The Idea of a university and its Enemies: Socrates to Tony Abbott
Richard P. Davis
- Chapter 1. Instrumentalism v. knowledge for its own sake, Plato to Newman
- Chapter 2. Newman's Successors Grapple with Instrumentalism
- Chapter 3. The Foundation of Australian Universities
- Chapter 4. Instrumentalism Rampant
The Problem of Australian Academia in the 21st Century
‘We university teachers have let our values slip and that is why the university is disintegrating around us. It will not come to life again as a true community, with a purpose of its own which it understands and believes in, until we, as individual persons and in our groups, set ourselves to the task of examining the foundations of our beliefs.’
Sir Keith Hancock (1898-1984)
In his savage satire, Degrees for Everyone,I Sir Bob Jones, who made a huge New Zealand fortune in real estate, challenged both traditional academics and the market-driven administrators to justify their positions. A new vice-chancellor, ‘the Bristol Butcher’, notorious for firing innumerable employees in a company receivership practice, seeks to ‘modernise’ Ralston, a traditional university renowned for medieval philosophy. He downsizes or eliminates out-of-date disciplines, history, classics and humanities in general, replacing them with popular new courses, panelbeating, grief counselling, hambergerology, and Rubenesque Studies, celebrating obesity. He sells Ralston’s famous medieval library to establish a book-free institution. The Butcher forces overseas students, illiterate in English, into exacting disciplines and prohibits their failure.
More frightening than the market-driven insouciance of the CEO is the sheer inability of the traditional staff to answer to their vice-chancellor's charge that their appeal to traditional ‘culture’ masks élitist self-interest opposed to modernisation and democratic choice. McNally, the only academic able to penetrate the vice-chancellor’s smokescreen of fashionable verbiage, is deftly transferred from esoteric classics to practical stage design. McNally hangs himself, but the Dean of Science agrees with the vice-chancellor that the Astronomy Department be replaced by Astrology to bring in additional finance. The Dean optimistically hopes that some of the increased funding may become available for genuine scientific research.
In the character of Frewen, an illiterate who becomes successively professor of panel beating and Rubenesque studies, Bob Jones ridicules the absurd pretensions and contrived eccenticities of many academics which flower during a total upheaval of academic values.
Transfer to St Andrews University becomes the only recourse of Professor Trout of Medieval Philosophy. There, he believes, knowledge deriving from rigorous and unrestricted debate still provides the objective criticism essential in a truly democratic society. But even at St Andrews, Trout has to accept that departments like sociology and business studies, emphasizing practicality and modernity, differ only in degree from the departments of line-dancing or paedophilic studies at Ralston. The real St Andrews, moreover, has been criticized for emphasizing social opportunity rather than intellectual excellence,
Too crude a satire? Bob Jones dropped his intended sub-title, ‘A Glimpse into the Near Future’, when academics assured him in 2004 that the situation described had already arrived. He himself, by using his personal wealth to endow social science and humanities at New Zealand's Wellington and Massey Universities, had the power to assist traditional scholarship. But the weakness of the academics portrayed in Degrees for Everyone was not resolved. Even the effective arguments of the initially forceful McNally are left to the reader's imagination.
The present monograph seeks an alternative analysis to the plausible market-driven pleading of a Bristol Butcher. The the piercing shrieks of the Ralston poetry lecturer, demanding academic standards, higher values, finer things, intellectual rigour, solid foundations, intangible benefits, unquantifiable effects, left her CEO cold. But, despite the Ralston vice-chancellor’s contempt for the past, without historical perspective any higher education debate is vacuous. As Santayana so famously said, those who know no history are doomed to repeat it. Some reflections on long-term higher education ideals precede the issues of Australian higher education today. Bristol Butchers have not been unknown over the centuries.
Australian Universities in the early years of the 21st century exhibit many characteristics satirised by Bob Jones. Barely a week passes without news of underfunding, staff and student dissatisfaction or the intrusion of corporate demands into scholarly activity. The pages of newspapers like the Australian Higher Education Supplement teem with the jargon and rhetoric of educational privatisation, which the Bristol Butcher would have on the tip of his tongue. Commercialized departments, almost as bizarre as Ralston’s, appear in public universities. Student beer-drinking, no longer a diversion from study, becomes a constituent part of a beer brewing course.ii A TV comedy show, Peter Berner’s Backburner, exploited academic gyrations for an easy laugh. The Bob Connolly and Robin Anderson 2001 documentary, Facing the Music, graphically depicted the total demoralisation of the renowned Sydney University Music Department after persistent financial cuts. La Trobe University’s Music Department, with an excellent research record, was abolished.iii
Professor Anne Elizabeth Boyd (1946-) a graduate of the Universities of Sydney and York and Head of the Sydney University School of Music since 1990. Her efforts to save her department from financial cuts by appealing for outside sponsorship are described in Facing the Music.
