U-turn over closure brings victory for Keele optimists

Vocal support for philosophy and ethics units saved the day, staff claim. John Morgan reports

March 31, 2011

Keele University has withdrawn plans to close its philosophy programme and ethics unit, after staff, students and the wider academic community mounted a defence.

Management at Keele, which was founded by philosopher A.D. Lindsay in 1949, switched tack at a senate meeting last week, just days after unveiling the closure plans.

Instead, they will now seek savings in the broader schools that cover philosophy and ethics, part of a plan for £6.5 million in staff savings across the university over two years.

The university says the plan is driven by government funding cuts.

James Tartaglia, a lecturer in philosophy at Keele, said: "After a very intense week, the senate showed unanimous support for philosophy.

"The management agreed that there will be a new intake of students to philosophy next year, and that the proposal to go to council on 7 April will contain no reference to the closure of either philosophy or (the ethics unit). Savings will still need to be made, but these will be at the school level, with no particular targeting of philosophy."

Dr Tartaglia put the change down to "the amazing support we were shown by our school, the UK philosophical community and the students", as well as "the support of academics from the whole range of disciplines at Keele".

The closure of philosophy, which is taught to around 200 undergraduates on joint honours courses, would have damaged the unique nature of Keele degrees, according to Jonathan Dancy, a lecturer at Keele for 25 years and now professor of philosophy at the University of Reading and the University of Texas, Austin.

Professor Dancy said Keele was "still basically a dual-honours university", with philosophy playing a significant role.

Students in subjects ranging from maths and sociology to medicine and film were able to study the philosophy of their original subject on Keele's dual honours courses, he argued.

Such courses "produced students who could think about their other subject in a way that, on many joint honours, you could not".

Professor Dancy recalled an occasion in the US when an American colleague referred to a school of thought among the university's philosophers at the time, by calling him a "Keele realist".

"I felt proud of myself," Professor Dancy said.

A university spokesman said the senate "welcomed the emergence from ongoing internal consultation of viable alternatives" to the closures, and that the modified proposals presented to council would be "designed to yield the financial savings that the university needs to make".

john.morgan@tsleducation.com

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