The word has got around quickly of tough times ahead for philosophy at KCL. Quoting the letter of vigorous protest from the UCL philosophy department, which you can read in full in the comments here,  “Prof Shalom Lappin and Dr Wilfried Meyer-Viol are to face compulsory redundancy as of autumn 2010, and … Prof Charles Travis is to be forced into retirement contrary to the contract on which he was hired in 2005.” (See also Shalom Lappin’s statement here.)

Rumour also has it that the other members of the department have been told to reapply for their jobs, under threat of redundancy (whatever that exactly means).

These are pretty grim developments.

Not too surprising, though. In a long series of steps over the time during which I have been an academic, the accommodations between universities and their staff, and the myths we live by, have changed almost out of recognition. Once upon a time, it would have been more or less unthinkable for a university adminstration to act as precipitately as KCL seem to have done. These days, it happens more and more.

True, we used to be much less well paid. You almost never got promoted before trundling through all eighteen steps on the lecturer scale (there was indeed an “age/wage” scale). Very few got personal chairs. Research leave was a rarity in many universities. But, on the other hand, you were left alone to get on with your work as best you could. And in my experience, relatively few abused the great privilege (to be sure, people tended to publish much less, and care about their students more, but that looks a rather good thing, as we drown in the sea of not-good-not-bad articles and books). Tenure meant tenure (more or less). Short of “gross moral turpitude” it was exceedingly difficult to get sacked: and even when departments closed — say  by taking advantage of a spate of retirements —  the expectation was that remaining established staff would be redeployed somehow (maybe not ideally, but at least not thrown onto the scrap heap).

Since those more comfortable days a quarter of a century ago, we’ve taken the bribe of significantly better pay (for a start because of vastly better promotion prospects), at the cost of a different kind of university with different conceptions of what is proper and improper. And of course, the ambitious and successful tended not to resist the changes. They tended to like the bargain, took the money and thought that the downside — the insecurity, the vulnerability to managerial agendas — wouldn’t affect them.

But as we see in the developments in KCL, the world doesn’t actually work like that. Once the devil’s bargain has been made, the good can get shafted just as much as anyone.

You can follow developments on the Leiter blog, no doubt, and on Facebook. Also, do read Mary Beard’s piece, and the first comment below.

2 thoughts on “KCL”

  1. Peter, I hope you don’t consider it hijacking if I post this message from Peter Ridley, a KCL grad student who is coordinating the response to the college.

    Dear All,

    Below are the contact details for the Principal, relevant Vice-Principals and Head of School. If you feel you are in a position such that they would take notice of your correspondence, please consider contacting them to express your concern at the way the King’s Department, and particularly Shalom Lappin and Wilfried Meyer-Viol are being treated. If any whole departments would like to follow UCL et. al.’s lead, I’m sure it would be greatly appreciated by everyone here. Whether it can make any difference to the management’s attitude is another matter.

    Rick Trainor, Principal – principal@kcl.ac.uk

    Lawrence Freedman, Vice-Principal (Strategy & Development) – lawrence.freedman@kcl.ac.uk (I guess he may be a little busy today)

    Keith Hoggart, Vice-Principal (Arts & Sciences) – keith.hoggart@kcl.ac.uk

    Chris Mottershead, Vice-Principal (Research & Innovation) – chris.mottershead@kcl.ac.uk

    Jan Palmowski, Head of School of Arts & Humanities – jan.palmowski@kcl.ac.uk

    Students in the Department are currently drafting a letter to the College management laying-out our grievances. When finished this letter will be circulated in the Department for signing, and a copy will be made available online in the form of a petition to gather further signatures.


    Peter Ridley
    (Graduate Student)

  2. Jeremy Butterfield writes: Most of you will have heard of the proposed sackings at KCL. Below please find a description of the situation by Prof Mary Margaret McCabe, Head of KCL Philosophy Department: which she has reassured me can be sent further afield, so feel free to pass it on.


    You may have seen that the administration at Kings has embarked on a cost-cutting exercise; and it has now reached the School of Humanities. The strategy for the School (which is in all sorts of ways ill-conceived and even incoherent) has two features at which we are appalled:

    They are giving redundancy notices to eleven members of the School. These eleven include two members of the Philosophy Department, Shalom Lappin and Wilfried Meyer-Viol, on the grounds that the College is ‘disinvesting in computational linguistics’. IN fact that affiliation is an historical feature of their coming to the college, and does not describe at all what they do in the department; Shalom works widely in philosophy of language and mind; Wilfried does logic (he does all the formal logic). This has been done without consultation (hence the College is unaware of what S and W actually do) but following a pattern according to which a third member of the original group of computational linguists (Jonathan Ginzburg in the Computer Science) is now at the appeal stage of his redundancy proceedings (Shalom has been active in his support). This drives a hole through the middle of the department’s teaching, let alone our research. You can see Shalom’s account of what he does here
    and there is a discussion on Leiter here

    The Head of School is planning to put the whole of the School of Humanities at risk of redundancy. We are then to be required to reapply for our own jobs (the document informing us about this doesn’t put it like that; however a man from HR who was at a meeting I went to last week agreed that this is what is happening), with the expectation that across the School they will lose eleven more posts (the practicalities of this are utterly unclear). Now the Philosophy department (one of the strongest in the School, up till now) may not lose any more posts; but the process itself is a grotesque one, requiring us to compete with long-standing close colleagues (as well as unknown and remote colleagues) for fewer jobs than there are people. This is not only morally repugnant (what would it be to survive such an exercise?) but directly inimical to the way we think philosophy should be done: through the sort of collaborative discussion in which one can treat each party to the discussion with respect and dignity.

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