Middlesex University decided to shut down its philosophy department, better known as Centre for Research in European Philosophy. Nothing particularly surprising in the current intellectual and economic climate, but the idea did not go down very well. The problem was that the philosophers at Middlesex had basically done everything right, they had performed as well as anyone can, and as it is currently measures in the RAE scheme. That did not save them, though, since although they did ‘perform’ they did not turn a profit. (We will leave that puzzle aside for now). A great debate ensued, led by a well-coordinated campaign to challenge the decision. The conflict came to a seemingly abrupt end, of sorts, when it was announced that CRMEP is moving from Middlesex to Kingston University.
The move to Kingston is an interesting development. Whether it is a ‘victory’, and for whom, time will perhaps tell. Certainly, Middlesex is now able to do the cuts they wanted to in the first place. At the same time, the work of CRMEP will now continue largely unchanged at Kingston. The aim of the campaign was to safeguard that goal, first and foremost. Or, so I have understood.
Some commentators have argued that the campaign could have reversed the decision to shut CRMEP down. There are few precedents, if any, of this kind of ‘direct’ victory in any shutdown struggle. Shutdowns have been sometimes avoided, but in those cases no one has really wanted them negotiations have between the parties have done in good faith. This does not seem to have been the case at Middlesex at any point. The kind of defensive posture adopted by the management there is commonplace, and such cases the shutdown is carried out (unless, usually, government intervenes directly), however ill-adviced it may be.
The fact that there is no clear and undisputed victory does not mean that the campaign has failed. The successes of resistance campaigns in shutdowns tend to be more indirect. Among the indirect successes I would count the following: CRMEP’s work will continue, although in a new place; Middlesex University will likely suffer for a long time from the damage the decisions management there has done and the way they were carried out and the management will have to take responsibility for that damage; and the fierce resistance and broad support the campaign was able to arouse, will hopefully make management in other universities to think of other and better ways of dealing with the sometimes very real fiscal challenges.
What this shutdown debate (as well as the form its immediate solution has now taken) has perhaps managed to crystallize in particular is that the models borrowed uncritically from the corporate world, combined with poor implementation, work particularly poorly in the academic context. The owners are not the same, the role of the management is not the same, the means of production are not the same, the product is not the same, and the list goes on.
Thanks to the campaign, the shutdown of philosophy at Middlesex will likely become an example of how such an operation should not be done. How they will be done remains to be seen.