Wednesday, May 26, 2010

What is going on at Middlesex?

Death by managerialism
Philosophy has long been part of the heart of western universities. The rise and rise of universities run by a managerial class as a for-profit business over the last few decades is clogging the arteries. Many universities now employ more administrators than academics. The closure of the philosophy department at Middlesex University shows one institution that has gone into cardiac arrest. The department has an excellent reputation and recently was given the highest RAE rating of any department in the university, recognising the national and international significance of its research. When students and staff engaged in non-violent protest against this decision, they were harshly penalised by the university administration. Letters of support for the department have come from scores of academics around the world (including my own philosophy supervisor, I was pleased to note) and from a wide range of national philosophy societies.

A world without philosophy is a world without thought. Philosophy departments are not the only places for thinking, but this move represents the creeping suppression of profitable thought by thoughtless profit.

Read what is happening.
Sign the petition pledging academic boycott (especially if you are an academic or research student).
Most of all, think.
H/T Ben Myers.


Mister Tim said...

Ok, I'll bite.

It's not as though philosphophy has a monopoly on thought. Of course I see the value in philosophy as a discipline, but it's absence as a school doesn't mean that other disciplines, perhaps even the profit-making ones, will suddenly stop prompting and teaching people to think.

The bigger question though: in a world of limited resources and diminishing Governemnt-funding for universities, how do you think universities should allocate their resources? If a university needs to increase its income and cut costs to remain viable, then shouldn't they take the appropriate decisions to make that happen?

byron smith said...

There is indeed thinking in other disciplines, but philosophy is the discipline that thinks about thinking. Insofar as any other discipline is self-reflective, then it is philosophical. This need not be restricted to the philosophy department (or to the university), but cutting the philosophy department is an attack on the thoughtfulness of thought.

The irony is that it seems that this department was making money. It was not a liability. On almost any measure you care to name, it seems to have been one of the best performing departments at the university. It simply wasn't making enough money (or the university administration had it in for them for some political reason. I'm not sure).

How should universities allocate their money? I realise it is a difficult question and my answer is one from a decidedly non-expert. One step forward might be spending less on administrative staff so that they don't outnumber academic staff. Another might be spending less on the top management and instead of rewarding those who look only at the short term bottom line, reward those who pursue long term excellence in knowledge.

byron smith said...

PS I offer my old supervisor's letter as a model of acknowledging the difficulties in such situations yet still questioning the logic of this particular decision.

Mister Tim said...

Fair enough. The Guardian article you linked to (which is the one I read) indicated that the university wasn't financially viable and this was the course they chose to cut in order to attempt to remain in operation.

byron smith said...

Yes, that's the line from the uni admin, though it is hotly disputed by the department itself. Of course the department wants to paint itself in a good light (and the admin want to justify their decision), so finding the truth is difficult. Nonetheless, the fact that the department had the highest RAE rating (which seems to get a fair deal of attention here in the UK) in the uni and one of the best in the country is not difficult to confirm.