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never trust anyone over 30 (mk 2): mdx

with 13 comments

I imagine this is bound to be an unpopular post, but oh well, that’ll make a couple in a row.

Go look at Christian Kerslake’s comment on the Save Middlesex Philosophy blog, and then go look back at another one of my rather unpopular posts. Obviously the circumstances in question now are a bit different than those that I was obliquely addressing then, but still – the point remains. Students and junior academics need to be wary of the motives, ultimate aims, and stakes involved when throwing in with their teachers / senior colleagues, who likely have about a thousand times more job security / market value than they do and 9/10 will fall back on it. More important, teachers / senior colleagues have an absolutely binding ethical obligation not to sell their students / junior colleagues up the pike, or allow them to sell themselves up the pike in the service of a politics that turns out, in the end, to be merely symbolic or worse.

It’s unsexy, I know. Lots about teaching – and really adulthood in general – is. But once you’ve seen one of these situations turn into a clusterfuck, trust me, you never need to see it again.

No one likes a nay-sayer, and even less someone who saw it coming all along but said nothing, but yeah, this is why I take the rhetoric of utopian liberation, especially in the lurid realm of academia, with a major grain of salt. Thus I sat it out. But none of what has happened has contradicted a single iota of my skepticism about handling these things in this way. And the devaluation of liberatory political discourse via hypocritical backroom realpolitik is about the last thing that our side needs at this point or ever. And the long-standing gripe against Theory – that it is little more than a job-creation machine, an instrument of limitless discursive production designed to forward the careers of a group of initiates – isn’t really contradicted by the outcome here.

I’m glad that there’s still going to be a CRMEP. But still.  I noticed the other day that on the counter of my local North London independent bookshop there was a Save Middlesex Philosophy petition. I am pretty sure that the many people who signed this petition here were completely unaware of the existence of the Centre and that there concern was that a local philosophy department was being shut down. I wonder if it’s still there today and I wonder if people are still signing it….

(Just to be clear on the hypocrisy front: in a parallel situation, I would find myself a new job and quickly if I could. That’s not the issue, not at all…)

Written by adswithoutproducts

June 15, 2010 at 12:51 am

Posted in academia

13 Responses

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  1. Firstly I would say that the operational mechanics of the situational dialectic of the matter can be transduced (initially) via a localised functionalist reversal of the neoauthoritarian architecture of hypermodern bureaucratical repressionism.

    Secondly, being unpopular gives you the incentive to be even more unpopular and do posts that annoy even more random strangers.


    June 15, 2010 at 9:04 am

  2. Ads,

    Like a lot of people, I have conflicting feelings on this as a result. The sense of Kerslake and Kelly being abandoned, the feeling of realpolitik – both are discomfiting. Otoh, I think the mere fact that in this climate Kingston not only maintained but extended its commitment to teach a subject like philosophy is a huge symbolic victory. It gives the lie to the Mdx management’s insistence that the decision was out of their hands and made for them by simple economics.

    But two things trouble me about this post. First, it’s easy to say you saw it coming after the fact, but fine, pat on the back for you.

    Second thing. I don’t really understand how your main point coheres. You’re scornful of the self-serving manoeuvres of the senior staff, and the betrayal of ‘liberatory political discourse’. You temper that by admitting you would do exactly the same. And the title of your post, its thrust, is a piece of realpolitik for young academics to take on board: ‘do not sign up – do not protest – keep your head down.’

    Just a simple tactical question: what are we to do? You mourn the pragmatic compromise with collectivist principle that Hallward et al make… You advise that junior figures don’t even get involved – where’s the collective in that advice?


    June 15, 2010 at 10:45 am

  3. Let’s just put it this way – and of course I don’t know all the facts of the case, but am working with what I have been able to garner from publically available materials etc.

    Were I to be caught up in some sort of political or economic issue that was going to cost me my job at the university, and were students to rally around me, if it were the case that I was on the phone looking for other work, I’d make it very, very clear (well, as clear as you can given the need for discretion in job negotiations) that my departure for another place was likely or possible. I’d die if I felt that I had hung people up who’d gotten the placards and banners out on my behalf, or even in part on my behalf, without them knowing that I was trying to organize an out for myself.

    Now perhaps this in fact happened. But the fact that even the two faculty members not headed to Kingston weren’t apprised of the negotiations suggests otherwise.

    I’ve never been in exactly this situation, but I’ve been in some parallel ones where my own side in a debate garnered vociferous student support. But as soon as it became clear that for various reasons I wasn’t going to follow through to the end or that things were going to end badly, I took the students aside to explain the situation, the risks they were entailing, and what I thought they’re best course of action was given this fact.

    I’m sure this is going to open me up to the charge of paternalism – has in the past, on that previous post, if I recall. About this I really don’t care… It’s my job to be (complexly) paternalistic.

    This doesn’t make me a saint. Far from it. And of course the students in question were able to make their own decisions about how to proceed – and they did, in the end, make divergent decisions. They’re call, but I’m happy with how I handled it.

