Monday, February 28, 2011

Connecticut Governor to review non-faculty hiring

Details here.

Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister or "Yeah, I suppose I am. I forgot about that"

"Yeah, I suppose I am. I forgot about that." Words we may never forget from Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister. They came up in an interview when he was being asked about being temporarily in charge of the government while the Prime Minister was overseas in the UK. Of course, this has not helped improve his popularity amongst his critics. Furthermore, we have the news that he decided to take a holiday -- if but brief -- while the Prime Minister was abroad on business and the Libya crisis erupted. Details here.

The British coalition government claim it will be business unusual with them, changing the way that politics is conducted. They're correct. I can't recall seeing such a dysfunctional government like this before, certainly not in many years. Or you might say, "yeah, I forgot about that."

Rhode Island school district issues pink slips to nearly 2,000 teachers in effort to deal with massive budget deficit

Details here. Let no one say the war on the public sector is not well under way...

Friday, February 25, 2011

New worries about British higher education reform

Today, the government's minister for higher education, David Willetts, has announced a delay to the publication of its Higher Education White Paper. This was originally scheduled for publication next month. The reason for the delay is that the minister wanted to wait and see what fees universities planned to charge students for 2012-13. Further details are here.

This makes a bad situation worse. Let me explain why. Universities were first subjected to genuinely massive cuts of about 80%. They were told not to become too fearful as lost revenues could be retrieved via raising the cap on university tuition fees. This cap was then raised to a maximum of £9,000.

Several things have gone badly wrong for the government since. First, they seem to have got the maths wrong. They had assumed that universities would not have to charge £9,000 per student to make up monies lost, but perhaps need only £6,000. Universities put their figure much higher at roughly £7,500 or higher.

There is the further issue of perhaps University A need only £6,000 to keep the doors open, but that it could charge students £9,000 with this added investment put into improving and expanding facilities and hiring new staff. If it is not unlawful to charge the even higher amount and it is expected student recruitment will be sufficient strong, then why not charge more given the additional benefits?

There is another issue of perceived quality. Reputation is everything. Universities may have a disincentive to charge less than competitors where (a) student recruitment would be unaffected by higher fees and (b) those that charge more may be perceived as offering a better service and degree. Only a handful of universities did not raise fees to the maximum last time around -- when the cap was set at £3000 -- and promptly did so shortly afterwards.

So how were the maths done wrong? First, the government seems to have got wrong how expensive it is to teach students: this cost appears much higher than predicted. Secondly, the government has got wrong the weight of perceived quality in relation to fees: no one will want to be known as the best place for a cheap degree, or at least not yet.

Most importantly, the government wants to see a "free market" emerge where degrees vary in cost by subject and institution while ensuring a top-down management structure that will make impossible such a market. Let me explain this crucial point. Nick Clegg recently claimed that ministers, not universities, will give final approval on the costs of degrees. Therefore, there cannot be a free market because institutions cannot charge the cost of the relative worth of their degrees given such fundamental potential interference from the government. Not only might ministers control what fees are charged, but they continue to control how many students may be admitted (at least home/EU students). This makes the desire for an emergent free market sound like an empty dream. If ministers genuinely wanted such a market, then less interference in price and student numbers is required rather than more -- and more is precisely what this government has proposed.

This is all further complicated by three additional factors:

1. First, the government has said that if too many universities charge £9,000 fees per year then there will be cuts elsewhere. The government proposes that students need not pay fees up front: they only pay fees after graduation. Thus, the government will need to pay the cost of fees before being reimbursed by students. The government has a budget of only so much to cover these costs. The more universities might want in fee income, the less money will remain in the budget: additional cuts in research income or student recruitment numbers may be a result.

This is an unnecessary mess. This could mean that universities that require x to fund the teaching and learning of students may not receive this amount despite having sufficient student interest -- and even students willing (and able) to pay up front. Furthermore, what would then be the point of the competition for research funding? Acceptance rates are already notoriously low for ever dwindling amounts. The situation may only get worse if those that do get accepted begin receiving far less than they require: experiments on the cheap anyone?

2. Secondly, we have yet to see any thought on students who drop out. We know the government will be looking closely at retention rates and that penalties may follow rates that are too low. So that's the university-side, but what of the student-side? There may be an incentive for some students to sit their undergraduate course, but not sit exams. They could have a transcript showing marks short of graduation and earn valuable skills -- but would not pay back anything because they are not graduates. What would the government have them pay, if anything? We require an answer.

3. Finally, Willetts now says that private firms will have access to the public funding for higher education as well. This means that ministers have planned a budget for 2012 on false assumptions on what universities might charge. There is already the worry (noted above) that they might charge more than the Treasury thinks it can afford. This is all further complicated now with the fact that private bidders can tap into this cash as well. This makes all the more likely the possibility of further cuts to research grants, etc. as it makes all the more likely -- with so many hands in the pot scrapping for loose change -- that all available monies will be drained fast and perhaps spread too thinly.

The outcome? Clearly, this is a time of immense change in how higher education is funded in the United Kingdom. My own view is that I have never before witnessed an education policy so poorly thought out and defended. The effects could genuinely be disastrous.

Breaking new: "impact" will count for less than 25%

The Times Higher reports that we should have confirmation next week that "impact" in the forthcoming UK Research Excellent Framework (REF) will count for less than 25%.

The UK economy is contracting: austerity measures to blame?

Well, you can't say that it was not predicted in advance. We now have confirmation that the British economy is contracting and getting worse --- and the heavy winter snowfall is not to blame. The data is out here covering the last three months of 2010. Such a contraction was not taking place when the coalition government made up of Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties took office in spring last year.

What is to blame? Don't blame oil -- although the current situation probably won't help. Oil prices have been rising through the roof, but this is all post-2010 and so does not bear on these statistics. That said, much higher oil prices will affect costs across the board as prices will be likely to rise --- making recovery and reversal of this contraction more difficult.

