UPDATE: Sunday 9 May, 5:15 pm CDT: much more is at stake in the Save Middlesex Philosophy campaign than just philosophy at one London university. Administrators all over the world are watching this situation and will have to think twice about such moves in the face of the international resistance the MDX admin is receiving. So please take part by writing a letter to the MDX Board: the program you save may be your own!
UPDATE: Sunday 9 May, 12:20 pm CDT:
Below is the text of a letter sent to the MDX Board. Please feel free to use any of the points below without citation. As always, emails can be sent, but hard copies by post are usually regarded as more powerful. Email addresses for the Board and other concerned parties follow. Don't forget to BCC [email protected][email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]
9 May 2010Board of Governors
Middlesex University in London
London NW4 4BT
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. As a member of the philosophy profession, I have a personal, professional, and ethical obligation to write to you today concerning this decision, which has already brought considerable unfavorable public attention to the institution you are charged with overseeing.
Among your duties, as you know, if you will allow me to cite your website http://www.mdx.ac.uk/aboutus/whoiswho/governors/index.aspx, 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;
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, available here, http://www.mdx.ac.uk/Assets/Finan_stat_08_09.pdf, 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 citing http://www.mdx.ac.uk/Assets/Finan_stat_08_09.pdf (pages 30-31): 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.
Please allow me to close with some personal reflections concerning my stake in this issue. I write as a member of the philosophy profession. Philosophy in Europe traces its heritage back 2500 years to the ancient Greeks. Along with its sibling rivals mathematics and literature, it has formed the basis of our European culture since that time. For the last 800 years, since the founding of the universities of Paris, Oxford, and Cambridge, it has been the centre of the university as an institution of higher learning. In view of this history, we can rightfully claim that it has been the work of many preceding generations of philosophers that has developed the prestige of the term “university,” and the decision to eliminate the philosophy programmes at Middlesex while attempting to retain that title amounts to the unjust appropriation of a name whose worth was built up by those preceding me in the philosophy tradition. The title of “university” does not belong to each institution that claims that title; it belongs to the cultural tradition at the centre of which philosophy has stood for thousands of years. Should this unwise and unjust decision to close philosophy at Middlesex not be rescinded, my fellow philosophers and I, who work to further that tradition, will be forced to mount a campaign with all our resources, not excluding legal and political action, to reclaim that name, as it is no less than our duty to those who have gone before us and whose work we honor.
Yours sincerely,John Protevi
PhD, Philosophy, Loyola University Chicago (1990)
Professor, Department of French Studies
Louisiana State University
Baton Rouge LA 70803 USA