A few weeks ago we reported the closure of the Philosophy Department at Middlesex University, and since then the fight to keep it open has continued. Alongside many thousands of people signing petitions, there has been a two-week occupation of one of the large administrative centres on the Trent Park campus, and after that was broken up by a high court injunction there was a follow-up 24 hour occupation in a library. Now the university has announced suspensions of four students and three professors in the faculty. Some of the suspended students are international students and there is worry that their suspensions could impact on their visas to stay in the country. On the faculty side, suspended staff members are being told that they cannot attend meetings with their unions. Anyway, higher quality news is available from http://www.savemdxphil.com and I recommend you all check it out, in the meantime I would like to engage in some speculation as to what this situation is really all about.
I have had the feeling for a few weeks that this isn’t really about philosophy at all. Well it is and it isn’t. What you have, in the Philosophy Department at Middlesex is something very different from a lot of the rest of the university. Where other departments are focussing on providing vocational qualifications in non-traditional subjects, the Philosophy Department has been at the height of rigorous academic critical thought. And so, I believe, in getting rid of the philosophy department, the university may be preparing to become fully privatised. If they target philosophy, where they know there are a whole lot of people who would object to privatisation who would go too, if the lefties already withdraw from the university, if the battle looks like it is lost when the philosophy department goes, then they know they can probably have a clean sweep when some company decides to buy the university from the government.
And this goes along with all of the government’s current projects of selling off public services (for example royal mail, but I can’t see that HE won’t be affected too), in order to recoup money to pay off debt. It doesn’t matter much if there’s an academic blacklist on the university if you happen to be turning it into a private service-provider offering basic-level vocational courses to whichever international students bring in the most money for the company.
Yes, we do need to be defending the humanities, as they are being hit particularly hard by the current wave of cuts, and the emphasis on universities making money themselves, but we need to do this with an eye on the broader tendency towards privatisation, and if we don’t we may miss out on our opportunity to critique an agenda that not only challenges some types of education, but all higher education in this country.
In other Middlesex-related news, there’s a rally this afternoon (4pm) at the Hendon Campus, for those who oppose the cuts. It would be good to get as many people down there as possible.