Appeasing the U.G.C.: The
Threat to Philosophy at
It is now almost certain that the Philosophy Department at
University College of North Wales, Bangor – of which I am
a member – is to take its last student entries this Autumn,
and to award degrees for the last time in 1990. No plans
have been announced for redeploying staff, but it is denied
that redundancies are envisaged. The decision was taken
without any consultation whatsoever either with the staff
and students affected, or with the unions or the local
community (in which the college is the largest employer).
I found out several important facts about my future from
local press reports and pub gossip. The proposal was not
mooted until last summer term had finished, and it was
passed by Senate before students returned in the autumn.
Such management practices can only be underhand,
incompetant, or both.
Obviously, this situation is an effect of the Tory cuts,
but in a rather roundabout way. It is not a cost-saving
measure (though the college is also engaged in such
measures at present). It is aimed at appeasing the U.G.C.,
which currently favours larger and fewer departments so-called ‘rationalization’. Although the long-term aim
is presumably smaller and fewer departments. (This
department, with six academic staff, is by no means the
Other departments here are also affected. The decision
to close Classics and Italian has already been taken;
Physics is to close, and Drama to be merged with English
under unfavourable conditions. Ironically enough, Bangor
is sometimes billed as ‘The Welsh Athens’: an Athens
without Drama, Classics, Philosophy or Physics.
Philosophy is obviously a particularly vulnerable
subject under a government committed to revaluing
commercial values and restricting non-job-oriented
education to those too rich to need jobs. It is likely that
there will soon be at least six colleges or universities
whicn have lost their philosophy departments (Surrey,
Exeter, Leicester, Bangor, Aberystwyth and Newcastle,
with others rumoured to be in the pipeline).
In opposition to the cuts here, there has so far been a
very well-organised occupation of the Senate meeting
place by the students, and a public meeting at which
representatives of the Students Union (English and Welsh),
the A.U. T. and the City Council spoke against the cuts, as
did the Labour, Liberal and Plaid Cymru parliamentary
candidates. But it is not as yet clear what the effect of a
change of government would be.
‘Glasnost’ in Soviet
The sterility of the vast bulk of Soviet philosophical work
(with a few notable exceptions) is legendary.
It is a sad
reflection on the state of Soviet philosophy that it has
made so little contribution to the resurgence of Marxist
theory in the West over the last two decades. Official
recognition of the problem within the USSR, however,
finally seems to be beginning. A Tass report on the recent
Congress of the USSR Philosophy Society notes:
In delegates’ speeches serious concern was felt over
the fact that the results of their work do not yet
meet the new requirements set forth by the party and
by the life of Soviet society itself. The passivity of
workers of the theoretical front, the timidity of
thought and unwillingness to take up studying
topical problems were noted. The developments of
dogmatism and scholasticism have been observed in
recent years in the teaching of philosophy.
Exceedingly few philosophical works have been
written which cause wide public response and are
accessible and interesting not only for specialists
but also for the masses.
We are facing the great task of raising
philosophical scholarship to a new level and of
joining in the process of restructuring of the whole
public life of the country in practice,’ Ivan Frolov,
corresonding member of the Soviet Academy of
Sciences, who was elected to be the new President of
the USSR Philosophical Society, said to a Tass
Philosophical scholarship is called upon to be a
genuine weapon of theory of the quality and
revolutionary restructuring of Soviet public life, it
was noted at the 27th CPSU Congress. In order to
a ttain this goal, Iyan Frolov stressed, philosophy
scholars must critically re-examine all the
stereotypes which have developed in philosophy.
Analysis of the activities of the USSR Philosophy
Society, the scientist said, fully substantia-tes’the
conclusion that a radical restructuring of society is
We await the results with interest.
Philosophy in Schools and
Philosophy is one of the subjects currently being
developed for the new ‘Advanced Supplementary’ (AS
Level) examinations which are due to be examined for the
first time in 1989.
The syllabuses will be designed for A level students
but will cover only half the ground of an A level
syllabus so that for the purposes of entrance into higher
education two AS levels would be equivalent to one A
level. The intention is to broaden the curriculum of A
The popularity of Philosophy as an A level subject ha:
increased rapidly since its introduction in 1985. There
will be further updates on philosophy in further education
colleges and schools in future issues.
