MIDDLESEX UNIVERSITY’S MANSION BUILDING IS OCCUPIED – to stop the closure of the Philosophy Department

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Students in front of the occupied Middlesex University Mansion Building
Students in front of the occupied Middlesex University Mansion Building

OPEN letter to Middlesex staff, faculty, and students, 7th may 2010.

‘Dear Middlesex University staff, faculty, and students, We are writing to clarify our intentions and the purpose behind occupying The Mansion Building at Middlesex University.

We are writing to clarify our intentions and the purpose behind occupying The Mansion Building at Middlesex University.

Last week we were shocked at the news that the administration intends to close the Philosophy Department, including the world-renowned post-graduate programmes.

While saving the philosophy department is our primary aim, we realise that this specific closure is evidence of a much broader trend in higher education.

We want to be absolutely clear that we are doing this not out of self-interest, but to advocate for you, the students, faculty and staff of Middlesex University, as well all of those who care about the future of humanities in the UK.

As Terry Eagleton put it at a teach-in at Kings College London in March, what we are currently experiencing is a move towards a model of ‘education for the economy versus education for society.’

The university administrations are using the current financial crisis as an excuse to restructure their institutions, opting to close or severely cap any programmes that are not sufficiently ‘economically viable’ according to their criteria.

With a slew of cuts and redundancies, our universities are in danger of becoming vocational training centres that churn out a highly skilled, yet intellectually and culturally impoverished workforce.

Here at Middlesex, the History department was closed in 2006.

Now it is Philosophy and Sonic Arts. With the plans to close Trent Park and Cat Hill, it is realistic to anticipate more closures in the humanities. We are here to communicate that your jobs, your studies are not safe. We are here to communicate that we will not take these closures lying down.

Our protest and occupation is peaceful. The administration has called the police out to Trent Park twice; both times they left within a half hour, having decided that no laws were being broken and their presence was not necessary.

The occupation has not interrupted the studies of any students and we encourage you, whether you are officially tied to Middlesex or not, to join or visit us here.

This is an open, safe space and everyone will be warmly welcomed. We are organising various cultural, political and academic events over the weekend.

You are all invited to participate. Information about this can be found at: savemdxphil.com.

Universities are not businesses, and education is not a commodity – it is a human right and a public service.

Education did not cause this crisis, and must not be sacrificed to pay for it. Anonymous messages of support continue to come in from staff and we stand united against management’s program of slash and burn.

In solidarity,

The Occupation’

On 19th of May, 6pm, Nash Room, ICA, London, there is to be an InC event in support of Middlesex Philosophy entitled ‘Who’s afraid of philosophy?’

The event is being held in response to the recent and shocking plans by Middlesex University to close down its Philosophy Department.

This event seeks to lend its support to the campaign through an open panel for discussion and debate on the current threats to philosophy and critical thought.’

The urgency for mobilisation and protest in solidarity with Middlesex demands that the broader intellectual, artistic and academic international community come together to tackle this alarming state of affairs.

The panel will be chaired by Dr Alberto Toscano (Goldsmiths) with interventions by Prof Alexander Garcia Duttmann (Goldsmiths), Prof Peter Osborne (Middlesex), Dr Nina Power (Roehampton University) and other guests.

It is organised by InC – continental philosophy research group – www.gold.ac.uk/inc and hosted by ICA – Institute for Contemporary Arts – www.ica.org, with the support of the Graduate School at Goldsmiths.

John Protevi, a professor at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge has sent a letter of protest to the Board of the Middlesex University on the decision to close the Philosophy department.

It reads:

‘Dear Members of the Board:

I write in dismay upon hearing the news of the decision to close the philosophy programme at Middlesex University, and urge you to overturn this hasty and ill-advised decision as quickly as possible. . .

