My Letter to Birkbeck’s VCs on cuts to Philosophy

To Whom It May Concern,

I am a Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of St Andrews. I completed my PhD in Philosophy at Birkbeck in 2012. I had a wonderful time there, and without the opportunity Birkbeck provided me I would never have been able to end up in my current position. I would like, first of all, to express my gratitude for the institution and everything it stands for. I am also keen to help make sure that others after me have the same opportunity that I did.

I am writing to share a concern about rumours I have heard, suggesting that some proposed staffing cuts will adversely affect the Philosophy department at Birkbeck, leading to the termination of several academic and administrative positions. 

I know that rumours are not always reliable. I also know that these are difficult financial times for many institutions and difficult decisions have to be made. I have the greatest sympathy for those tasked with making these decisions in an emotionally and politically tense environment. 

All the same, I would like to offer my opinion in case there is truth to these rumours. The Philosophy department at Birkbeck is unique. Its value is difficult to measure, but I think it must be measured in terms of the lives it has changed (such as mine), and not simply in financial terms.

I know that financial realities must be faced. But cutting academic and administrative posts from the department would, in my opinion, threaten its very survival (I don’t know the situation of other departments). I venture this opinion as somebody who knows the Philosophy department well and has had experience running a degree programme. 

A decision of that magnitude could easily be irreversible. Meanwhile, financial forecasts are always changing. Institutions go from long-term deficit to long-term surplus from one annual statement to the next. I note that in the 2021 financial statement, the College was assessed on a going concern basis.

As a concerned citizen of the academic community, I would therefore like to express a plea for caution regarding any planned decisions to cut back on staff. Many thanks for taking the time to read this.


Alexander Douglas

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