The Threat to Philosophy at Middlesex

Posted by Edward Willatt on Monday, May 3, 2010 Under: Universities

The recent activity on the internet in response to Middlesex University’s decision to close its philosophy courses reflects the importance of the work done in this department.  It is strange to have attended a conference a couple of weeks ago organised by the Middlesex philosophers, held at the Institut Français in South Kensington and featuring international speakers of great renown, and then to find that Middlesex University wants to close this department.  It has a towering record in the Research Assessment Exercise and in securing funding for its research.  As far as prestige is concerned it is arguably the very best Middlesex has to offer and is somewhere with a genuinely international presence.  By all accounts philosophy at Middlesex is a financially healthy department with plenty of students.

I wonder if Middlesex is following the trend of post-1992 universities in the U.K.  This is a move away from traditional academic subjects like philosophy.  I would argue that this is an ideological mindset rather than one that simply responds to concrete problems like student recruitment or funding.  The University of Greenwich has recently cut back on its philosophy offerings and there are suggestions of further cuts.  This has followed from a re-organisation of the school of humanities, re-named the school of humanities and social sciences, so that terms like ‘philosophy’ and ‘history’ are replaced with terms like ‘social, political and cultural studies’ in its list of departments.  There is a move away from any idea of the autonomy and integrity of particular disciplines and towards the language of ‘interdisciplinarity’.  Departments are defined by what they study rather than by their unique methods and histories.  This certainly leaves no room for philosophy’s traditional role in considering the nature and relations of disciplines.  Since it is now part of the department of ‘social, political and cultural studies’ at Greenwich it is seen by those who carried out this re-organisation as being located within social, cultural and political contexts.  This clearly ideological stance is designed to make it possible to dilute philosophy and even remove it, submerging it within other disciplines and in the study of social, cultural and political objects.  No philosopher could now write a book called The Conflict of the Faculties as Kant did because they could never gain a view of the whole.  It is interesting to note that the conference mentioned above, organised by Middlesex philosophers, was concerned with the notion of ‘transdisciplinarity’.  This represents the latest development in an area of philosophy that has also been known as architectonics.  For some it is wrong that philosophy has this role because it suggests a hierarchy where philosophy is put above other disciplines.  The alternative, which has much currency in current debates and in the way higher education policy is developing, is the ‘interdisciplinary’.  One way of defending philosophy’s role, and its integrity as a discipline which gives it a place in every university, is to maintain the need for an ‘idea of the whole’.  We need this when disciplines are increasingly specialised.  If philosophy is not to pursue this it seems that only the managers or bureaucrats can.  The question is whether we trust these questions to those in engaged in the management of university’s when they are so bound up with philosophical ideas and standpoints.

We
have to ask what ‘idea of the whole’ managers in higher education have rather than accepting their self-certified neutrality and claim to simply ‘manage’ things.  Their management speak is designed to appear concrete and neutral when it comes to ideas.  Their role in coming up with strategies for their universities has led to the entrenchment of theories of management in isolation from the departments of the university and their ongoing work.  Their claims to objectivity must be challenged on the grounds of the real, concrete demands of the disciplines themselves.  Thus we should be talking about the role of philosophy in relation to other disciplines rather than pursuing discussions in the terms that higher education policy is often pursued.  Such notions as ‘impact’ and ‘relevance’ need to be grounded in the disciplines, in what they can achieve singularly and as members of a university.  If only the managers at Middlesex had attended the conference on ‘transdisciplinarity’ organised by their own philosophy department they might have realised that there is no neutral space.  If one is managing the disciplines one takes positions that must be interrogated and that are actually debated by the disciplines.  If universities were confederations of disciplines each department would be able to pursue its work without a pseudo-discipline named ‘management’ imposing its ideas upon it.  In a time when cuts are being made we should ask whether universities really need to be ‘managed’ or whether academics can be trusted as professionals.  Do we need to apply ideas formed in management theory to disciplines which actually have a better grasp of theories and ideas?  Why have half-digested and ill-thought out ideas about research, teaching and administration imposed upon people whose entire life is given over to the critical and careful analysis and exploration of ideas and theories.  Where did the status of management as a meta-discipline come from?  Could it be that ideas about what universities are and can be may emerge from the disciplines themselves?  In this way ideas, theories and strategies could be the result of careful thought and well-developed methodologies rather than being the latest buzz-words of management theory.