Don't blame VAT -- at least not yet. The VAT rise also is a post-2010 phenomenon. This is also highly unlikely to make economic recovery easier in 2011.

What we might blame are the austerity measures -- and, most especially, how these measures may have impacted on consumer confidence. Even if you have not had your job threatened, there is much insecurity to go around on job security moving forward into the summer as the austerity measures adopted by the present government begin to take effect. It has not helped hearing warnings from Kenneth Clarke (see here) that most of us won't know what hit us.

Some might say that the economy may be heading into reverse, but we are in the best of a bad situation. We cannot go on as we have and the credit cards are maxed out.

This is the wrong position. For one thing, governments are not households. Mom and dad can't print money; the government can. Mom and dad also lack the ability to acquire financing on terms that a state can. So the analogy may be "folksy" and may play well with parts of the electorate, but really a comparison of apples and oranges.

The main reason why we should oppose the coalition government's plans is because they are wrong. The United States did not do "austerity" and what has happened? The economy is recovering. The Republic of Ireland did do "austerity" and what happened there? Disaster and perhaps much worse to come.

We have a major VAT rise plus rapidly rising oil costs mixed with constant talk of the need to collectively "tighten our belts" and that things may be even more difficult in future than we might fear. This is hardly the cocktail to help us improve sales at the tills and get confidence restored (and the economy along with it).

My prediction? Expect the economy to further contract before improving. While things will get worse for many of us, expect the only smiles to be left on bankers....laughing all the way to the bank.

UPDATE: This post has been picked up recently here.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

New books

New books received in February (including some old classics) are:

Stephen Breyer, Active Liberty: Interpreting a Democratic Constitution. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Luigino Bruni, Flavio Comim, and Maurizio Pugno (eds), Capabilities and Happiness. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.
Matthew Clayton and Andrew Williams (eds), Social Justice. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004.

G A Cohen, Rescuing Justice and Equality. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008.

Roger D. Congleton, Perfecting Parliament: Constitutional Reform, Liberalism, and the Rise of Western Democracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Norman Daniels (ed.), Reading Rawls. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1989.

Ronald Dworkin, Justice for Hedgehogs. Cambridge: Belknap/Harvard University Press, 2011.

Daniel W. Graham (ed.), The Texts of Early Greek Philosophy: The Complete Fragments and Selected Testimonies of the Major Presocratics, 2 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Paul Guyer (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Thomas Hurka (ed.), Underivative Duty: British Moral Philosophers from Sidgwick to Ewing. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Thomas Hurka, The Best Things in Life: A Guide to What Really Matters. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, ed. and trans. Mary Gregor and Jens Timmermann. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Will Kymlicka, Multicultural Odysseys: Navigating the New International Politics of Diversity. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Scott J. Shapiro, Legality. Cambridge: Belknap/Harvard University Press, 2011.

Richard Vernon, Cosmopolitan Regard: Political Membership and Global Justice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Ralph Wedgwood, The Nature of Normativity. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Paul Weithman, Why Political Liberalism? On John Rawls's Political Turn. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Bernard Williams, Problems of the Self. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973.

I have much reading to do!

"Nepal's Stalled Revolution"

The New York Times has published this interesting editorial on the "stalled revolution" taking place in Nepal worthy of further comment. Some readers may be aware that my original intent when entering graduate school was not to study political philosophy, but to become a political scientist with a particular interest in India's relationship with its neighbouring kingdoms of Bhutan and Nepal.

Nepal is a country of two halves in many respects. For example, the eastern half (where Kathmandu, the capital, is located) is more affluent, educated, and urban than the less affluent, education, and rural western half. Since the demcoratization process began a few decades ago, there has been much tension between east and west that has become characterized by Maoist rebel resistance in the west against successive (and too often very short lived) governments based in the east.

The glue that helped give unity to the whole has been the monarchy. This is not to say that the monarchy is warmly embraced by the Maoists (it is not), but that the monarchy had more popularity beyond Kathmandu than the country's political parties, such as the Nepali Congress Party and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist).

Much has changed since. First, there was the regicide. This helped to destabilize the one unifying institution, the monarchy, which in turn helped lead to strengthen the hand of the Maoists. The Maoists have since tasted power -- and their leader was even briefly Prime Minister.

What does the future hold? Nepal is a curious country. Whereas other countries have rejected communism and communist parties, Nepal seems to have largely embraced them. Part of the reason is perhaps because their communism is not the communism of the Soviet Union (despite the appeal to Lenin), but far more in the vein of India's communists in Kerala with a focus on fairness, freedom, and a community-based approach to development and education. Given the great success of Kerala in many respects, this is perhaps unsurprising. Those of leftwing persuasion then have something to cheer about in Nepali communist experiment.

The problem remains one of factions over unity. The monarchy has always been the unifying force. Since the regicide several years ago, this unity has been dealt a real blow. What remains for the "stalled revolution" is for the fragmented political parties to work more closely together and put the nation's development ahead of personal ambitions. Nepal can be a success -- and may even offer evidence that the "Kerala miracle" may be exported -- but it requires the country to come together as a people. This remains to be seen.

Why Labour should adopt AV

From my blog entry on the Labour Party website here.

Michael Sandel on Rawls, justice, and fairness

. . . here.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Rumsfeld Files

. . . makes for interesting reading here.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Interested in studying for a PhD?

Then consider applying to Newcastle University, joined in a "doctoral training centre" with Durham University. Funded studentships are available and more information can be found here.

The Philosophers' Carnival

. . . can be found here.

What is happening Wisconsin?`

Details here (courtesy of Paul Krugman).

