John Levett responds to Humphrey McQueen

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Read Professions of Power by Humphrey McQueen

I can see the missile, but I can’t see the target. Or is this another cry in the wilderness?

McQueen is right in his identification of the John Dawkins ‘revolution’ as merely confirmation of the status of Australian academics as lesser forms of public servants. The Gadarene rush of the VCs to the Dawkins trough was inexplicable at the time; it took the ‘purple circle’ to reveal what had actually happened.

Didn’t we all became Commonwealth Public Servants when Whitlam funded the universities directly? Take the King’s shilling and you take the King’s enemies; there’s nothing new about that. What is new is the absolute transmogrification of academics into corporate apparatchiks, with their suits, mobile phones, reserved parking places and circumscribed attitudes. These attidudes are rapidly absorbed by students anxious only to find the magic combination that will allow them to join the queue, and the long term implications for constructive [or any form] of dissent are very poor indeed.

Vice-Chancellor Alan Gilbert’s axing of the Classics Department at Melbourne is a case in point, and brings the known origins of history that much closer to the Murdoch era; ‘The society that does not know its history…’ etc.

What is needed is a revolution in thought that makes the individual independent of the corporate closed circle, and a recognition that our universities are the exact opposite of hotbeds of dissent: coldframes of conformity, more like.

The cargo-culture addiction to the notion of ‘job’ as being the only road to personal and economic survival needs to be reconsidered: not merely because there are no jobs; it needs to be done as part of the education of every individual. As it is, our whole tertiary educational system is predicated on the totally fallacious notion that its graduates will be able to serve society (and themselves) by means of employment in some form of corporation; when in fact, for the majority of soon-to-be graduates, there will be no jobs. We need a fresh evaluation and reconception of the notions of selfhood and autonomy, neither of which gets much nourishment in the contemporary university.

John Levett has recently retired from the School of Librarianship at Monash University

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