it opened my eyes to things in adolescence and changed how I think. It made me interrogate rather than accept, to think about things clearly rather than from some bias standpoint.

    ‘First, Band B and C students are funded at a higher level because they are supposed to require a higher level of spending on their education’. Is it not also because graduates from these courses will benifit the economy more? Why not attack the standards that cause such closures. Also, in the current economic climate is this not benificial for us all? I understand well being is not simply monetary, but ask a laid off factory worker if he would rather fifty philosophy graduates entering professional life, or fifty graduates in a dicipline that could concievably give him a job and the answer would be clear.

    In principal I support this movement. Philosophy is worthwhile and benificial, but maybe, under today’s circumstances, as part of a course rather than a whole BA. I may be wrong and am happy to be proven so, but I just don’t think this question is as clearcut as this site/the media are making it. Your connecting this cut with some sort of attack on the humanities. Philososphy is being cut, the merits of this particular subject, as a whole subject should be thought about. I think this weakens your argument.

    As I understand it current students will finish. I do feel for the four staff who will have to find posts elsewhere. I would hope that the outcome of this is a compromise. Philosophy taught as part of other coures, to inform the thinking on it, rather than a whole course. Maybe in time the department could be restored to it’s former level.

    By the way, I live in Dublin and am in no way connected to the university.

  17. Gregory Williams says:

    At twenty-six years old, I have spent the last ten years of my life actively dedicated to studying the nuances of a subject whose significance continues to brim over into every conceivable area of life I encounter. Initially I pursued these studies against the wishes of those closest to me, who held the belief that subjects as seemingly obtuse as Philosophy or Fine-Art would amount to nothing and consequently prove worthless. And indeed they have, if by that it means overturning worth and value where ever they may arise. However through this, ever so slowly, overturning has begun to overturn it self. In the clearings, something that ‘makes’ sense in and of it-self begins to emerge in the stead of the deferent sense (and worth) of things that too often serves to humiliate and chastise all who become ensnared. Thinking grants us this possibility of disclosing the nature of things, furnishing them with a vividness of which they, hence we, might otherwise remain bereft. In my experiences my endeavors have begun to grant not just me, but those initially skeptical of my choices with a frame through which to look at and revalue things, discussing them and gaining a sense of engagement that has proved surprisingly valuable in all our lives. What is arguably so compelling then, is that the study of these ideas can achieve this overcoming and reconstruction of our worlds and of our relationships within them. We are fortunate to have departments like the CRMEP that enable those from disparate backgrounds to venture forth into places – that whilst being incredibly rich in possibility – are equally problematic. These subjects should be nurtured, so that those people with courage and ability can undertake this work whose benefits enrich us all immeasurably.

  18. Unbelievable that this course is being stopped! It’s an excellent compilation of the critical links between thinkers in German and French philosophy – and just happens to be the course that I wanted to study back in 1980 when nothing like this was around – I compromised and went to Cambridge University (Eng Lit) instead!

    There is no serious rationale for stopping this course – any attempts to stop it are merely political ones and should be exposed for what they are….

  19. William Brooke says:

    They have neither their heads in the clouds nor their feet on the ground. It’s all very Middlesex.

  20. Hello
    Please check out the new dossier on Impact and the UK on the Journal of Social Text Website-two of us have written about Middlesex in support of your campaign-

    Also, please leave comments and share the landing page link as often as possible to and hopefully continue conversation about the issues raised by what happened in Middlesex-there is also a lot of other relevant stuff on the crisis in the Universities in the UK.
    The direct link is: http://www.socialtextjournal.org/periscope/impact/.

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