The REF panel for Politics and International Studies

. . . that will determine the best British departments in terms of research excellence and "impact" are:


Professor Colin Hay
University of Sheffield


Professor Richard Bellamy
University College London

Professor Chris Brown
London School of Economics and Political Science

Professor Roland Dannreuther
University of Westminster

Professor John Dumbrell
Durham University

Professor James Dunkerley
Queen Mary, University of London

Professor Richard English
University of St Andrews

Professor Andrew Hurrell
University of Oxford

Professor Vivienne Jabri
King’s College London

Professor Charlie Jeffery
University of Edinburgh

Mr Peter Kellner
YouGov Plc

Professor Vivien Lowndes
University of Nottingham

Professor Colin McInnes
Aberystwyth University

Professor Iain Mclean
University of Oxford

Professor Nicola Phillips
University of Manchester

Professor Shirin Rai
University of Warwick

Rt Hon Peter Riddell
Institute for Government

Professor David Sanders
University of Essex

Professor Judith Squires
Bristol University

Professor Jonathan Tonge
University of Liverpool

Mr Martin Williamson
University of Kent (formerly Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

Panel Secretary

Mrs Clair Thrower
University of Kent

The REF Philosophy Panel

. . . that will determine which British philosophy departments are producing the best research and "impact" are:


Professor Alexander Bird
University of Bristol


Dr Julian Baggini
The Philosopher’s Magazine

Professor Nancy Cartwright
London School of Economics and Political Science

Professor Gregory Currie
University of Nottingham

Professor Nicholas Davey
University of Dundee

Professor Katherine Hawley
University of St Andrews

Professor Cynthia Macdonald
Queen's University Belfast

Professor Michael Martin
University College London

Professor Catherine Osborne
University of East Anglia

Professor Thomas Pink
King's College London

Professor Robert Stern
University of Sheffield

Dr Alison Stone
Lancaster University
Professor Raymond Tallis
University of Manchester

Professor Heather Widdows
University of Birmingham

Panel Secretary

Miss Katherine Branch
University of Warwick

Friday, February 18, 2011

The origins of "OK"

Details here, ok?

The war on higher education, part III

The government first said to British universities not to fear about the major cuts in higher education funding: this loss of income could be offset by lifting the cap on tuition fees. Now the government is telling universities to not charge as much as they want (or perhaps even need) or there will be a further reduction in higher education funding. Details here.

This is a public policy gone wrong. Not only has this departed in letter and spirit from the original Browne Report (which had problems enough), but now the government appears bent on punishing universities for doing precisely what they told them do. This is the wrong approach.

If ministers want to create a more free market in higher education where the cost of degrees might vary from institution to institution (and perhaps from degree programme to degree programme), then the wrong way to go about this is to impose from on high how much institutions might charge. A free market is not created where government ministers tell universities how much they can charge (especially where this may well potentially threaten the future of some institutions).

It is bad enough (in my opinion) that British higher education is not free for all. It is even worse for government ministers to espouse the desire for market liberalisation while imposing a command economy on universities which may have long term damaging effects upon British higher education. What is it with Tory politicians and damaging higher education?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Journal of Moral Philosophy launches new online submission system

I am delighted to announce that the Journal of Moral Philosophy has launched our new online electronic submission system. Please either visit our homepage or go directly to our online submission page to submit new work.

The JMP normally reviews papers in 6-8 weeks or less. Our acceptance rate is under 8%. We are a quarterly journal of philosophy publishing volume 8 in 2011. For more information, either contact me or visit our homepage.

Is Mubarak a pharaoh without a mummy?

Details here.

Should the UK adopt AV?

There is a debate in Parliament about whether the UK should continue to use the "first past the post" system or adopt an alternative vote system. The big sticking point at present appears to be the fact that the House of Lords is insisting that there be a turnout of at least 40% for the vote to be binding. This is rejected by the government. Details here.

There is crossbench support for voting reform. What is interesting is that it does largely arise from the largest party in the coalition government, the Conservative Party, who oppose AV. Instead, this is a red line in negotiations for the Liberal Democrat Party who have fought for voting reform for sometime now.

I believe the House of Lords is in the right (yet again). A 40% turnout is not particularly demanding. Moreover, this vote will have major consequences for the country. One reason is that the current system is deeply rooted and AV would be a major break from tradition. For something so momentous, it seems only right that a significant proportion of voters voice their views on this issue. A low turnout may well be a public disengaged and unable to understand what is on stake. This is hardly "letting the people decide" as the government states time and time again.

But will this come to nothing? While there is crossbench support for AV, the support is weak amongst the government and it may be tempting to Labour to exploit a possible easy victory in campaiging againgst it. The campaign will already have coalition ministers on different sides so this fissure may be more easily exploited.

The biggest problem for AV supporters is the likelihood of Liberal Democrats selling the reforms. They are perhaps best known for their signed campaign pledges up and down the country to oppose any rise in tuition fees -- only to make the case for trebling the cap on fees as "more fair" than the current system once in office (for the first time in about 60 years).

I think Labour should make the issue its own as the party has much to gain. While Labour can remain highly successful in the current system, AV seems more fair....and more likely to ensure successive governments and coalition governments will include Labour. Quick victories against the coalition today should be avoided in favour of decisive victories in the forseeable future.

Furthermore, with the Conservatives campaigning against the Liberal Democrats may have real difficulty getting their message across as partners in government. AV could become an issue to be defended by the opposition -- and it will be easier for the public to identify with Labour as leading the opposition with the Conservative ministers against the reforms.

Labour should look to the long game and they should seize the opportunity to make AV their own.

