Lecturers and students alike nowadays cynically describe university education as a ‘factory’. This is, of course, a term of abuse – just think of the disturbing image from Pink Floyd’s The Wall of a conveyor belt of comprehensive students dropping into the mincing machine and emerging as a string of sausages out the other side.
The notion of the University as a mechanised profit machine is where the term derives its critical force. When the philosophy department at Middlesex University was shut down, the ‘Save Middlesex Philosophy’ campaign’s occupation strung an enormous banner out of a first floor window reading: ‘The University is a Factory[.] Strike! Occupy!’ The slogan became the emblematic image of the campaign, and hanging above a neoclassical statue with fist pumped into the air, it endowed the campaign with an uncompromising, industrial proletariat aesthetic that served to reinforce its militant credentials.
There is a simple question that needs to be addressed in regard to the Save Middlesex Philosophy campaign: How was it that a campaign that had such momentum, energy and colossal international support collapsed so rapidly and in such acrimony?
Only in May the Trent Park mansion house that housed the department was under occupation, a ‘transversal space’ had been established, and every day newspaper reports and new letters of support were arriving. Like many others, I was disappointed to see the occupation come to a premature end. But it seemed with the rally at Hendon and camp site erected on the grass outside that the campaign was not going away. One academic had already withdrawn their visiting lectureship, and the University and College Union (UCU) had finally agreed to come on side and take action at the start of the new academic year. If ever there was a chance to win this was it.
So what happened? On the 8th of June the campaign website announced a significant ‘victory’ that the philosophy department’s research centre would be moving to Kingston university. Already this sounds a little odd since the campaign was from the start concerned with saving Middlesex Philosophy. However, things get worse on close inspection. Only four of the senior academics—Peter Hallward, Eric Alliez, Stella Sandford and Peter Osborne—would receive jobs at Kingston, whilst two of the more junior members—Christian Kerslake and Mark Kelly—would not.
The comments thread in reaction to the announcement revealed that Kerslake and Kelly had not even been consulted regarding the deal cut with Kingston. Possibly worse, Kingston university would only absorb the PhD candidates and Masters students, not the undergraduate body. It would be galling under any circumstances for an undergraduate cohort to be abandoned by all their senior academics; the fact that the undergraduates took a key role in establishing, maintaining and fighting the campaign (thus, at least to some extent enabling the Kingston deal) makes their desertion appear all the more outrageous.
Perhaps the most disturbing possibility is that students were being egged on to take borderline criminal actions at the same time as some academics were cutting backroom deals on jobs. The letter drafted by the senior academics to explain their choice—and it was their choice, since no one, not even their fellow academics were consulted—declares that they decided to opt for Kingston’s offer when they realised the campaign was unwinnable: defeatism coinciding conveniently with self interest. At what point was it unwinnable? What is winnable before contracts were signed and unwinnable afterwards? All in all, a perfect example it seems of hierarchical power relations overriding democratic decision making.
The biggest blow this turn of events delivers may be to wider morale in the anti-cuts movement in education. By decamping to Kingston the campaign’s supporters are meant to be reassured that philosophy has been saved. Quite frankly, if this is what radical philosophy looks like in action, some will wonder whether it is worth saving in the first place.
Report from the occupation at Middlesex University
Today there was a spontaneous occupation of the boardroom at Middlesex University after Dean of Arts Ed Esche failed to attend a meeting arranged with protesters against the closure of the philosophy department. Around 45 people moved into the room. The police were called by the university, but found no grounds for eviction of the protestors or arrests. Some entirely fatuous claims of assault and destructive behaviour were briefly levelled at the protesters; even the police dismissed these charges out of hand.
It took some time before the decision to extend the occupation indefinitely was made. However, initial fears by some of the occupiers gave way to an increasing determination and radicalism; eventually the decision was made with a near complete consensus, despite earlier splits suggesting a walk out at 6pm. Continue reading “occupation at middlesex university”→
Two events intervened just prior to my reading of Phillip Blond’s ‘Red Tory‘, which made me doubt the necessity of the exercise. The first was the publication of Jonathan Raban’s wonderfully enjoyable lampooning of it in the London Review of Books, under the title of ‘Cameron’s Crank‘. Whilst Raban is a bit hard on Blond’s writing skills (personally, I think the book is pretty well written; its more the dubious intellectualism at fault) he does a great job of cutting to heart of the parochial, nostalgic sentiment that prevails throughout. In the same issue of the LRB, John Gray reviews a book by Tim Bale on the Conservatives from Thatcher to Cameron, and concurs with Bale’s assessment that, in regard to the Red Tory retreat to socially conservative anti-liberalism, ‘Conservatism of this kind spells potential disaster for Cameron and his party.’
Phillip Blond, Red Tory-in-chief
Which leads to the second point. This ‘disaster’ seems to be unfolding in front of our very eyes. With the Blond-inspired ‘Big Society’ idea apparently falling flat on the election trail, and inverse rhetoric about the ‘broken society’ also not winning over many fans, Cameron has recently decided to adopt a tougher, more conventional Conservative message, evident in the Conservative party’s billboard promising to cut the benefits of those who refuse to work. Continue reading “book review of phillip blond’s ‘red tory’”→