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.