Pub-level argument 1

August 5, 2010

Why did you publish "Get in shape: lose the fat" (29 July)? That Clive Bloom rants in public against another department in his own institution is bad form, but his article also suffers from a preference for assertion over argument, and alarming selectivity inasmuch as it has any concept of evidence. Bloom might get away with this sort of thing in the bar, but surely not in a popular magazine.

Of particular concern is that, in calling for a cull of courses and universities, Bloom ignores the main difficulty in postgraduate recruitment. It is not that courses are unattractive, nor that institutions fail to engage their constituencies, but that the lack of financial support at this level means that many qualified graduates cannot find the fees or the living costs needed to sustain themselves in further study.

Equally alarming is Bloom's casual conflation of a requirement that institutions operate on a business model with what he sees as the marginal status of research in disciplines such as philosophy. Whatever its economic basis, a university is a place in which knowledge is pursued and critical debate is enabled, even when the applications of a specific area of knowledge are too far-reaching to be audited in the short term.

Middlesex University's philosophy department made an outstanding contribution to understanding how societies and cultures change and how ideas inflect such development (including economic development). There may be a need to reform the academy, as Bloom says, but I sincerely hope his brand of homespun drivel will not inform it.

Malcolm Miles, Professor of cultural theory, University of Plymouth.

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