Thom Brooks on "Punishment: Political, Not Moral"

. . . can be downloaded here. A brief abstract:

"Alan Brudner’s Punishment and Freedom is a remarkable contribution to liberal and penal theory offering a well-argued and compelling theory of "legal retributivism." This theory is an improved account of retributivism as alternative retributivist theories are thought to incorporate a problematic view of morality which only legal retributivism can overcome. While I agree with much of Brudner’s Hegelian-inspired account, I believe that it could be even further protected from problems facing retributivist theories more generally if he took greater account of insights into penal theory offered by British Hegelians. This article will explain what these insights are and how they might usefully inform Brudner’s legal retributivism and further increase its attractiveness."

Comments most welcome!

Why you should not take one person's word on something as a pretext for war

Details here as "curveball" confesses to lying in briefings about Iraq's military capabilities. It will be interesting to see if Bush, Cheney or Rumsfeld say anything in response.

Attack on tenure in Utah

The (worrying) details can be found here. Let's hope this does not pass.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Cambridge University a step closer to proposing new £9,000 fees

Details here.

Middle East protests emerge in Iran

Details here. George W. Bush and Tony Blair had seemed to think that democracy might best spread across the Middle East if only there was a stable democracy in its midst -- and a democratic Iraq might do just the trick. And so a war was launched. If only they could foresee that the best weapon against authoritarian rule is not bombs and bullets (nor "shock and awe"), but an Internet connection and a free Facebook account . . . .

Monday, February 14, 2011

IJPS Robert Papazian Annual Essay Prize in Ethics and Political Philosophy

The International Journal of Philosophical Studies is pleased to launch the Robert Papazian Annual Essay Prize on Themes from Ethics and Political Philosophy. The prize is established in memory of a young man executed for his ideas and political ideals. The award is worth €1,500! The topic for 2011 is "courage" and the winning essay will also be published in the IJPS. Full details are available here.

Tuition fees may "soar"

Further details and analysis from the BBC here.

The big society, or politicians and "the vision thing"

Today, British Prime Minister David Cameron will further outline his idea of the Big Society. Curiously, the Big Society idea is compatible with Margaret Thatcher's idea that there is no such thing as "society"(!). The thought seems to be that we should all be more self-reliant rather than rely on "the state".

This is not to say that all should be left to fend for themselves and this is where the idea begins to run into some conceptual difficulties. So it is also the case that we should all be volunteering in our communities on local projects, such as libraries and schools. Such "empowerment" of citizens will re-energize communities and the Big Society can help solve society's big problems at a local level without having to always rely on teh state.

This idea of the Big Society has come under attack from a number of critics. One criticism is that the Big Society is a cover for "Big Cuts". The government is making major reductions in public financing and there will be waves of lost jobs, especially in the public sector. These cuts may include no funding for some services, such as libraries. So the criticism goes: the government wants us to do for free services that the public demands, such as public libraries.

There is something worrying about the promotion of free labour. It is striking at least to me how the first rungs on the labour ladder these days seem to be won by new recruits working for free before being offered a contract. The Big Society may well exacerbate this phenomena.

A further criticism is that a government advisor empowered to help implement the Big Society has himself now reduced his weekly hours. If the government's own advisor can't be asked to volunteer more of his time to the Big Society, then what should motivate the rest of us (who remain unconvinced)?

I suppose my biggest disappointment with these plans is Cameron's obsession with setting out "the visition thing". This is something that we have commented on before. Cameron finds himself in the odd position of losing political capital in trying to spell out an idea that may distract (and detract) from a serious conversation about public policy. Why must politicians always try to lay out a "vision"? Not all politicians have a vision or new political philosophy -- and how many more do we need anyway?

The best way to ensure that the history books look fondly on one's government -- short of writing the history books themselves -- is to ensure stability with growth (both in terms of economics and freedom). That one had a little red book or catch phrase need not entail more lasting impact or significance than one that did not.

If you have a big idea, then by all means share it. But, if not, then don't try. Cameron may learn that history may look more kindly on those that worried more about good public policies than trying to be a philosopher as well.

South Carolina may adopt new currency?!

Details here.

Should the American Philosophical Association change the date of its main meeting?

A poll with terrific comments from Matthew Liao can be found at Ethics Etc here. Vote today!

Thom Brooks on Dworkin, Hegel, and Legal Theory

. . . is freely available on SSRN here (originally appearing in the Georgia State University Law Review). The abstract:

"In this article, I argue that - despite the absence of any clear influence of one theory on the other - the legal theories of Dworkin and Hegel share several similar and, at times, unique positions that join them together within a distinctive school of legal theory, sharing a middle position between natural law and legal positivism. In addition, each theory can help the other in addressing certain internal difficulties. By recognizing both Hegel and Dworkin as proponents of a position lying in between natural law and legal positivist jurisprudence, we can gain clarity in why their general legal theories seem to fit uncomfortably, if indeed they can be said to fit at all, within so many different camps - while fitting comfortably in no particular camp - as well as highlight what has been overlooked."

Friday, February 11, 2011

Bhikhu Parekh on marriage and multiculturalism

. . . can be found here from a recent speech in the House of Lords.

Why proving merit may not spare a program deep cuts

An interesting op-ed by David Brooks (no relation) in the New York Times on this subject can be found here.

It may be well worth reading for those in higher education that believe demonstration of "impact" and the like is the way forward. The critique is that the pot of money is likely to fall for all -- hitting departments with merit and less merit alike -- anyway. We work harder in the hope for similar or better income while likely receiving much less, if any at all.

Pessimistic? I'm afraid so although I'm keen to be convinced otherwise.

Why not let prisoners vote?

This has been the big issue in the UK where the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the UK should not ban all prisoners from voting. Further details are here. On the legal front, one way forward if some form of ban were to remain would be to (a) permit voting for some prisoners for some offences [the problem again being with a blanket ban] and/or (b) to change the law permitting judges the discretion to decide whether a particular offender should lose his/her right to vote while in prison.

