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 email@example.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.
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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: firstname.lastname@example.org
Last updated: 21 May 2010.