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‘Yes we Lacan’ : the revolt of philosophy students - Patrick Hayes,, 13 mai 2010

dimanche 16 mai 2010, par Laurence

Patrick Hayes s’adresse aux étudians de Middlesex qui ont occupé leur université en manière de défense de la connaissance "gratuite".

With planned cuts of £449million in Britain’s higher education sector, many arts and humanities departments deemed to be ‘financially unsustainable’ are under threat. But some are standing up to the threat. An occupation by philosophy students at Middlesex University, protesting against the closure of their department, raises some burning questions about the purpose of education today and what universities are for.

The philosophy department and the world-renowned Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy are to close. Recruitment for new courses has been terminated and all programmes wound down. The centre may have attained the highest results in the university in its most recent Research Assessment Exercise - yet vice-chancellor Michael Driscoll still sent a letter to academic staff informing them that his decision was ‘simply financial’ as staff had been unable to ‘present a credible case for a sustainable future for teaching and research in philosophy’. The philosophy department at King’s College London is also under threat.

However, the Middlesex decision has not been justified to students. A meeting to brief the students about the closure was postponed, says the university, because of pressing coursework deadlines. Perhaps trying to justify the decision to 60 students well versed in the art of logic was too daunting for the university authorities. According to second-year philosophy undergraduate Johann Hoiby, it was this ‘complete lack of respect’ shown by the dean of arts (Professor Edward Esche) and the university management which ‘fired up’ the students who decided spontaneously to take a stand, occupying the meeting room of the grand ‘Mansion’ building at Trent Park on the university’s leafy campus in north London.

Within a day, the occupation by the philosophy students had spread to the entire mansion. White banners draping from the windows declared in red paint : ‘Those who lack imagination can’t imagine what is lacking’, ‘Not for sale’, ‘The university is a factory. Strike ! Occupy !’, ‘Free thinking, not fee thinking’ and ‘Yes we Lacan !’. In the early stages of the occupation, the police arrived, but decided that there were few grounds to evict the students for trespassing.

Over the past week the philosophy students have bedded down inside the mansion, waiting for a constructive dialogue to begin with the university administration. They have turned the mansion into a hive of philosophical debate and discussion. Hoiby, who came from Norway to study at the department because of its reputation for research in Continental Philosophy, has found that the occupation has enriched his studies. ‘We’ve got everything in here’, he said. ‘We’re all living on top of each other and we’ve been having some really positive exchanges of ideas. We spend our time doing a bit of everything : discussing essays, doing close-text readings and staying up all night arguing philosophy. This is what university is supposed to be : a place for learning.

The students are determined to make full use of the occupied mansion, transforming it into what they describe as an ‘open hub of culture, politics, thought and creativity’. Inside, the walls have been covered with slogans such as ‘Make time stand still’ and ‘Revolt’. The students have been holding daily events and weekend workshops, open to the public, which they have dubbed ‘Transversal Spaces’ where ‘the boundaries between disciplines and the relations between students and teachers are blurred’. Events so far have included lectures on the history of calculus, panel workshops discussing the nature of voting, reading groups discussing Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project, and poetry readings.

The ongoing occupation is rapidly becoming a cause célèbre, attracting support from leading thinkers and academics from across the world. Almost 15,000 people have signed a petition demanding the reversal of the decision to close the philosophy department. Linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky has come out firmly against the cuts, and last week 30 world-renowned philosophers, including Etienne Balibar, Alain Badiou, Slavoj Zizek, Jacques Ranciere and Antonio Negri, sent an open letter to the Times Higher Education Supplement condemning the closure of the department as ‘a startling stage in the impoverishment of Philosophy provision in the UK’. The occupation has prompted London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) to stage a debate - Who’s afraid of philosophy ? - to discuss the importance of philosophy in contemporary society.

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