Many have sided with the government on this issue in wanting to deny the vote to prisoners. I believe this is the wrong policy. Here is why the arguments against don't work:

1. Prisoners have broken the law. Therefore, they should be denied the vote.
The fact that one has broken the law should never entail that one is denied the vote. Many people break the law regularly. Only a minority are ever found out and only a small number of these ever make it to court -- let us not forget that the criminal law is only one small part of the larger body of "law" in any society. Those of us who break civil laws - should our voting rights be denied?  No. So the argument is not really about breaking the law, but breaking the criminal law (at best). Persons should not be denied the vote because they broke the law. The reason (again) is because not all persons who break the law will warrant imprisonment as not all will be caught and not all persons who break the law break criminal law: the importance of criminal law here cannot be understated.

2. Prisoners have performed a crime. Therefore, they should be denied the vote.
This claim is different. Here the argument is that a prisoner has performed a crime (e.g., a criminal law). Should this matter? Well, many of us also break criminal laws. One major example is traffic offences. In every jurisdiction I know of traffic offences are part of the criminal law. Yes, that's right: it is a crime to speed or illegally park. Not all crimes warrant imprisonment -- although, yes, most jurisdictions allow for repeat speeders or persons who speed to great excess to be imprisoned. Now is anyone claiming that persons who have a speeding or parking ticket be denied the right to vote? No. So the claim must be different from the fact a criminal has performed a crime is enough to warrant denying to him (or her) the right to vote.

3. Prisoners have performed a crime warranting imprisonment. Therefore, they should be denied the vote.
A better argument is that denying the vote should be part of a penal sanction. Imprisonment certainly denies freedom of assembly and to some extent freedom of speech. That is clear. Should it also entail a denial of one's political voice while one is in prison? Let's break this argument down further:

Prisoners have violated the "social contract". Therefore, they should be denied the vote.
This does not work. Many of us violate the social contract. We violate it when we get a parking fine. Should we be denied the vote? No.

It might be said that prisoners have "stepped outside" or "left" the social contract. However, if they are not subject to the social contract, then we must recognize that the obligation problem may run both ways. It is not only the case that "we" might suspend full membership to criminals, but their obligation to "us" is similarly suspended. Yet, prisoners do not automatically lose their citizenship or many of their rights in being imprisoned. What makes voting different? So we need a story about why voting in particular should be affected. This story is still lacking.

Prisoners should be punished. Therefore, they should be denied the vote.
I suspect this is the better argument: it is a story about why the denial of the vote should be a part of a penal sanction. Yet, what we still require is a story about why voting. This is because prisoners do not lose all rights of citizenship so we must be clear on why some rights are suspended while others are not. As we have seen, the mere fact of breaking a law or breaking a criminal law or breaking "the social contract" are insufficient to justify the denial of voting rights as stated. We need something more defined.

Ultimately, I think the temptation to better specify why prisoners should be denied the vote is resisted. The overwhelming majority of prisoners will rejoin society. Electoral participation makes for better citizens. The big problem of imprisonment is that prison tends to make for worse citizens, given the problems of high recidivism rates for many crimes. Anything we can do to make for better citizens should be an achievement to aim for. If voting rights might do this, then they should be granted. The consequences may be for more active and responsible citizenship post-imprisonment because prisoners may feel they have a greater stake in the society. Plus, doing this would avoid hefty fines from the European Court. It is also inconceivable that any election might turn on the votes of prisoners. On balance, it seems better to extend the vote than to deny it. This is not to say there is no clear argument against, but only that we do not seem to have heard such an argument from our MPs yet.

In conclusion, this is not to say that perhaps some of the local opposition is simply a reaction to a "foreign" court "telling" the UK "what to do": I suspect resentment at this is stronger than many may think. Nevertheless, I think it is a mistake to deny prisoners the right to vote. In the meantime, while government officials claim the high ground, expect the cost of compensation claims paid out to former and current prisoners to rise...

A war on British universities? Part II

My previous post here has been expanded.

Who would want to go to heaven?

An interesting argument against the desire for heaven can be found here (institutional-access).

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Thom Brooks on joint appointments

. . . can be found here at the Times Higher Education. An excerpt:

"[. . .] The merits of these developments may be debated. But there is no disputing that the universities, research funding bodies and the government are all committed to this process, actively encouraging greater collaboration between academic disciplines. Why then are joint appointments virtually absent from the UK sector?

The current system works against such appointments. A prized academic working in two different disciplinary departments would count for less in each than someone working in only one.

For example, such an academic may count as no more than 0.5 staff in each area, which reduces the impact of their work in research assessments. It is far more valuable for a department to keep its professors all to itself than to share them with others.

[. . .] In any case, many academic staff already teach and research in more than one discipline. Joint appointments would recognise the actual contributions that staff are already making.

This method of working has been a great success elsewhere, for example in Canada and the US, in a variety of fields. Professors who have joint appointments are highly prized and their status is often a clear acknowledgement of the breadth of their influence.

Various combinations of joint appointments in business, classics, economics, law, medicine, philosophy, political science and other subjects are far from unusual outside the UK, and make sense: each of these disciplines may benefit from greater interaction with others.

Joint appointments are not the only path to fostering such interaction, but they might help to build more lasting bridges between disciplines than funded research projects. Projects come and go, but such appointments will often last far longer and potentially have a far greater effect on relevant fields of study and the university teaching and research environment.
By failing to offer joint appointments, the UK actually suffers a competitive disadvantage in relation to North American universities. [. . .]"

A war on British universities?

First, the background. British universities were -- until not that long ago -- free and students were often rewarded with free maintenance grants. They graduated university without debts. This is "the free public university" scenario. This was followed by a "modest private fee university" scenario whereby fees from £1000 and now over £3000 per year were charged to students up front to help contribute to the costs of their higher education.

