Middlesex Kant Cut Philosophy

LUKE HAWKSBEE on the closing down of philosophy programmes at Middlesex University.

funding cuts Logic middlesex university philosophy recession university

Middlesex University are in the process of committing an act of intellectual treason on a par with mass book-burning.

On 26th April, philosophy staff at Middlesex University were informed that all philosophy programmes were to be closed to new students immediately, as the first step in phasing out the entire department. Oh well, just another unavoidable consequence of the recession and the ensuing education funding cuts, right? Well, yes and no; the closure was justified on ‘simply financial’ grounds by the Dean of the School of Arts and Humanities, despite the department being (pardon my French) fucking good. 

No subject at Middlesex received a higher research rating, and no philosophy MA programme in the UK is larger. Perhaps even more importantly, the department is one of the few in the country that throws itself into the world of ‘continental’ philosophy (as opposed to the ‘Anglo-American’ side common across the country). In the Dean’s eyes, though, these are not ‘measurable’ benefits. Yes, that’s right: the university doesn’t measurably benefit from good research or distinctive programmes, apparently. You can be less cynical if you want, but I’m going to guess that when the old boy says ‘measurable’, he means ‘profitable’. 

Dr Nina Powers, who received her PhD from Middlesex and is now a Senior Lecturer at Roehampton, is spearheading the media side of a campaign in defence of the department, having written a comment piece for The Guardian’s website; she describes the move as ‘a step back to when philosophy meant white men discussing formal logic over sherry’. Exaggeration perhaps? I may be a white man, and I’ve done my share of formal logic, but I’ve definitely never drunk sherry. But Dr Power has a point – Middlesex is an ex-poly and has a large proportion of mature or low-income students. The department specifically and critically addresses questions such as why philosophy is still so dominated by white males; not only this, but its courses touch on critical theory, radical philosophy, and links with other sensitive areas outside the domain of the traditional ‘what is knowledge?’ ivory-tower. It is unique and well-respected. Is it possible that the department is seen as ‘difficult’ or ‘embarrassing’ at times, and this is a factor in closing it? If so, surely this is a disastrous blow to academic freedom? 

This is what happens when universities are run like businesses. The ‘market logic’ is becoming deeper and deeper engrained in our higher education system – fees, loans, sponsorship, etc. The whole education system is becoming uncomfortably strained as it tries to fulfil our intellectual desires without departing from the uber-pragmatic approach necessary to compete in a dog-eat-dog economy. On the one hand, we are pulled towards pure academia: knowledge for its own sake, the human yearning for discovery and invention. On the other hand we are chained against our will to profit, short-term financial viability, and the managerial yearning for obscene wages and job perks. But the simple fact is the market cannot predict what may be of value to us in the future, or how people’s lives may be enriched by abstract cultural factors.

Much like Sussex students (who have waged a high-profile and successful struggle against the cuts), it seems the continental philosophers won’t go down without a fight. At the time of writing, 4 days after the decision was announced, the ‘Save Middlesex philosophyFacebook group has nearly 6,000 members and statements of support have been made by various academics from around the world. University and Colleges Union (UCU) members around the country are either set to walk out or itching for the opportunity; I’d put good money on Middlesex UCU joining them. And with students campaigning against cuts at other universities in the London area (including UCL, Kings College, Westminster, etc) it surely can’t be long before Middlesex students follow their example too. Here’s to a united stand against the ‘shameful’ closure of an outstanding department.

Until then, anyone want a sherry?