Among your duties, as you know, are:

a. The determination of the mission and educational character of the institution;

b. The oversight of all its activities (including academic activities);

c. The strategic direction of the institution, through approval, monitoring and review of the strategic (i.e. corporate) and operational plans;

d. Ensuring the financial health and solvency of the institution and the safeguarding of the estate and other assets;

e. Ensuring the efficient and effective use of resources;

f. The approval of the medium term financial strategy and annual estimate of income and expenditure (the annual budget);

g. The monitoring of financial performance against budget;

h. The review and approval of the annual accounts and financial statements;

i. Ensuring that funds provided by the HEFCE and the other funding bodies are used in accordance with the financial memorandum or similar obligations;

j. Ensuring the existence of an effective internal control framework;

k. Direction and oversight of audit arrangements;

and

n. The appointment, appraisal, and if necessary, discipline, suspension and dismissal of senior postholders.

Many of the aspects of the decision to close the philosophy programmes fall directly under your charge as listed above. In particular, may I draw your attention to item h): “The review and approval of the annual accounts and financial statements.” In the statement for the financial year ending 31 July 2009, one finds on page 32 the following entry for “consultants and professional advisors,” which increased from £2,321,000 pounds for the previous year to £3,122,000.

Was it really necessary to spend 5 million pounds on consultants in the two years prior to the decision to close the highest rated research programme in the University?

I would urge you to question senior staff as to how much less could they have spent on consultants to be able to retain the philosophy department.

With regard to the following items: “c. The strategic direction of the institution, through approval, monitoring and review of the strategic (i.e. corporate) and operational plans; d. Ensuring the financial health and solvency of the institution and the safeguarding of the estate and other assets; and e. Ensuring the efficient and effective use of resources” I would ask you to review the relation of senior staff pay to their performance.

Consider, if you would, the following trends for the 2008-2009 time period, again: Academic staff declines from 748 to 733, while administration and senior staff rises from 888 to 890. In addition, the number of senior staff receiving total compensation (“emoluments”) above £100,000 rises from 7 to 13; the total administrative staff compensation rises from £1.06 million to £1.75 million pounds; and the total compensation for the Vice Chancellor, Michael Driscoll, rises from £223,000 to £246,000.

I would ask you to review these figures with regard to other universities to see if they meet best practices standards, as well as asking whether the stakeholders of the University, which include academic staff, students, the general public, and academics in general, are being best served. Is it really the case that a managerial staff that cannot retain its most highly rated research programme is worth this level of compensation?

With regard to the best practices, may I also ask you to review item i) “Ensuring that funds provided by the HEFCE and the other funding bodies are used in accordance with the financial memorandum or similar obligations.” It is my understanding that the 2008 RAE (Research Assessment Exercise) review of the philosophers at Middlesex resulted in a revenue to the University of some £174,000 per year. However, it appears the University will be able to retain this yearly revenue until the next RAE, even if they have closed the philosophy programme. I find this highly problematic in an ethical sense and wonder how it is possible that this might be considered best practice at a respectable institution.

In light of the following items: “a. The determination of the mission and educational character of the institution; and b. The oversight of all its activities (including academic activities)” I would ask you to require that an external and internal panel be convened to perform a formal review of the philosophy programme.

In this regard, please allow me to cite the following passage from a letter sent to Vice-Chancellor Driscoll on 30 April 2010 by the British Philosophical Association, the American Philosophical Association, and the Australasian Association of Philosophy:

“We are also concerned about the rationale given for the decision to close Philosophy. We understand that the decision has been made on a purely financial basis. While of course we appreciate that universities are suffering financially at the moment, from what we can gather, the Department is only 2% off its target contribution of 55% of gross income to the central administration.

“This is a very small shortfall, and one would normally expect that the problem could be dealt with in other, less draconian ways; particularly given that the department has all the hallmarks of long-term viability: an excellent research reputation, astonishingly good PGT recruitment, and increasing undergraduate applications.

“Normal procedure – and certainly best practice – in circumstances where the closure of a department is being considered is to have a full-scale review of the department, with both internal and external expert panel members. Middlesex does not appear to have conducted such a review – something which, again, damages its institutional reputation and, perhaps more importantly, suggests that perhaps all the options have not been fully considered.

“We urge you, in the strongest possible terms, to conduct such a review, so that all the options can be considered fully.”. . .

Yours sincerely,

John Protevi’