    Yes, my post was about realpolitik from below in response to realpolitik from above. I don’t advise that junior figures / students don’t get involved. Far from it. I advise that they get involved with their eyes open to how these things pan out 9/10. I can imagine that the student campaign at Mdx might have taken a different line if this possibility of this outcome, the move to Kingston, had been anticipated in advance by all involved. Do you see the difference? The point isn’t to dampen idealism – it’s to ensure that idealism isn’t directed in the wrong direction, toward saving the job of the guy who’s in a Dean’s office somewhere else working out his teaching load for next term.

    Maybe I’m just more of a teacher than a revolutionary. No, in fact I’m sure that’s the case. But, again, I’m comfortable with this.


    June 15, 2010 at 11:16 am

  4. I found reading Kersalke’s comment very interesting – so thank you for that. Your old post of unpopularity had interesting commentary as well that I could but skim.

    I don’t know the precise circumstances of any of these battles, so I’m not going to pass judgment, but I will observe that solidarity sometimes entails taking unequal risks. I am fortunate who have known lecturers who took them for their students, and paid a long-term price higher than theirs.


    June 15, 2010 at 11:18 am

  5. I agree that there is a duty of care involved, and if people find that phrase overly paternalistic/pedagogic, then a duty to inform and be open about risk.

    For me, your emphasis on senior staff saving themselves 9/10 suggests something more directing – frankly, a recommendation to junior colleagues / students to keep away, or at least limit their exposure in such a way that whatever protest is going on would almost certainly be weakened.

    Very difficult to talk about this stuff in vague principled terms, even with a concrete example to refer to (because as you say the full details aren’t necessarily available). But I wonder whether a campaign in which the kind of pragmatism you outline had been more fully internalized would have ended up winning even the partial victory of the Kingston move. Perhaps a more cautious, less obstreperous support would have ended with all 6 staff jobless or seeing out their time with the CRMEP a write-off.



    June 15, 2010 at 11:59 am

  6. The sense that I have of these sorts of things – and again, obviously I wasn’t in on the negotiations – is that a university’s willingness to acquire a centre like this one would have at least 99 percent to do with the quality of those involved in it rather than anything to do with an outpouring of, well, contentious student support on its behalf. I.e. if I were a dean, and thank god I’m not, student occupations would be a huge net negative when it came to this sort of decision. In other words, and this is just a guess informed by what I know about the business of academia and the academic atmosphere here and now, is that they could have gone to Kingston with or without the protests.

    I could be wrong.

    On the other hand, if the protests (given their appropriately claims at once broad and specific – about the nature of the university and the demand to keep phil at Middlesex) did indeed serve as a sort of advertisement that facilitated the exit of the very department in question, that too seems like a problem.

    Messy indeed. I’m not saying anyone should refrain from protest in general, just be aware of the stakes of the thing and likely outcomes.


    June 16, 2010 at 7:42 am

  7. a very general point but I’m with ads on this one – from semi-personal experience you should not get your students involved unless they know exactly what they’re getting into.

    there’s also the case that research doesn’t = student numbers, especially not in European philosophy, and especially not at post-92 uni’s. the treatment of this centre seems to be clearly linked to the lack of undergraduates, and what i can only perceive (knowing some people who in pedagogical approach and research interests are very like those who have jumped ship from Middlesex) as a general lack of interest in undergraduate teaching.

    I’m less sympathetic to the loss of this centre from MDX than others; especially at post-92 universities, good research scores and world renown don’t actually mean much if you have no undergraduates. Other places have academics who might have realised this, and might have done something about it, a bit earlier.


    June 16, 2010 at 8:45 am

  8. I generally don’t disagree with what is said here. The most important thing is the virtue of honesty and pragmaticism. Having being caught in something like this myself, but on a much more smaller scale, is how Deans, VCs and such, were affected by external campaigns from students and others (especially via facebook, electronic petitions, and blogs, which they read with a kind of strange fascination), so I wouldn’t underestimate it completely. In themselves, however, they won’t win you anything.

    Nonetheless, I don’t understand, if this is so, how the others could not have included Kerslake and Kelly in their discussions, which they must have had amongst themselves.

    Will Large

    June 17, 2010 at 11:58 am

    • Will,

      I don’t disregard the possible effectiveness of protests of various sorts in general. I just doubt it was much of a selling point as far the move to Kingston goes….


      June 18, 2010 at 1:38 pm

  9. Shake,

    just curious about your last para – is your point that on a strategic level, MDX Philosophy only have themselves to blame for not recruiting more vigorously to undergrad programmes?

    Or do you have a particular commitment ideologically to undergrad teaching & dislike the ethos/priorities of a postgrad research gentre?


    June 18, 2010 at 2:48 pm

  10. centre! not gentre


    June 18, 2010 at 2:49 pm

  11. just curious about your last para – is your point that on a strategic level, MDX Philosophy only have themselves to blame for not recruiting more vigorously to undergrad programmes?

    Or do you have a particular commitment ideologically to undergrad teaching & dislike the ethos/priorities of a postgrad research gentre?

    The former, pretty much. not that ‘they only have thmselves to blame’, but rather that departments are unsustainable if they have no real undergrad programme.


    June 18, 2010 at 3:35 pm

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