Philosophy and Medical
Under the auspices of the Royal Institute of Philosophy
the Philosophy Department, University of York (UK) is
holding a conference on Philosophy and Medical Welfare
from 11 to 13 September 1987. Speakers will include
Martin Hollis (University of East Anglia), John Harris
(University of Manchester), Michael Lockwood (University
of Oxford). Further details and booking forms are
available from Philosophy Conference Secretary,
Department of Philosophy, University of York, Heslington,
York YOl 500, England.
Dave Archard’s review of Sartre’s Freud Scenario
(Radical Philosophy 44) caused me severe mental
disturbance. After years of SUbjection to deconstruction
and discourse theory I had come to think that I was the
only person left in the world who believed that literary
texts were actually about the real world (that Zola’s
Germinal, for example, is about a miners’ strike).
Now, however, I discover that there is someone even
more trapped in the categories of ‘classic realism’ than
myself; Archard launches his diatribe of sneers against
Sartre on the basis that Sartre was not sufficiently
accurate in his treatment of biographical ‘facts’.
Archard’s animosity extends beyond Sartre himself to
the ‘Sartreans’ (it is not clear who these are – we aren’t
exactly a democratic centralist organisation). These
apparently nourish ‘a favoured legend’ about the genesis
of the scenario. But Pontalis’s introduction to the text
does not go against the account given in Contat and
Rybalka’s Les Ecrits de Sartre (pp. 492-94). And if
‘Sartreans’have any characteristic feature in common, it is
probably that they know their Contat and Rybalka.
Archard is apparently shocked by the scene where
Freud is subjected to anti-Semitic abuse by his fellow
doctors (p. 321); it is a ‘wild distortion of the truth’ to
suggest they would engage in ‘open abuse’. Archard’s
fai th in the good manners of the professional classes is
touching; but if he really believes that ‘educated’ people
do not indulge in overt racist abuse he should read the
history of the Dreyfus case. Sartre’s contempt for the
intellectual chiens de garde of the established order
makes a telling contrast with Archard’s indignant defence
of his professional colleagues.
A new left journal (yes, another one), Interlink, hit the
newstands in January. Set up jointly by the Socialist
Society and the Conference of Socialist Economists, it
aims to fill the information-gap left by the journals. The
aim is to provide an independent non-aligned voice for
socialist ideas and to provide a platform for the many
campaigning groups on the left (hence the name). Issues
and 2 are available from Interlink, 9 Poland Street,
London WIV 3DG.
Amid such quibbles Archard has lost sight of the real
point of the scenario. In confronting the determinist Freud
Sartre is dramatising the paradoxes of his own theory of
freedom. For Sartre’s claim that we are responsible for
our own destiny can, as Michel Con tat pointed out in his
seventieth birthday interview with Sartre (Situations X, pp.
222-23), be easily transformed into a conservative
argument – the claims of a Tebbit or an Archer that the
unemployed have chosen their own situation. Yet if we
abandon a belief in freedom, we abandon any hope of
changing the world. (One senses that Archard would not
think this was much of a loss.)
The paradox is vividly concretised in the opening scene
of the film, where a blind old woman is carted round a
hospital, rejected by the medical staff in charge of each
ward. For current medical opinion judged that such
victims of hysteria were not ill but had consciously
chosen to malinger.
It may indeed be, as Archard claims, that Sartre has
portrayed a ‘heroic intellectual “adventurer” battling
against racial prejudice’ rather than the real ‘historical’
Freud. The question Archard leaves unaskes:f is whether
Sartre’s Freud might not be preferable to the ‘real’ Freud.
In a recent survey French students were asked which
thinker had made the greatest impact on them (Le ~onde
Campus, 20 November 1986). The most frequently cited
was Freud (14 per cent); Sartre was runner-up with 8 per
cent. If that proportion had been reversed, the recent
French student struggles might not have been so
emphatically ‘unpolitical’, nor ended so quickly.
To opt for Freud against Sartre is to opt for determinist
passivity against freedom; for seeking solutions inside
one’s own skull instead of changing the world. It is, I
suspect, to opt for Kinnock and against Marx. It is to
reject the best of what Radical Philosophy used to stand
The graphics on pages 11 , 38 and 42 by George Grosz are: ‘The Capitalist and General wish each
other a “Happy New Year”’; ‘The Day of Reckoning is Coming!’; and ‘Song of Intellectuals’. Grosz,
The Day of Reckoning, from which these pictures are taken is published by Alison and Busby,
1984, £2.95 pb.