11 May 2010

Save Middlesex Philosophy

Students have occupied Middlesex University’s Trent Park campus in protest of the closure of the philosophy department. This department and its Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy (CRMEP) is:

  • of international importance for the study of continental philosophy, and one of few such centres in the UK
  • the best research department at Middlesex, according to the last two RAEs, with 65% of its work of international importance and ranking a healthy 13/41 in the UK
  • flourishing, particularly at MA and PhD level, with 112 full-time equivalent students and applications up for next year
  • financially healthy, bringing in grant money and reaching the required 55% contribution to the central administration

It is not, however, a business department. Consequently the university plan to shut the philosophy department as a short-sighted piece of asset-stripping – taking its RAE money for the next 5+ years (around £1 million), and re-allocating its student quotas to business degrees which come with more funding per student. The outcry is international and eminent – from Badiou & Butler to Zizek – and with no clear-cut case for closure

What you can do:
  • Check out the campaign to Save Middlesex Philosophy at the site below, join the groups and pass on the message
  • Join 14,000 people in signing the petition against the department's closure
  • Write to the university management and governors (details here)
  • Join the occupation at the Trent Park campus: supporters are enormously welcome, and I can attest it’s a friendly environment. I'll be at the reading group tonight

Website: saveMDXphil.com
Twitter: @saveMDXphil
Hashtag: #saveMDXphil

Now the speculative urbanist bit:

I was up at the occupation on Sunday for the teach-in events the students had organised over the weekend – talks on the economic crisis, ‘thinking like a bastard’, and the concepts of time and remembrance in Walter Benjamin’s conception of politics, and the eruption of historical events in the now. (C.f. the Hornsey College of Art protests thirty years ago; the current student occupation at Middlesex is not a singular event.)

Then there was an organisation meeting. A few days into the occupation, activist fatigue was setting in. People had essay deadlines to meet and jobs to go to, and the questions became, “How many people can stay here tonight? How many people do we need to sustain the occupation?”

How about none.

Security are not being aggressive but rather very hands-off – they’re under orders from management not to get in the way. Word is that undercover police turned up last night – I mean, two West London factory workers who mysteriously wrote for a US radical journal who were a bit too neatly dressed and very eager to be given a tour of the occupied building – but police have been to Trent Park before and not taken any action; this is a very peaceful occupation making no damage or aggression, just disruption. Most importantly, people are freely coming and going; security isn’t counting anyone in or out; and there is no sense that individuals leaving the building equates to diminishing support or the protest ending.

Consequently it is not in fact numbers but the impression of numbers that keeps the building occupied – that, the locked doors, and the banners hanging from the windows. A handful of people coming and going could keep up the traffic. It’s easy enough to automate the turning on and off of music, films, lights. Playing the video recorded of previous teach-in sessions gives the aural impression of multiple people present having a conversation. In the middle of the night security expect the building to be quiet anyway.

So people needing a night of proper sleep at home doesn’t mean the occupation has to end. Whether three or thirty people stay over each night, they could not ‘hold the building’ should the police enter in force – this is a student occupation to protest the closure of the philosophy department rather than a more militant squatter attempt to seize the building long-term. So if people need to go elsewhere, why not. Come back in the morning and leave at night – treat protest as a day job. Or better yet, see how long the occupation can be sustained without any protestors present at all – just banners, sound coming from the first floor, and no statement of exit from the occupying group.

Without a philosophy department and without researchers of this calibre, Middlesex becomes a simulacrum of a university, a vocational training school concealing the absence of higher learning. A simulacrum of a protest concealing the absence of studnent protestors would thus seem apt.