Nafsika Athanassoulis

My Letter to Keele VC

Dear Professor Foskett,

I am writing to express my deep surprise and sadness at the proposed closures of Philosophy and PEAK at Keele University. My very first job was with what used to be the Department of Philosophy and years later I returned to take up a post with PEAK which I left 18 months ago, so I am quite intimately familiar with both units and the significant contribution they make to both teaching and research in philosophy.

If you will permit me, I would like to bring to your attention some thoughts I had while reading the Senate paper of 23rd March outlining the rationale for the closures. Discussions of these issues may be perceived as an internal matter for Keele, but given the gravity of the proposed measures and the long and fond association I have with philosophy/PEAK I hope you will permit me the indulgence of commenting. This is a surprising criticism of Philosophy in light of the fact that it was a University management decision to split Philosophy from PEAK effectively relocating most PG students within PEAK and the School of Law. Since Philosophy was forced to focus on UG activities and had its PG students effectively moved to another school, it seems highly inconsistent to punish a department for a policy instituted by management at an earlier stage. With all due respect, I would challenge this. During my time at Keele PEAK’s budget was absorbed by Law and it became impossible for anyone to figure out the real numbers relating to either unit. Given the diverse nature of the activities of the two units it became very difficult to properly account for income generated in any way that would clarify who contributed what to where. To give you an example, as Director of the MA in the Ethics of Palliative Care I alerted Professor Thomson to the fact that figures for student income were persistently misrepresented in the budget because the course started in January rather than September, but the figures were never corrected. Even in the academic year where the course changed from a January to a September start and managed to recruit double its usual number of students (a remarkable feat under the circumstances) the figures simply did not reflect this fact, nor were they adjusted despite my numerous attempts to make the errors knows. To the extent that this is the case, much of it is the result of University management policies rather than PEAK’s lack of efforts. For example, when the University decided to slash advertising budgets across the board, repeated efforts by PEAK to ask for a special exception for its programmes were met with silence. General Keele University advertising is targeted at a completely different audience from potential PEAK students. Potential PEAK students are professionals who need to be reached through completely different means, however each advertising pound for PEAK pays for itself by generating thousands of pounds in corresponding income (this case was made repeatedly to the University at the time with the appropriate figures, but fell on deaf ears). If one takes a successful enterprise, developed after careful market research, and modelled on sound business principles and effectively cripples its ability to function through generalised and inappropriate restrictions, it is no wonder that income drops. PEAK has always excelled based on its ability to be innovative, flexible and responsive to market demands, but has instead been pigeonholed under general regulations that do not apply the unit and put under inappropriate pressure to contribute to UG teaching in the School of Law, something which is a wasteful misapplication of the talents of PEAK staff. This strikes me as particularly unjust as, once again, it was the University’s higher management decision not to submit most PEAK staff for RAE review on the grounds of ‘lack of fit with the University’s identified research units’. Of all the irrational decisions affecting PEAK this was perhaps the worst, robbing the University of an almost certain source of income for no good reason. Again PEAK tried to reason with this decision at the time and had little or no response from those in charge. Whatever the wisdom of the decision at the time, it seems grossly unfair to come to conclusions about the research value of a unit that was prevented from making an RAE submission purely on grounds of fit rather than quality. With all due respect the idea that just about anyone can take over PEAK’s teaching is as implausible for philosophy teaching as it is for any other discipline. PEAK’s monumental success is down to the expertise and hard work of its members, who have trained for years to hold the positions they do. PEAK students are themselves highly qualified professionals who expect exceptional standards of teaching and research support and the idea that they can be palmed off to the School of Law is rather na├»ve. If PEAK is closed, all its income generating abilities, current and future, will be entirely lost to the University.

I hope you do not find my thoughts to be too strongly worded, my intention is not to upset anyone, but it is difficult to retain my equanimity when faced with such a blatant injustice. That Keele University has managed to reduce one of the most highly respected Philosophy Departments in the country to two disparate units under threat of closure is a sad indictment of the state of affairs at the University.

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