Thursday, 4 February 2010

staff cuts at King's part II

The buzz on the philosophy circuit is that the staff cuts at King's are part of a larger problem for UK academics. They feel that:
1. There is an increasing tendency to combine departments in order to offer interdisciplinary degrees to students at the undergraduate level. This, they argue, decreases a student's chance of becoming expert in any one field. Expertise in one field, some argue, is key to doing 'real scholarly work' in the interdisciplinary model.

2. They also argue that the combining departments will remove the possibility of fostering an academic community within one single discipline. Thus, the philosophers are forced to talk to the mathematicians and (even worse) the social theorists.

3. They additionally feel that combining departments is not in the interest of saving money, but is part of a less explicit move to manage the work of academics. Thus, the claims about universities making these moves because they are financially struggling are somewhat bogus. The cost of restructuring is thought to far outweigh the cost of leaving everything as it is.

Now, as you all know I've got mixed feelings about staff cuts.

Having done my undergraduate degree in the states, which is interdisciplinary by default, I don't feel I am no expert in my field. Rather, I feel that when I come up against historical, political, sociological, psychological or literary and aesthetic consequences of the ethics I'm working on (btw, had a dream I was sat next to Levinas in a class last night), I am able to dig into all of those disciplines. In other words, I have the confidence to go beyond my comfort zone and paint a broader picture for myself. Am I always good at it? No. In fact, it's hard. And I struggle with it. I would prefer to never step out of the ethical jargon I think and write in. I would prefer to remain firmly in the ethics of 1970s France. But, the fact is that stepping outside my comfort zone makes my work more interesting and honest. For instance, I've recently begun to enunciate for myself the connection between post-WWII thinking and thinking after May 1968. Without being able to delve into other disciplines with some confidence, I'd never have got there.
On the other hand, I completely understand that restructuring and redundancies are emotionally difficult. The academic world has been protected from these things in recent history. However, both redundancies and restructuring were the norm for many working folks last year. Those who were experts in their field - whether that is marketing, sales, advertising, and administration - have faced redundancy. Why in the world would academic experts expect to be treated any differently? Why should they be?
The fact of the matter is that if you rely on the government for your paycheck, the government is going to dictate the conditions of your employment. If you want to escape this trap, get out of your government sponsored job.
My hope is that after this has all settled down, the senior academics who have been put out into the rain find new and creative ways to continue to pursue their passion. For that's really the one thing that academic work offers us that other work does not - the ability to pursue our passion. And it's absolutely terrifying to think that we won't get to do that anymore. So, if academics have to figure out ways to fund our research ourselves, or find private funding, or pursue it in an office with mathematicians and sociologists, then so be it.

And just be fair. This is the link to the petition to save the KCL philosophy dept:

Also, this is the link to the KCL website.  At the bottom of the page, is the university's document detailing the process for redundancies and re-application.

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