Re: Proposed closure of PEAK and the Department of Philosophy at Keele University
Dear Professor Foskett:
I am writing to express my concern at the proposed closure of PEAK and the Department of Philosophy at Keele University. You have no doubt been inundated by letters opposing this course of action. Indeed, I have read a number of them. It must be encouraging as an academic leader to see the high regard the global community holds for these academic units. I will join the chorus of voices that share that high regard. PEAK, in particular is a highly regarded unit in the area of applied ethics, and a world leader and innovator in the important emerging field of public health ethics.
However, my concerns run deeper than simply the potential loss of an academic unit universally recognized in the field for the excellence of its teaching and research. When I examined the Strategic Map of the University, I found the following notable points.
The stated vision of the university is “To build upon Keele’s founding value of ‘the pursuit of truth in the company of friends’: we are a diverse, inclusive and professional academic community that respects individuals and enables them to strive for success in order to contribute positively and sustainably to the local region, wider society and the national economy.” I find it difficult to envision the pursuit of truth in an academic community that no longer has a philosophy department. Philosophy is the discipline that is foremost in the commitment to the pursuit of truth.
Further on I read in the strategic aims and objectives that Keele strives to “develop high quality graduates who demonstrate intellectual flexibility and relevant experience and skills, including employability and global citizenship skills.” Again, philosophy is central to the development of intellectual flexibility. Still further on I find that Keele seeks to “foster innovation in a developing collaborative multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research environment, including the development of focused University-wide themes in Sustainability and Ageing linked to the emerging regeneration theme.” These laudable aspirations are well exemplified in the areas of professional ethics, which is amongst the most collaborative and interdisciplinary of academic endeavours. As someone active in the field of aging research, the most substantial challenges facing our health systems and society at large are ethical challenges. Your institution will be significantly disadvantaged in understanding and contributing to this discourse if well trained ethicists are not in your academic community.
I recognize that academic institutions face serious fiscal issues. We are facing similar circumstances in Canada. In all the letters that I have seen circulating about the issues facing Keele, few have directed attention to the upstream causes of the current fiscal difficulties. It is ironic that it is the type of reasoning (economic rationality of a particular form) that led to the eventual collapse of economies that is now being employed to justify the closure of academic units. Perhaps if thinking of a different sort prevailed, such draconian measures would not be necessary.
On a personal note, I studied philosophy before I entered medicine. I sincerely believe that no academic discipline better trains a student for rigorous inquiry. The type of critical thinking skills instilled and cultivated by philosophy are germane to a wide range of professions. Employability is enhanced by these skills, even if they do not show up as direct economic benefits. As an academic physician I have been deeply involved in bioethics. The issues raised in bioethics are of immense importance to modern life as they examine and evaluate questions of fundamental human significance.
A decision to close PEAK and the Department of Philosophy would be a disservice to current and future students attending Keele. It would lead to irreparable intellectual disadvantage. Furthermore, the closure of PEAK and the Department of Philosophy will impair the university’s ability to achieve its stated vision, mission and strategic aims and objectives. The short term financial relief is not worth the substantial potential harm to the academic vitality of the institution. I sincerely hope that this decision is reconsidered.
I thank you for your time and attention to this letter.
Sincere best wishes,
Ross E.G. Upshur, BA(Hons), MA, MD, MSc, CCFP, FRCPC
Director, University of Toronto Joint Centre for Bioethics
Professor, Department of Family and Community Medicine and
Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto
Canada Research Chair in Primary Care Research
Director, PAHO/WHO Collaborating Centre for Bioethics