Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Radical Philosophy at Work

Philosophy students at Middlesex are currently occupying their campus in protest over the planned closure of the department. The Middlesex administration claims to be closing the department down on the grounds that it's no longer economically viable, but this is far from true, as is clearly proven on the 'Save Middlesex Philosophy' FAQ. So why is it that the Middlesex administrators would want to shut down an internationally recognised centre of research excellence? My guess is that it's based on three factors:

1) Middlesex University wants to close down the department as a kind of symbolic sacrifice in the hope of gaining favour with future government funders. It can't be easy to solicit funding from a conservative government when you’re hosting the most radical philosophy department in the country.

2) By trying to close down the philosophy department, the Middlesex University administration is capitulating to the new political reality for post-1992 universities, which no longer need to entertain the illusion of being on equal par with their better-off 'Redbrick' peers (even if they can occasionally surpass them in terms of high-quality research, see Nina Power's article on Comment is Free). Better that they teach more 'vocationally-oriented' courses for the less academically suitable: that is, leave philosophy for those who can afford it.

3) Basically, in both cases the Middlesex administration is engaged in a not-so-subtle PR move to try and make their university more attractive to future government funders, by being quick off the mark to axe a department which doesn't sit well with the new austerity measures set to hit Britain over the next few months. Rather than simply looking for short-term profits, Middlesex University is actually 'looking ahead': and the world-class Philosophy department is an embarrassing reminder of what could have been.

The battle to preserve the Philosophy department at Middlesex is about the concrete ideal of Middlesex University as an open and accessible institution, with a first class teaching staff who can teach a broad range of students; students who might not be able to afford the expensive course fees of elite institutions like LSE or Warwick, nor have the right kind of academic profile which would allow them access in the first place. Whilst CRMEP staff would most likely find jobs elsewhere, their commitment to staying on at Middlesex is also a commitment to the broad base of students that they teach-instilling critical thought in those who have the most to gain from it.

Thus, the action of the Middlesex administrators cannot be reduced to a simple miscalculation of value, and nor is it just a collective psycho-pathology of management: it's their deliberate political decision-one which must be resisted by a more determined political force. The Middlesex administrators want to portray the Philosophy department as some kind of malignant cuckoo which has outgrown the nest; but judging by the recent success of the protests, it looks set to be their albatross.

Join the facebook group for updated information,

Sign the petition,

And for those of you lucky enough to be in London-get down to the protests!

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