What would Lindsay say?

Keele's plan to shut philosophy and ethics units is a 'disaster', say scholars. John Morgan reports

March 24, 2011

Keele University plans to shut its philosophy programme and ethics unit, but academics warn that the institution is ditching its heritage.

University managers are looking to save £600,000 by closing the philosophy programme, which teaches around 200 undergraduates on joint honours courses, and the Centre for Professional Ethics, which has around 200 postgraduate students.

In a report to Keele's senate, managers say the two areas have high staff costs and make low contributions to university finances.

There will also be "efficiency savings" of £250,000 in the Faculty of Natural Sciences, £300,000 in the School of Humanities and £100,000 in the School of Pharmacy. The moves are part of the university's drive to cut £6.5 million from staff costs over two years, reducing them from 65 per cent of income to 58 per cent (against a sector average of 56 per cent).

Managers say the need to maximise savings "is underscored by the continued volatility in the external funding environment", citing cuts of £2 million in teaching and research funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England for 2011-12 and cuts in NHS and Training Development Agency funding.

The closure and efficiency plans were due to go before Keele's senate on 23 March, with a final decision by council expected on 7 April.

Glen Newey, a professor who teaches philosophy, politics and international relations at Keele, said the loss of philosophy - which would have had three full-time academics next year - would be a "disaster" for the institution.

"Keele was set up by a philosopher, A.D. Lindsay," he said. "Its first graduate was a graduate in philosophy...It was central to Lindsay's vision, to his idea of a university open to all and bridging the gap between the sciences and humanities."

Philosophers who have worked at Keele include Antony Flew, Richard Swinburne and Jonathan Dancy, while philosophy joint honours graduates include lawyer Michael Mansfield.

Managers recommend that the Centre for Professional Ethics be closed, with "integration of certain ethics activities into the law school". The centre studies areas such as reproductive ethics, public health ethics and research ethics.

Philosophy's staff costs were forecast to hit 91.4 per cent of the programme's income by 2013-14, managers say. But James Tartaglia, a lecturer in philosophy, called those figures "completely misleading". The figures inflate philosophy's staff costs by wrongly counting extra staff, he said, including an academic who has not taught since 2007-08 and who has seen her voluntary redundancy application "ignored".

john.morgan@tsleducation.com

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