Save Philosophy at Northampton

David Wall writes:

as has happened at a number of universities in the UK, the Executive Dean of
the School of Social Sciences at the University of Northampton has decided
to phase out the teaching of philosophy and close the department here. This
is planned to take effect from next year with no new intake of students for
philosophy from 2012/13. We think this decision is unjustified, for the
reasons described in the template letter below and others, and hope to get
the decision reversed so that philosophy can continue to be taught here. We
would be very grateful for your help and support with this. If you agree
and are willing to help please sign the template letter and copy it into, or
attach to an email to the Vice Chancellor of the University at
Nick.Petford AT or send a hard copy by mail to Professor Nick
Petford, The Vice Chancellor, The University of Northampton, Directorate,
Boughton Green Road, Northampton, NN2 7AL, UK.

The Vice Chancellor
Professor Nicholas Petford
The University of Northampton,
Boughton Green Road, Northampton, NN2 7AL

Dear Professor Petford,

I am writing to express my concern about the recent decision by the
Executive Dean of Social Sciences to phase out the teaching of philosophy
and close the department at the University of Northampton. This decision
seems unreasonable both financially and academically.

As a category D subject (according to the classification system of
the UK government’s recent white paper on competition in higher education)
philosophy has low running costs for the university, currently employing
only 2.3 members of staff. These costs are more than funded by the student
fees it earns as it attracts good numbers of students. In addition to the
existing students this year’s first year intake will be 13 single honours
and 11 joint honours students. These numbers compare well with those of
departments of similar size both within the University of Northampton and
against other universities and would be greater were they not limited by the
current caps on student intakes. Moreover, there is evidence that these
good numbers will continue with numbers of applications and offers
increasing year-on-year from 2010/11 to 2011/12 (the two years in which a
single honours programme has been offered and for which final intakes have
been determined by the caps rather than the interest from prospective
students) in contrast with many other subjects in the university, and the
government white paper suggests that category D subjects such as philosophy
will be least at risk from competition from the private sector in the near
future. So there are good financial reasons to continue to teach philosophy
at Northampton.

Similarly, the department justifies itself academically, achieving
excellent results and providing students with a very good overall experience
of being at university. In 2010/11 80% of completing students in philosophy
achieved ‘good’ degrees (level 2:1 and above) which again compares well with
philosophy departments of similar size in other universities and with
similar sized subjects at Northampton. It is anticipated that this will be
maintained or improve as a greater proportion of students are single honours
who will spend more time dedicated to studying philosophy and receive a more
complete and thorough philosophical education, and end of year exam results
and progression rates support this optimism. In addition, philosophy is
integrated with a number of other subjects in the university. The
department offers modules that are relevant to, and popular with students
taking courses in politics, law, sociology, business, etc, as well as
modules that are popular generally as electives, such as the modules in
moral theory and in philosophy of religion. This contribution to the
broader educational experience would be lost if philosophy were to close.

In addition to these financial and academic considerations there are
important reasons related to the ethos and standing of the university not to
close the department. Philosophy is among the traditional, core subjects of
higher education and we believe that any university worth of the status
should offer it for study. As well as the training that philosophy provides
for a broad range of careers, something frequently acknowledged by employers
in fields such as journalism, business marketing, analysis and consultancy,
civil service, education, etc, it reflects the fact that attending
university is about more than merely gaining vocational training. Students
recognise this and it is likely to be an even more important consideration
for them when they are potentially paying more to attend university from
2012/13 with the introduction of higher tuition fees.

So, there are good ideological, academic, and financial reasons to
continue to teach philosophy at the University of Northampton. I urge you
to reconsider and reverse the decision to close the department there and to
do so as soon as possible so that it can be properly advertised in the UCAS
entry system for 2012/13.