Every day GoPetition receives thousands of signatures supporting a variety of causes. These signatures are sourced globally from about 75 countries. It is interesting for me as I review the GoPetition signature database to see what social trends are emerging globally. One of the hottest and perhaps saddest trends is "Education under Fire."
Trending signature data from the USA suggests that many state governments are having severe budget problems and the response has been savage cuts to education. New York and California seem to be hardest hit, but no state seems exempt. This has manifested in large volumes of petitions concerning teacher sackings, program axings and even entire school closures. I will have more to say about this in another post. Here, however, I'd like to comment on what's happening in the UK. It appears that the deep sovereign budget crises engulfing Europe have not left Britain unscathed. Indeed it could be argued that the UK is a bigger basket-case financially than a number of the more advanced European states.
The trickle down effect of these sovereign crises, together with the UK budget black hole, is that Universities themselves are facing funding crises of their own. How have educational institutions reacted? In the case of Middlesex University it has been, "Slash and Burn".
In perhaps one of the most controversial decisions in recent history, Middlesex University has decided to close its Philosophy programmes. The Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy at Middlesex is widely and internationally recognised as one of the most important centres for the study of modern European philosophy. Moreover its contribution to the literature has been immense.
The apparent "evil" of economic rationalism suspected for this move has not been missed by a number of academics. Professor James Williams could not contain himself in a letter of protest, "It is therefore a mistake to cut your flagship academic programme on academic grounds. But it is also a mistake in terms of future sources of funding and in terms of the wider social role of your university. I will be writing to my MP, Alistair Darling, and to Sir Alan Langlands at HEFCE to highlight the failure of your university to fulfill its wider mission as funded by government in relation to excellent research and its dissemination."
Professor Gareth Williams has also made pointed comments about the situation in a letter to the university, "I left the U.K. at the height of Prime Minister Thatcher’s decimation of the humanities and social sciences in the 1980s. Needless to say, I consider your decision to close Philosophy at Middlesex University to be a continuation and a confirmation of the blatant philistinism of those years. Your decision works for the intellectual impoverishment of the European university system as a whole. And it condemns the name and prestige of Middlesex University to absolute anonymity and obscurity here in the United States. In conclusion, I urge you to reconsider your decision."
The depth of feeling about the closure is clearly seen in the signature list of the official student endorsed petition campaign protest. The petition has over 10,000 signatures and has been signed by some prominent academics and philosphers. Please see the links below for more information.
Unfortunately, the "Education under Fire" theme will probably continue to be one of GoPetition's hottest topics of interest. The global financial crisis is not going away soon, and indeed could intensify. In these circumstances it is the Liberal Arts that will suffer. How ironic, that in times when we need clarity of thought, we excise the very thinkers who may help.