In the meantime, the government commissioned a report (e.g., The Browne Report) which recommended creating a free market for degrees: the government should spend less on universities and, in turn, universities should be able to address these cuts by charging far higher fees.

So what will the government do? The situation looks like a mess. Call this the "platybus university scenario" as it's neither fish nor fowl. First, they accepted the part about cuting funding to universities. There will be a 100% funding cut to the teaching and learning grant for arts, humanities, and social sciences. This will mean that students for the first time in British history will have to pay the full costs of their degrees in these areas. It is a major change as the majority of students are in these subject areas (and so a majority have had the full grant terminated).

This then led to the problem of funding universities. If the government wasn't picking up the tab, then who would? The answer was that students would pick up the tab. This then should entail that universities go about determinuing the cost of their degrees and charge students accordingly. But this then leads to the problem of "how much?"

One expectation was that most universities might charge no more than about £6000. This figure has been widely criticised since as many VCs have argued that they would require at least £7500 or more to plug the funding shortfall. (Note: this would not mean new funds for new facilities, etc., but just to remain standing.) The problem then is that many students may be put off attending university because of the much larger debts that they would incur.

Well, now the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has said that ministers -- and not the universities themselves! -- will ultimately decide tuition fees. Speaking on Oxford's and Cambridge's decisions to possiby charge £9,000 per year he said strings would definitely be attached, such as ""dramatically increase" access for poorer students".

One way of looking at it is that Clegg and his government -- after telling universities they could charge £9000 per year -- is now trying to put universities off doing, well, what he told them they could do. They might only charge much more if they try even more to ensure the results of higher fees (namely, fewer students from poorer backgrounds) are not too politically damaging. All in return for an ever decreasing pot of state funding.

Another view might be that this is a policy made from a clash of principles. There cannot be a free market in higher education of any kind if the price charged is determined by government ministers and not the universities themselves. In fact, the market in hgiher education may have real cause to worry. Universities must charge much higher fees in order to plug the hole in their finances directly caused by government funding cuts. And not -- in the name of creating a free market! -- the government is suggesting that they alone and not universities will ultimately determine fees for individual universities from 2012. A clear result will be that some universities may be put in a difficult financial position caused not by a lack of students willing to pay, but a government worried about the poorly thought conclusions from its own haphazard and hastily rolled out policies.

One might be forgiven for thinking the government has all but waged war on its universities. And why? Higher education is an engine of growth and sorely needed at a time of recession as people obtain new skills and retool in rebuilding the economy. Instead, universities are told to work on the cheap and maybe for even less than they require to remain open (notwithstanding eager students wanting to be educated there).

We're now a long way from the "free public university" in any event. And the signs for the future are not good unless something is done swiftly.

UPDATE: Of course, there is the further complication that if too many universities did charge above £8,000 in annual fees, then this would amount to much higher government funding for higher education than planned with the possibility -- as it is regularly claimed the government has no more to spend which is why it has supported deep cuts in public spending -- that universities may receive even less than the current proposals.

The upshot is that if you are a university that needs at least £7,500 to break even and it is the case that if most, if not all, universities charged this annual fee or higher it would amount to more than the planned budget for higher education so that all universities might receive less than they need, then universities may have a further incentive to charge higher fees -- even more than they might require -- to better guarantee they have the funding to stand still. Add to this the fact that ministers may claim the right to set fees for individual universities and, well, what you have is a disaster.

UPDATE 2: It is worth pausing to reflect on two further facts:

1. The Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg (Liberal Democrats) actually appears to believe that the new system is more fair than 'what was inherited'. To be clear, he is not saying that the new system is a better deal for students than what he enjoyed when there were no student fees and students could receive free maintenance grants. However, what he is saying is that a system where students might be charged £9,000 per year is a better deal for students than their being charged £3,200 per year at present. This is difficult to comprehend and I am unsurprised to see all poll figures showing record lows in popularity for him and his party.

2. The Liberal Democrats have often paraded themselves as a party of liberty -- after all, they are the liberals. Yet, these many changes in higher education funding policy seem far more draconian and illiberal than perhaps anything seen before in Britain. Instead of reducing interference in how universities are run and maintained, these proposals will increase interference -- perhaps dramatically and to the detriment of some institutions.

This is then a double betrayal of Liberal Democrat Party values: we have the double-speak of it being more fair to possibly treble fees and that a free market in degrees is to be introduced where the government is to interfere as never before on student numbers and the cost of degrees. Free market-minded, small state Conservative Party members should be outraged for these same reasons. This is not to say that all parties should endorse the free public university -- although this is what I would hope for -- but it is to say that the policy we may be stuck with is a policy that betrays the deepest values of all three main parties (including the coalition government parties) and betrays in name and spirit even the Browne Report.

Why then might the government go ahead with these plans? Well, let's hope they don't -- it may not yet be too late!

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

"The Principle of Equal Unfairness"

"It smacks of what I believe Maynard Keynes used to call, with reference to the deliberations of academic bodies, the Principle of Equal Unfairness: that if you can't do a good turn to everybody in a certain situation, you shouldn't do it to anybody."

Bernard Williams, 'Morality and the Emotions' in Problems of the Self: Philosophical Papers 1956-1972. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973, p. 226.

This sounds absolutely correct! Many thanks to Fabian Freyenhagen for the quote.

Oxford fees may rise to £9,000

Further unsurprising news reported by the BBC here. I would expect many other universities to follow suit.

Liberal bias in academia?

So is there a liberal bias in academia? The New York Times reports here that a recent meeting of social psychologists noted this concern. However, the "evidence" seems rather flimsy.

The group examined were those delegates who happened to have attended a particular talk. The speaker asked delegates to raise their hands if they were "liberal" or "conservative" and found the overwhelming majority to be liberal and only about three in the audience were conservatives. From this it was then speculated that this finding was statistically significant in that it could not be random that so few self-identified conservatives were in the room. There must be some explanation and it was advanced that the best explanation is a liberal bias.

