Philosophers Object to Heythrop’s Closing (updated)


The governing board of Heythrop College, a constituent college of the University of London whose mission is “to serve society through philosophy and theology,” met in late June and concluded that “the College in its current form, as a constituent college of the University of London, will come to an end in 2018, although its mission and work will not.” Now, according to The Tablet:

Academics from universities across the country have signed a letter from the British Philosophical Association calling for Heythrop College to be saved…. 22 philosophers, a number of whom are in charge of university philosophy departments, have written in a letter that Heythop’s closure would be a “tragedy.”

The reasons for the closure are largely financial, explains Michael Holman, Heythrop’s Principal, in a statement on the college’s website:

In the last ten years, the College has had to provide for the costs of increased regulatory requirements without the economies of scale available to other colleges and universities. Expectations of all that makes up the “student experience” in addition to the quality of teaching and learning (for example, facilities, the technology infrastructure, internships and activities) have also increased and meeting these expectations has become more costly too.  Meanwhile, government reforms have meant that the market for students has become more competitive and, specialising in just two subject areas as we do, the opportunities to diversify have been limited.

The letter from the British Philosophical Association was published in The Tablet but appears to be behind a paywall. The news story about it, quoted above, provides some details:

The letter… was written by Professor Robert Stern of the University of Sheffield who is president of the association…. “Anyone who has worked in higher education over the past decades knows how difficult it is for a small institution to survive financially in the current climate, that financial crises are a constant fact of life, but also that things can quickly improve,” the letter states. “It would be a tragedy if this unique Jesuit college, with its centuries’-old history, were allowed to go under now, at the very time when it is making a really significant contribution to philosophical and theological research both nationally and internationally.”

The list of signatories is included in the article.

UPDATE (8/19/15): A petition to stop the closure of Heythrop College has been launched.

 

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Alexander Douglas
Alexander Douglas
6 years ago

Speaking as a member of the Heythrop philosophy department, I would like to personally thank the signatories of this letter for their support and sympathy.

I’d also like to thank the Heythrop management and staff for all their hard work in struggling to preserve this unique institution and its invaluable mission.Report

nona
nona
6 years ago

Would there be a way of adding one’s name to the list or other means of protest?Report

Dan Dennis
Dan Dennis
6 years ago

What a shame.

The principle says the students need ‘facilities, the technology infrastructure, internships and activities’. But the college is in London – there is no lack of things to do, so the college does not need to provide social and sports facilitites. Most students have their own computers, and could be informed before coming that they will need to supply their own so technology costs should not be an issue for the university. For teaching philosophy and theology you need a classroom, staff and library. London has the British Library which has access to everything, and which students can get access to if needbe, so access to texts will be better than in most other places. Normally with the £9000 fees humanities courses are profitable. In other colleges they often end up subsidising the science courses. I wonder whether a mixture of wrong expectations and incompetence is the cause of this. Could the staff get a second opinion on this? Surely someone in the staff or in the BPA has a friend who is a consultant who would do it pro bono or for a reduced rate?Report

Dan Dennis
Dan Dennis
6 years ago

ps The Heythrop College building must be worth many millions. Where will that money be heading? Finding out that might provide a bit more of an explanation for what is going on….Report

Dan Dennis
Dan Dennis
6 years ago

Here is a suggestion which might save Heythrop College.

Rent out the Heythrop College building in Kensington. That will bring in a lot of money. Try to reach an agreement with one of the big northern Universities – for example Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham or Sheffield. They may have some spare capacity – rooms, technology, social facilities, libraries, admin etc, and could acquire more at relatively low expense (relative to London that is). So then Heythrop College could pay them something towards their use of these facilities. It would be ‘piggybacking’ on the University in question. This arrangement would be in the financial interests of that University because it could achieve economies of scale; and it would slash the costs of Heythrop College. Heythrop would then have money coming in from renting out its London buildings and from fee income, combined with much lower overheads. It might then be financially viable. Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and Sheffield all have good philosophy departments which would welcome the association with Heythrop, and vice-versa. It could be a real win-win arrangement.Report

John Appleby
John Appleby
6 years ago

Dan Dennis
Before you start bandying around words such as ‘incompetence’, you might like to follow the above link to the Principal’s statement. If you do so, amongst other things, you will find that Heythrop do not own their building: It is the property of the Jesuits, who allow them to occupy it rent-free.Report

Dan Dennis
Dan Dennis
6 years ago

John Appleby: I did not say that the people in charge *are* incompetent. I said ‘I wonder whether a mixture of wrong expectations and incompetence is the cause of this.’ Efficiently running a multimillion pound organisation is difficult, and it is not the case that every multimillion pound organisation is run competently. Sometimes people whose skills lie elsewhere end up running multimillion pound organisations. Whether that is the case with Heythrop I do not know.

Yes, I read the statement and saw that the Jesuits own the building, so stand to benefit financially from the closure of the College.

Do you have any constructive thoughts about my suggestion in comment 5?Report

John Appleby
John Appleby
6 years ago

Dan Dennis
I’m certainly not competent when it comes to efficiently running a multimillion pound organisation, so have nothing constructive to say about your suggestion. I do know that it if you try to rent out a building which you do not own, you might well run into trouble.Report

Dan Dennis
Dan Dennis
6 years ago

John Appleby: It would be fine for Heythrop College to sub-let their building provided that doing so were not forbidden by the owners.Report

anonymous
anonymous
6 years ago

I few points for those not familiar with Heythrop College. It is:

1) over 400 years old;
2) a Catholic institution;
3) the sponsor of The Heythrop Journal, which publishes both philosophy and theology;
4) a home for distinguished scholars and researchers (e.g. John Cottingham).

Another point: The Heythrop Journal publishes high-quality articles in both philosophy and theology; has a robust book review section widely covering both disciplines; and publishes both established and junior scholars.Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
5 years ago

Northern universities may well leave good association grounds with Heythrop. But an important item that Heythrop will need in any future arrangements would be a way to preserve its ecclesiastical faculties, ( issuing its own STB, STL, PHD) that is essential to Heythrop’s status as a pontifical university. The only other places to issue these degrees in Britain are the three major seminaries of Britain and Blackfriars in Oxford.

Heythrop ultimately I think will want a deal which supports its theology department more than philosophy. Manchester is a good option as it is large and already hosts a Jesuit chaplaincy. The library is a huge deal ( 180,000+ books) as to their fate. RHUL may actually be an option as the university does not yet have a theology and a small philosophy department- which could reduce arguments based on staffing.Report