Don's diary: road to redundancy

July 5, 2002

June 2001

An email from the vice-chancellor announcing cuts in philosophy posts (from eight-and-a-half to five) puts me on the spot.

I have been teaching at Middlesex since 1972 and, as a friend reminds me rather gratuitously, it used to be my "project". I used to think polytechnics were a great cultural experiment, the dissenting academies of their time. I believed that they would win recognition as powerhouses of intellectual creativity, putting the dreary old universities to shame. I thought they would allow philosophy to come back into its own. I was wrong.

I ask the dean what she would say if I applied for the redundancy deal. She replies with alacrity that it would be very helpful.


Emergency: if I apply for redundancy by the middle of this month, I get a lump sum of more than six months' salary; otherwise they could impose a compulsory package, offering half as much.

The bright news is that by refusing a promotion a few years ago I retained the right to 12 months' notice instead of three, so I am entitled to a year's pay instead of notice. It will be followed, however, by seven lean years as a Niob (no income, one baby) before I can touch a pension.


Clearing out my office, I am moved by how much I used to care. I throw away notes for some 3,000 lectures, copies of hundreds of references and records of the defining battles of my career: against modularisation, against site closures, against censorship. I lost them all. But I know that self-pity would mean failing again, and failing worse.

Today the deal is almost struck and I email colleagues with the news of my departure. They should be pleased that the axe is falling on my job rather than theirs, though doubtless annoyed at having to scramble to cover my work. In fact they don't react at all.


Nominally, my redundancy takes place next August, so for the coming year I have a salary (employed by the "restructuring department") but no job. It should be heaven but I hate it.

For the first time in my life I suffer financial agony. The trouble with poverty is that it is such a waste of time, and the same applies when it is imaginary.

In the library my vision blurs and I lose sensation down one side. I am having a stroke, I say to myself. In the event it is a little less drastic, but still a worrying warning against worrying. Thank God for the NHS.

January 2002

I had hoped that liberation from a job would mean I could spend time writing my book. Instead, half my time is spent pursuing mini-earnings from mini-jobs, and the other half trying to save money and learning to fix my own computer.

The dean has put another boot in by writing to the press saying that a reference to my redundancy was "factually inaccurate", because I am still within my notice period and, anyway, my departure was "voluntary".

"Up to a point," I say to myself, but not under circumstances of my choosing.

Philosophy, the dean adds, is safe in her hands.


My former colleagues have had to apply for their own jobs. I get a phone call from a dear friend who has just been "transferred to the restructuring department". I reflect that the brutality and destructiveness are incredible; and then I reflect that they are not. At least I can enjoy the bleak reassurance that I was right to jump ship when I did.


A year has passed: the traditional length of a term of mourning. Having built up a portfolio of external examining, evaluating and assessing I have had lots of glimpses of univer-sity life in the past month. The sun has begun to shine at last, and it is better to be out than in.

Jonathan Rée, former principal lecturer in philosophy, Middlesex University.

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