First, it would be an error to generalize from this sample to say the same bias exists in other professions. The fact that a great majority in social psychology might have such a bias is not evidence that the same phenomena exists in other academic fields. In fact, no other academic field was examined. So it is quite a leap -- and major mistake -- to say all academia might have this bias on the basis of this one sample.

Secondly, the sampling itself is highly problematic. The sample consisted only of those persons who chose to attend this particular talk by this individual at a specific conference. While I do not know how many of the conference delegates did attend this talk, it may be the case that many delegates abstained for various reasons. If this were so, then this sample might not represent a fair representation of those social psychologists who did attend the conference. Any such "bias" found might be a bias of only those social psychologists who attend talks of this kind (or for some other reason) and not a generalized truth of all social psychologists -- and not even a generalized truth of social psychologists at this conference. So it is far from clear that this "bias" is true for the academic group sampled at this conference and probably a mistake to generalize that it is true for that academic discipline as a whole.

If this is so problematic, then why does this story have wings? One reason is that it gives credence -- on whatever weak grounds -- to the rightwing's conspiratorial ideology that universities are run by the left in an attempt to brainwash (however naively and unknowingly) students into adopting liberal views instead of conservative views. The Leiter Reports has regularly challenged this view and I'd do so again. Success at university -- certainly not in the humanities and social sciences -- is not down to saying the "right answers" to controversial questions. In fact, the opposite seems true: many of the most successful philosophers are those who challenge our everyday assumptions in trying to offer distinctive and novel theories. One would think if the right held plausible worldviews that this would be a field ripe to be picked: after all, academics are always looking to make a name for themselves through the distinctive positions and arguments they offer. The fact that so many academics might not identify as "conservative" might then be evidence not of a bias, but informed debate.

So academics often disagree with the rightwing press. The latter may want us to believe that it is academics who have the bias, but why not think the "bias" moves in the other direction? Does this not make best sense? Unless, of course, you have a "bias" . . . .

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Brave New World 2011 - Postgraduate Political Philosophy Conference

CALL FOR PAPERS - Deadline for submission of abstract: 11th April 2011
Brave New World 2011, the Fifteenth Annual Postgraduate Conference organised under the auspices of the Manchester Centre for Political Theory (MANCEPT), will take place on Monday 27th and Tuesday 28th June 2011 at the University of Manchester.

We are pleased to announce that our guest speakers this year are:

Joseph Raz (University of Oxford)
Andrea Sangiovanni (King’s College London)

The Brave New World conference series is now established as a leading international forum dedicated exclusively to the discussion of postgraduate research in political theory. The conference offers a great opportunity for postgraduates from many different countries and universities to share experiences, concerns and research interests, to exchange stimulating ideas and to make new friends - all in a financially accessible and highly informal setting. Participants will also have the chance to meet and talk about their work with eminent academics, including members of faculty from the University of Manchester and guest speakers, who will deliver keynote addresses at the event.

Guest speakers in previous years have included Brian Barry, Simon Caney, G.A. Cohen, Roger Crisp, Cecile Fabre, Jerry Gaus, Peter Jones, Chandran Kukathas, Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen, Susan Mendus, David Miller, Onora O'Neill, Michael Otsuka, Bhikhu Parekh, Carole Pateman, Anne Phillips, Thomas Pogge, Quentin Skinner, Adam Swift, Philippe Van Parijs, Leif Wenar, Andrew Williams, and Jonathan Wolff.

Papers focusing on any area of political theory or political philosophy are welcome. If you would like to present a paper, please send a 300-word, anonymised abstract, including the title of the paper, to, no later than 11th April 2011. Please also include in your email your name and institutional affiliation. Please note that the conference is self-financed and participants are responsible for seeking their own funding. For further details please contact Dean Redfearn at

John Rawls, Justice as Fairness: The Basics

University fee changes in Northern Ireland

Details here.

Cambridge University planning fees of up to £9,000

Details here. It is only a matter of time before we learn the plans of other institutions. This news isn't surprising. What will be interesting is to learn whether any universities do not charge £8000+.

Tulane Center for Ethics and Public Affairs Fellowships

Details here.

Tariq Modood on "the death of multiculturalism"

An excellent essay found here.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Sarah Palin®?

That's right: Sarah Palin is reportedly attempting to trade mark her own name (and Bristol Palin's name). Details here.

In search of solutions for economic growth: but who to ask?

The UK's coalition government consisting of the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrat Party have been in search of solutions for economic growth. They sought out leaders of industry for their proposed solutions to how growth might be stimulated, such as by cutting various amounts of so-called "red tape". Today, we learn some recommendations on offer by the Institute of Directors here.

Predictably, much of these recommendations for cutting "red tape" are recommendations to cut regulations that support and protect workers, such as national bargaining. It is interesting to discover that "wasteful bureaucracy" in the eyes of some is perhaps better understood as "minimal standards of decent working conditions". It is these such regulations that raise most concerns and not other barriers to growth.

But why ask them alone? Industry bosses do not have a monopoly of knowledge on how to stimulate the economy. It does not then make best sense to limit one's search for solutions to this group alone -- even if you thought they might have the better answers. Here are at least two groups that should be consulted by government as well:

1. Economists, both professional and academic. Both professional and academic economists have something to contribute, especially the latter because they might have a less vested interest in how plans might pan out. Such persons study the phenomena of markets and economic growth for a living and not simply to create profits for their immediate bosses alone. They might provide further invaluable and more independent advice.

2. Trade unions. Whatever one's political allegiances, trade unions have a part to play in this well. Economic growth is more than about shareholder dividends. It also depends on the greater majority to undertake the activities that will help contribute to economic growth. Trade unions can play an invaluable role in this process and they should not be overlooked.