In : Universities 



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The Threat to Philosophy at Middlesex

Posted by Edward Willatt on Monday, May 3, 2010 Under: Universities

The recent activity on the internet in response to Middlesex University’s decision to close its philosophy courses reflects the importance of the work done in this department.  It is strange to have attended a conference a couple of weeks ago organised by the Middlesex philosophers, held at the Institut Français in South Kensington and featuring international speakers of great renown, and then to find that Middlesex University wants to close this department.  It has a towering record in the Research Assessment Exercise and in securing funding for its research.  As far as prestige is concerned it is arguably the very best Middlesex has to offer and is somewhere with a genuinely international presence.  By all accounts philosophy at Middlesex is a financially healthy department with plenty of students.

I wonder if Middlesex is following the trend of post-1992 universities in the U.K.  This is a move away from traditional academic subjects like philosophy.  I would argue that this is an ideological mindset rather than one that simply responds to concrete problems like student recruitment or funding.  The University of Greenwich has recently cut back on its philosophy offerings and there are suggestions of further cuts.  This has followed from a re-organisation of the school of humanities, re-named the school of humanities and social sciences, so that terms like ‘philosophy’ and ‘history’ are replaced with terms like ‘social, political and cultural studies’ in its list of departments.  There is a move away from any idea of the autonomy and integrity of particular disciplines and towards the language of ‘interdisciplinarity’.  Departments are defined by what they study rather than by their unique methods and histories.  This certainly leaves no room for philosophy’s traditional role in considering the nature and relations of disciplines.  Since it is now part of the department of ‘social, political and cultural studies’ at Greenwich it is seen by those who carried out this re-organisation as being located within social, cultural and political contexts.  This clearly ideological stance is designed to make it possible to dilute philosophy and even remove it, submerging it within other disciplines and in the study of social, cultural and political objects.  No philosopher could now write a book called The Conflict of the Faculties as Kant did because they could never gain a view of the whole.  It is interesting to note that the conference mentioned above, organised by Middlesex philosophers, was concerned with the notion of ‘transdisciplinarity’.  This represents the latest development in an area of philosophy that has also been known as architectonics.  For some it is wrong that philosophy has this role because it suggests a hierarchy where philosophy is put above other disciplines.  The alternative, which has much currency in current debates and in the way higher education policy is developing, is the ‘interdisciplinary’.  One way of defending philosophy’s role, and its integrity as a discipline which gives it a place in every university, is to maintain the need for an ‘idea of the whole’.  We need this when disciplines are increasingly specialised.  If philosophy is not to pursue this it seems that only the managers or bureaucrats can.  The question is whether we trust these questions to those in engaged in the management of university’s when they are so bound up with philosophical ideas and standpoints.

We
have to ask what ‘idea of the whole’ managers in higher education have rather than accepting their self-certified neutrality and claim to simply ‘manage’ things.  Their management speak is designed to appear concrete and neutral when it comes to ideas.  Their role in coming up with strategies for their universities has led to the entrenchment of theories of management in isolation from the departments of the university and their ongoing work.  Their claims to objectivity must be challenged on the grounds of the real, concrete demands of the disciplines themselves.  Thus we should be talking about the role of philosophy in relation to other disciplines rather than pursuing discussions in the terms that higher education policy is often pursued.  Such notions as ‘impact’ and ‘relevance’ need to be grounded in the disciplines, in what they can achieve singularly and as members of a university.  If only the managers at Middlesex had attended the conference on ‘transdisciplinarity’ organised by their own philosophy department they might have realised that there is no neutral space.  If one is managing the disciplines one takes positions that must be interrogated and that are actually debated by the disciplines.  If universities were confederations of disciplines each department would be able to pursue its work without a pseudo-discipline named ‘management’ imposing its ideas upon it.  In a time when cuts are being made we should ask whether universities really need to be ‘managed’ or whether academics can be trusted as professionals.  Do we need to apply ideas formed in management theory to disciplines which actually have a better grasp of theories and ideas?  Why have half-digested and ill-thought out ideas about research, teaching and administration imposed upon people whose entire life is given over to the critical and careful analysis and exploration of ideas and theories.  Where did the status of management as a meta-discipline come from?  Could it be that ideas about what universities are and can be may emerge from the disciplines themselves?  In this way ideas, theories and strategies could be the result of careful thought and well-developed methodologies rather than being the latest buzz-words of management theory.

In : Universities 



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