Kent Administration Approves Proposal to Cut Philosophy


Last summer, and again this past February, the administration of the University of Kent proposed cutting its philosophy program (see here). It has now decided to implement that proposal.

Simon Kirchin (Leeds, formerly at Kent), shares news from the Kent Department of Philosophy:

Further to previous announcements of plans, the University of Kent has decided to close its Department of Philosophy. It will take no new students from now on.  Existing students will be ‘taught out’ across the next two academic years.  The University has made provision for a (very) small amount of fte to carry out teaching from 2024-2026.

As was noted in previous posts, the decision was not based on the poor performance of the Department or its philosophers:

This is not on the grounds of quality: the philosophy department was ranked 3rd in the UK for overall student satisfaction in the most recent national student survey, and 5th in the UK in terms of GPA in the most recent research assessment (2nd for quality of research outputs)

Philosophers at Kent “are actively looking for posts elsewhere.”

 

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Robin McKenna
Robin McKenna
30 days ago

Awful news and a salient reminder that sometimes the problem is not with what we are doing as departments or individual philosophers but with the broader systems we need to function within.

Jeremy Pober
30 days ago

I’m trying to translate this event into a US context, as I’m not sure how many of us Americans realize how shocking it is given the plethora of department closures in the US.

While the number of closures in any country would ideally be zero, and while I feel terrible for anyone who lost their tenured or tenure-track job this way, it’s worth noting that in the US, *graduate* programs in philosophy have not been hit terribly hard (the only one I know of that has closed recently is Claremont Graduate University). This is generally because grad departments are at bigger, better-funded schools who aren’t at risk of the harshest consequences of the ‘educational marketplace’ of competing for student enrollment (some are at risk of meddling by politically motivated administrations, but that’s a different topic, and not one that has so far led to any graduate department closures).

In comparison, (if I understand things correctly), Kent is a ‘red brick’ university, which along with the ‘ancients’ (Oxbridge, Scottish schools) and a few others (Durham, Cardiff, maybe Belfast) constitute the top 30 institutions research institutions in the UK–roughly their equivalent of the Association of American Universities, or the top quartile of R1’s in the US. Its philosophy program ranks very well in some metrics, less so in others, but most people who work in the UK or Western Europe know at least one Kent PhD.
So programs with similar metrics, at universities with similar metrics, in the US, might be BU, UC Davis, University of Oregon, or Emory.
In other words, what’s going on in the UK is that programs which in the US would still be considered more than safe–programs that it seems like it would be unconscionable to cut (can you imagine a UC campus cutting its philosophy program!?), are not just on the block but already being eliminated in the UK.
Brits with US experience–do I have this right?

Simon Kirchin
Simon Kirchin
Reply to  Jeremy Pober
30 days ago

Thanks Jeremy. So my experience of US institutions is gained only from blogs and discussions with US-based colleagues as I have never worked or studied in the US. But, from that and all you say, yes, this is roughly right. As I say, in the most recent national research exercise that was conducted across all subjects and universities, Kent’s Dept. (of which I was a member of the time) was ranked 5th in overall GPA out of 35 depts that were entered. Undergraduate evaluations go up and down, as they do for many universities and departments, but in the past few years the scores have been very good to decent. The closure of the dept. is a very sad moment, and in no way reflects the quality of the faculty there.

David Wallace
Reply to  Jeremy Pober
29 days ago

It looks about right to me.

early career philsoopher
early career philsoopher
Reply to  Jeremy Pober
29 days ago

Kent isn’t a red brick university.

But it has got a good philosophy department, so this comment seems essentially right

Hey Nonny Mouse
30 days ago

If we want academic philosophy to last, we need to make sure that both our colleagues and the public understand why we are worth paying for.

Jeremy Pober
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
29 days ago

Sure, but in this particular case I think we also need to take into account–and try to understand why–these department closures are, at this point, a uniquely anglosphere phenomenon. It’s just not happening to the same extent anywhere else in the world, and figuring out what the difference is seems crucial to me if we are going to address the issue.

praymont
praymont
Reply to  Jeremy Pober
28 days ago

Some relevant info is in Eric Steinhart’s reply to the DN post “Manhattan College May Eliminate Philosophy” (Feb. 5, 2024). Steinhart points to the formulas used in the consultants’ number-crunching contraptions, which are disposed to doom philosophy. Do UK schools apply similar devices?

Luca
Luca
29 days ago

As a current student, devastated doesn’t even do justice to how I am feeling. I have struggled a lot in my life and it wasn’t until I moved to Kent to study Philosophy that I really managed to get my life back on track. The lecturers have been supportive, enthusiastic and extremely knowledgeable. I have felt that I found a degree at Kent in which I really belong, which encourages me to explore the world from new perspectives and feel courage to form my own opinions and think critically and originally. To see these amazing lecturers, who put so much time and effort into my studies, be treated as objects, merely tools for money-making by the executive group… it is unbelievably disgusting.

From a student perspective, the university continues to pretend that this closure is “for the students”,that their “priority is student experience”, that “students are at the heart of what [they] do”. If that were the case, they would not be getting rid of the course, let alone have us students try to complete our degrees with dysfunctionally low numbers of lecturers (reported as 1.5 lecturers next year, and 0.5 lecturers beyond that).

This complete mistreatment of staff and students for the sake of financial gain is absolute insanity to me, and completely detached from any sense of humanity or care for the people who *are* the university.

Simon Kirchin
Simon Kirchin
Reply to  Luca
29 days ago

HI Luca, I am so sorry how this has affected you and all the other students. I am now at Leeds if you ever want to get in touch over email. Simon

Konstantinos Morfis
Konstantinos Morfis
28 days ago

again, there’s a mismatch between philosopher’s expectations and admins’ expectations.

Adam stonegolduk
Adam stonegolduk
28 days ago

Sad news…the closure of Humanities departments, whilst business and IT courses are being tailored to students from China and India, typifies the modetn neoliberal “university” 🙁 Pet peeve…surely in the UK it’s programme not program?