Of course, it is highly doubtful the government may take up this advice. Nevertheless, our public policy decision-making would be better for it.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Jersey Shore vs. Geordie Shore

. . . here. Oh dear.

Top UK universities warn against "soft" subjects in schools

The BBC has the full details here. British students sit "A-levels" prior to applying to university and admittance often depends upon A-level results. Some believe that not all subjects are equally challenging making it difficult to compare students with the same results, but different subjects. Something like a preferential list is perhaps long overdue and I am pleased to see the advice that students should be encouraged to sit maths and English A-levels. Whether it will have an effect is anybody's guess.

What is perhaps most curious about this process is the following. So students gain admittance to universities based upon their performance on subjects -- such as philosophy or politics -- studied at A-level. My biggest surprise is that I have never once been consulted about the content for the A-level in either of these subjects and I would be interested to know how this is decided.

Thom Brooks "Hegel's Political Philosophy: A Systematic Reading of the Philosophy of Right" in new edition

I am very pleased to announce that my Hegel's Political Philosophy: A Systematic Reading of the Philosophy of Right will be published in a new second edition with added chapters later in the year. It was originally published in 2007 and appeared in paperback in 2009. Columbia University Press is the North American distributor.

"Hegel's Elements of the Philosophy of Right is widely acknowledged to be one of the most important works in the history of political philosophy. It is broadly agreed that Hegel intended this work to be interpreted as a significant part of his greater system of speculative philosophy. Where disagreement occurs is on the question of the relevance of Hegel's larger philosophical system to understanding his Philosophy of Right. This is the first book on the subject to take Hegel's system of speculative philosophy seriously as an important component of any robust understanding of his Philosophy of Right. It sets out the difference between 'systematic' and 'non-systematic' readings of the text before discussing important, relevant features of Hegel's system, in particular, the unique structure of his philosophical arguments. The greater part of the book demonstrates the results of this systematic reading by exploring several areas of Hegel's political philosophy: his theories of property, punishment, morality, law, monarchy, and war. It is shown that by looking beyond the text to Hegel's larger philosophical system, we can achieve an improved understanding of Hegel's Philosophy of Right."

The link is here. The link is here.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

New Round of Newton International Fellowships

Readers interested in taking up their Fellowship at Newcastle University -- which I would warmly welcome -- should contact me here.

A new round of Newton International Fellowships - an initiative to fund research collaborations and improve links between UK and overseas researchers - has now opened.

The Newton International Fellowships are funded by the British Academy and the Royal Society and aim to attract the most promising early-career post-doctoral researchers from overseas in the fields of the humanities, the natural, physical and social sciences [including Philosophy and Politics]. The Fellowships enable researchers to work for two years at a UK research institution with the aim of fostering long-term international collaborations.

Newton Fellows will receive an allowance of £24,000 to cover subsistence and up to £8,000 to cover research expenses in each year of the Fellowship. A one-off relocation allowance of up to £2,000 is also available. In addition, Newton Fellows may be eligible for follow-up funding of up to £6,000 per annum for up to 10 years following completion of the Fellowship to support activities which will help build long term links with the UK.

The scheme is open to post-doctoral (and equivalent) early-career researchers working outside the UK who do not hold UK citizenship.

Applications are to be made via the Royal Society’s online application system which is available at The closing date for applications is Monday 4 April 2011.

Further details are available from the Newton International Fellowships website:  or call 00 44 (0)20 7451 2559

Newton International Fellowships
6-9 Carlton House Terrace
London SW1Y 5AG
tel: +44 (0)20 7451 2559
fax: +44 (0)20 7451 2543

New books

Following Leiter's recent postings of recently received books, here are some of the books that have appeared in my pigeon-hole in January:

John Bangs, John MacBeath, and Maurice Galton, Reinventing Schools, Reforming Teaching: From Political Visions to Classroom Reality. London: Routledge, 2011.

G. A. Cohen, On the Currency of Egalitarian Justice, and Other Essays in Political Philosophy, ed. Michael Otsuka. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011.

Jenny Edkins and Maja Zehfuss (eds), Global Politics: An Introduction. London: Routledge, 2009.

Wyn Grant, The Development of a Discipline: The History of the Political Studies Association. Oxford: Blackwell, 2010.

John Horton, Political Obligation, 2nd ed. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

Alison M. Jaggar (ed.), Thomas Pogge and His Critics. Oxford: Blackwell, 2010.

Christopher Kaczor, The Ethics of Abortion: Women's Rights, Human Life, and the Question of Justice. London: Routledge, 2011.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Street-level crime maps online

. . . in the UK can be found here and make for interesting reading. The BBC has more here.

Abertay University principal suspended

Details here (link updated).

Geordie Shore?!

Details here.

Newcastle Ethics, Legal, and Political Philosophy Workshops

Spring 2011 programme
9th February
Dr Graham Long (Newcastle)
"Tolerating Injustice in War"

23rd February
Professor Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen (Aarhus)
"Global Injustice and Redistribution Wars"

23rd March
Professor Glen Newey (Keele)
"Free Speech: Getting the Point, Changing the Subject"

30th March
Dr Martin O’Neill (York)
"Markets without Capitalism?
Values, Principles of Justice and Property-Owning Democracy"

4th May
Professor Lord Raymond Plant (King’s College London)

18th May
Professor Peter Jones (Newcastle)
"Liberty, Equality, and Multicultural Accommodation"

All meetings will take place in the Politics Building room G6 at Newcastle University from 4.00-6.00pm. Meetings are open to the public. The only exceptions will be the two conferences and further information on them will be forthcoming. For more details, please contact Thom Brooks.

There will also be a conference on “Death: Its Meaning, Metaphysics, and Morality” on 6th-7th July 2011. Plenary speakers will include Ben Bradley and Mary Midgley.