The following is a report from Mark B, an activist from Revo (www.worldrevolution.org.uk)
Middlesex Philosophy department has entered its second night of occupation. The occupation began on the 4th May in response to the closure of all the BA, MA and PhD programmes at the department. The closures were announced on 28th April by the Dean of the School of Arts & Humanities, Ed Esche. Ed Esche called a Q&A meeting with students for the 4th May to discuss the closure. He cancelled the meeting at the last minute and refused to show. In response the students decided to go ahead with the meeting and discuss what action they would do to secure meaningful talks with management and try and halt the closure.
They decided the best course of action was occupation and proceeded to occupy the Dean’s office in the Philosophy department. Students locked themselves in the Dean’s office while others occupied the corridor, demanding that the Dean show up and face students. They held the office all day. A discussion took place as to whether they should leave at 6pm, or continue the occupation. Undergraduate students came out strongly in favour of this and following discussion they decided to continue the occupation overnight.
The next day the students tried to hold a department social which they had planned several weeks before, to be held in the opposite wing of the building. In a spiteful act management cancelled the social. In response students staged a solidarity demonstration outside the building. The occupiers then decided to extend their occupation to the whole of the Philosophy Department building. While the crowd outside made noise the occupiers forced their way past security guards and into the rest of the building. Security then gave up and retreated to a side building where they remain. The entire philosophy building is now under the student’s control.
The occupation has organised openly and democratically. After the closure was announced a committee was formed of students to coordinate the campaign. Since the occupation began all critical decisions have been taken collectively in mass meetings of the occupiers, by voting. The occupiers are currently demanding talks with management to discuss the future of the department. A meeting is scheduled for 6th May with the VC.
The management’s reason’s for closing the department display the brutal market logic which is corrupting the higher education system and leading to the destruction of courses and jobs. The management claim that because the department only contributes 53% of its gross income to the central administration, rather than the required 55% it is ‘simply financial’ sense for the closure to take place. The management argue they can make more money by transferring the funds they spend on Philosophy to other areas.
Alongside this the Dean said that the department made no ‘measurable’ contribution to the University, despite being the highest research-rated subject in the University. 65% of its research activity is judged ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’, and it is now widely recognised as one of the most important centres for the study of modern European philosophy anywhere in the English-speaking world. It was awarded a score of 2.8 on the new RAE scale in 2008 which guarantees it significant funding for several years. The university administration is cynically abusing funding rules which mean that it can close the philosophy courses, but as long as the department remains open, even in name only, the university can still claim the funding and simply divert it elsewhere. This is the result of the the business logic driving the administration, attempting to maximise income while reducing costs.
There are ideological reasons behind the administrations disregard for the department, as one of the PhD student occupiers Hammam said, “the university as a business is part of a political economic system, high capitalism, and this is a department which handles and develops theory which challenges this system.” It is little wonder the management do not consider it contributes anything.
With the profit motive as the main motivating factor for decisions under capitalism there is little room for a radical philosophy department which critique and challenge the status quo and call into question the whole system we live under. During the recession, as public spending is cut and education is slashed and burned we will only be able to maintain these courses if we are willing to fight for them. Middlesex students have shown they are willing to fight for their education. We must learn from them, follow their example, extend the struggle to every campus in Britain and show we are willing to fight for ours.