“So, you’ve fallen in the latest Shanghai Jiao Tong rankings, do you think that will effect your ability to recruit the top ATAR students next year?”
“Look, we acknowledge that we have fallen in those rankings but you have to take into consideration the particular measurements they use. Like all rankings they place weight on some areas and not others…we’ll look at the numbers once we get them in full and address any concerns that may be there.”
“Are you worried you will lose your high flyers?”
“No, not at all. We have a number of ECRs who are performing well at B and C level. And what pleases me is that they’re cross-disciplinary in their approach. They keep an open mind and that in turn gives the University options, it is beneficial for the broader good.”
“So you’re looking at the future, you’re not convinced you’re going to keep hold of your stars?”
“That’s not what I said. I have no doubt that our “stars”, as you put it, have as much faith in what they are doing here as I have. Sure, we have a few out on sabbatical at the moment but that is part of the tradition of this institution and to do without it would be damaging to this institution, and to academia in general. I don’t see that as a negative, I think anyone who did would have to question their commitment to scholarship.”
“You’re midway through your term as DVC, how would you rate your performance?”
“I wouldn’t like to hazard a guess, that’s not for me to gauge. Like all academics, you do at times feel fraudulent, but that comes with the territory. The more you know, the more you realise you don’t know. If you think you know it all, you’re obviously not meant for this environment.”
“What do you say to claims that your University is losing its appeal?”
“I am not sure what you mean by “appeal”, it’s not a term I would use when talking about higher education or scholarship in general but I know you need an answer so I would say that it’s not a concern. We’re still here. Cancer still needs to be cured.”
Wanting to do more than attempt to teach undergrads how to write, Malcolm King came up with a more tangible way in which he could contribute to education:
What I lack in integrity, I make up for in guile. I asked Janet whether it was possible to access the unspent monies to restock and build a modern literature library complete with DVDs.
Janet was a cool customer. She was the type of woman I would like on deck if I was going to sail around The Horn. Steely. Full of resolve.
‘Yes, I think that could be done.’
We were a team, and the university valued teamwork.
In October 1998 I prepared one of the largest single book orders in the history of the university. I ordered $27,000 worth of books split between a large Australian owned-bookstore in the arts precinct and a few other smaller bookshops.
By May 1999 Janet and her cabal of secret literature-loving librarians had catagorised and shelved the books. They had been paid for by the unspent book budgets. The head librarian and her coterie of bun-haired passive aggressives in building 101 were none the wiser.
It’s in Eureka Street and it’s rather amusing.
I touched on this in October at Online Opinion (reposted at LP with excellent discussion provided by commenters), Rosemary Neill took a longer, rather better-researched look at it the Weekend Australian and Laura at Sarsaparilla has posted an excellent response to Neill and why she thinks the reported death of OzLit teaching in Australian universities is a bit of a beat-up.
BBC Radio 4 is running a series called ‘The idea of a university‘ which can be listened to via the web. It is based on UK unis but still might be of interest to some.
Martha Kearney looks at how our universities have been transformed by six decades of expansion. Has our idea of what a university is for changed?
Two articles of note from the New York times (use login stackblog password stack):
Christopher Hitchens reviews The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism and decides that it “is a pointer to the abysmal state of mind that prevails in so many of our universities”.
A man dies with no will, leaving his large collection of books up for grabs (and which, incidentally, was partially responsible for his death).
The SMH has made an attempt to do its bit in furthering the status of the intellectual in Australia by asking a group of intellectuals to name their top 10 Australian brains. In the summary article though Michael Visontay finds that even among intellectuals, the idea of the ‘public intellectual’ is a touchy matter. We love our sportsman, we love our show-biz types but we keep our brains under wraps. And is it any wonder? As Visontay points out:
The space for fresh and challenging ideas in Australia is shrinking – universities are losing their resources to nourish them, governments promote less tolerance of them and the media devotes less space to them.
Says it all really. As a nation we have always been keen to play down our intellectual bent, we haven’t placed value on intellectual achievements and anyone seen to be intellectual is now branded as ‘elite’.
So with all this in mind it was interesting to read who really are, in the minds of those who voted, our top public intellectuals. The real story of the votes isn’t told in the offline version of the SMH. Most of the votes are available online and on first glance the one defining factor is that voters chose those who were politically aligned to themselves. The lefties voted for the left and the right, well, I give you Keith Windschuttle’s list:
(At first I thought his list was a joke but then I realised he was probably serious. Can the first two on Windschuttle’s list really be labelled ‘intellectuals’? If so then the nation is in far worse shape than I thought).
So how useful is such an exercise? Well, for a start it was published in the arts section of a broadsheet, so it’s preaching to the converted. Aside from this what does it offer us? Ultimately I don’t think it offers that much. The obvious weighting towards those already in the news (well, it is public intellectuals I guess) and the obvious agendas of some voters (and not just those on the Right) make it a highly subjective exercise that will reach a minimal audience who already discuss the merits of our intellectuals in their everyday lives.