Outside The Box

The University of Manchester has decided to cut 171 academic posts — but it's not at all clear why

The Arthur Lewis Building, home of the School of Social Sciences at the University of Manchester (Photograph by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net) CC-BY-SA-4)

The University of Manchester recently decided to cut 171 academic posts and support staff. It is not clear why. Some blame Brexit, others the quality of the teaching. The mass redundancy has largely affected the senior staff, amounting almost to an institutional cleansing. As an undergraduate there, I will feel the impact, especially as many of the academics who are being cleared out teach humanities and social sciences.

I study perhaps the most “useless” degree of all: philosophy. When I say “useless”, I am speaking for the many people that ask me really welcome questions such as, “What kind of job are going to do with that?” and “What do you actually do in philosophy?”

The stereotype of the philosophy student is not exactly flattering: what we young people like to call “stoners”. It is not wholly inaccurate. However, it casts a shadow over a degree that should be considered as important as physics or maths. Most people would scoff at that thought, but they’re wrong. 

If we didn’t study philosophy, the academic bandwagon would rush by without being stopped to ask where the hell it’s going and why it wants to go there.

In an age where technology has replaced some of our human capacities and may soon replace nearly all of them, our consciousness — one of philosophy’s hot topics — keeps us from smashing our laptops because of the fear that our digital companions are trying to enslave humanity. Our ability to wonder why is so deeply human that the idea we might forget it or, worse, become incapable of wonder, makes me shudder. One day consciousness may be all that’s unique about us, and it angers me that this is never taken into account when the subject of career prospects pops up. Good philosophers, like engineers, think outside that box. 

I propose that every corporation should have a team of philosophers to question, question, question. Who knows — maybe the 2008 financial crisis could have been avoided if, for every banker, broker and hedgie, there was a guy smoking a joint, peering over their shoulders, and asking, “So why are you actually doing this?” I sincerely hope there is someone in the University of Manchester right now doing just that. 

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