The University of West of England Bristol (UWE) appears to have decided to cancel its successful BA Philosophy degree, without consultation and without any clear rationale. The programme, which is financially viable, popular with students, and scores very well in the NSS, is well known for promoting European philosophy. Its threatened closure is very mysterious.

The BPA wrote directly to the university on Friday 19th June inviting them to meet and discuss the programme – at the same time, many people in philosophy departments from around the UK wrote to UWE’s vice chancellor protesting the decision and asking for explanation. Today the BPA are sending this open letter, signed by the heads of philosophy departments at 50 universities and representatives of many philosophical learned societies, repeating our invitation for a meeting. You can read the letter here.

Prof. James Ladyman, a leading philosopher at the University of Bristol, has written a strident piece for the Council for Defence of British Universities’ website here in which he discusses UWE Bristol’s decision:

I work in the philosophy department at the University of Bristol, and according to the logic of the market we are rivals with our fellow philosophers at UWE. But academics think of our counterparts in other institutions as colleagues rather than adversaries…

Closing a financially viable, high-performing department teaching a subject that is popular with both employers and students, and which connects to almost every other subject, makes no sense.

Philosophy is the subject that most clearly undermines the lazy dichotomy between culture and science, because philosophers study the concepts, ethics and foundations of every domain from art to zoology from within, and many philosophers are also highly expert in the most relevant other disciplines

Do the powers that be fear that philosophy corrupts the young, or do they want to stop its incessant questioning and demand for answers?

Students at UWE Philosophy have launched a petition which expresses how they feel about the programme and its threatened closure, which can be found (and signed) here.

As Julian Baggini has pointed out on twitter, it is particularly strange given that the university continues to promote itself online by highlighting its philosophy programme’s excellent NSS and league-table scores (see UWE’s website here).

On Weds 17th June 2020, the British Philosophical Association and other subject associations wrote to UK government ministers calling for significant changes in the way that higher education is funded and supported. As UK higher education institutions reportedly fall in the global rankings, forty-nine professional associations representing diverse academic research fields and thousands of UK-based academics are calling for “a new deal for higher education.”

The letter points out that the sharp drop in universities’ income, as a result of a fall in student numbers in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, will endanger the ability of the UK Higher Education sector to maintain excellence in education and research, with grave consequences for the economy and society. UK public spending on higher education is the lowest among OECD countries, and comprises less than half of the average spending among the OECD’s other 34 countries, making UK universities particularly vulnerable to fluctuations in income from student numbers. Even before the pandemic nearly 25 percent of all UK universities were in deficit and this number will grow. In response, universities are announcing job cuts and even cuts to the range of courses and subjects being offered.

Dr Nicola Pratt, Vice President of British Society of Middle Eastern Studies, who helped organise the letter, said:

“Universities have a key role to play in developing innovative research, and providing each new generation with cultural knowledge as well as cutting edge skills and expertise. Indeed, higher education improves the life chances of individuals, enhances social mobility and is also a major employer in many parts of the country. Now more than ever we need to substantially increase public spending on universities, we need a new deal for higher education.”

You can read the full text of the letter here:  Open letter to Ministers of Education: A New Deal For Higher Education.

The BPA wrote to Ohio University on the 13th May 2020 to protest against the University’s decision to not honour a number of contracts in the philosophy faculty. See a news item about it on Daily Nous here.

The letter was sent to Professor Nellis, the University’s President, and also to its Board of Trustees. In it, Professor Fiona Macpherson encouraged senior management at Ohio University to involve their faculty in all of their decision making and to honour their previous commitments to shared governance and transparency.. Professor Macpherson expressed concerns that Ohio’s planning around cuts appeared to fall heavily in the humanities, and particularly in philosophy.

On the 15th May, one of three colleagues in the philosophy department at risk was issued a letter of non-renewal.


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