An Australian government firmly rejected the entry of refuge-seeking ‘boat people’, while demanding an influx of full fee-paying foreign students to shore up its ailing tertiary education structure.iv International students brought $12.5 billion into the Australian economy, becoming the third greatest export and the largest in the service sector. This amounted to 14.9 p.c. of all university funding.v Meanwhile, government operating revenue for one of the country’s great universities, Sydney, declined from 46 p.c. in 1996 to a mere 16 p.c. in 2007.vi More generally, the distinguished educator, Professor Peter Karmel, complained of the reduction, between 1983 and 2003, of Government university funding from 90% to about 20%: ‘It is ironic that in recent years the Government’s intervention in university affairs should have increased in inverse proportion to its financial commitment.’vii Meanwhile, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reports that Australia has one of the largest declines in its members’ higher education investment; most were increasing their expenditure.viii
Pressure is applied to adapt standards to ensure economic viability. In 2001 a highly regarded geneticist was sacked at Wollongong for opposing ‘soft marking.’ix Modern academia appears imprisoned in an economic rationalist environment disfigured by a succession of corporate disasters. Are such complaints, as one recent Vice-Chancellor maintained in words similar to those of the Bristol Butcher, just ‘nostalgia for better days’ by academics, who, previously ‘insulated from the world outside their gates, had missed many opportunities as agents for change in the wider community’?x
To discover what is amiss, we must penetrate deeper than the simple demand for the removal of economic rationalism and restoration of full government funding to academia. Appealing, like the Ralston staff, to memories of a cultural heritage will no longer suffice. If we believe modern academic priorities to be flawed, we should, as Sir Keith Hancock suggested, examine ‘the foundations of our beliefs.’
The time is appropriate for such reflection. The world-wide consequences of 9/11 2001 have caused extensive rethinking of issues that seemed comfortably closed. What do we now mean by concepts such as democracy, the rule of law, and probity in government? Can the market unaided by massive state intervention secure the requirements of the good life?xi Australia’s leading public intellectual and ex-minister, Barry Jones, paints a bleak picture:
Open society, rational politics and a sceptical media have been largely crippled by 2001 and its aftermath. It is both difficult and painful to persuade citizens that they have an obligation to participate fully in the way their countries are run, and an even higher obligation as humanists to contribute to the common concerns of our species, Homo sapiens sapiens.xii
Does the postmodern insistence that there is no actual world outside language need a reality check which might allow value systems to creep back?xiii The warning of W.B. Yeats is revived: ‘The centre cannot hold/ and blind destruction is loosed upon the World.’xiv The quest for this intellectual ‘centre’ has exercised our greatest thinkers. Can its discovery provide an antidote to a technologically awesome but intellectually barbaric world?
Socrates (469-399 BC) Athenian soldier and philosopher. Developed dialetic reasoning. Executed for corrupting youth.
The ‘Dawkins revolution’xv of the 1980s in Australian tertiary education originated a new, partly privatised, Australian university system dominated by Government demands and reduced per capita funding. Nevertheless, as the staff at Ralston found when confronting their vice-chancellor, it is difficult to counter with a generally accepted blueprint for the true ‘idea of a university’ to which all tertiary institutions must conform. A scrutiny of the more recent and distant history of universities provides no ‘Golden Age’ to which we can return.
Carl Becker (1873-1945) born in Iowa. After teaching history at several universities taught at Cornell 1917-1941. Challenging traditional historiography, his 1931 presidential address to the American Historical Association is seen as breaking from progressive to relativist history.
Carl Becker, the eminent American historian, regarded Socrates’ 5th century B.C. Athenian seminar as the ideal university: ‘It had no organization. It was limited to essentials. It consisted of one professor and such students as he could beguile, at any time or place, to engage in discussing with him and each other such questions as the meaning of virtue and justice, the nature of the gods, and what is essential to the good life.’ But Socrates himself lost both tenure and life when current politicians disapproved of his teaching. As Becker said, ‘the conflict symbolized by this event is perennial, and the community always holds the cup of hemlock, in one form or another, in reserve for those who teach too ardently or conspicuously facts or doctrines that are commonly regarded as a menace to the social order.’xvi
Plato (429-327 BC) disciple of Socrates who used him in dialogues. Developed idealism.
Our knowledge of Socrates is largely based on Plato’s dialogues. From Plato’s Academy for training statesmen in 386 B.C. to higher education in the 21st century, academia has maintained an uneasy relationship with current power politics. Before the Christian era, the Roman statesman, Cicero, while justifying literature as training for political oratory, declared:
'Though, even if there were no such great advantage to be reaped from it, and if it were only pleasure that is sought from these studies, still I imagine you would consider it a most reasonable and liberal employment of the mind: for other occupations are not suited to every time, nor to every age or place; ‘but these studies are the food of youth, the delight of old age; the ornament of prosperity, the refuge and comfort of adversity; a delight at home, and no hindrance abroad; they are companions by night, and in travel, and in the country.’xvii
Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) Roman orator, philosopher and politician. Consul 63 BC. Opposed Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. Executed by latter.
By the Middle Ages, the early universities, with the exception of professional schools such as law at Bologna and medicine at Salerno, were handmaidens of the Christian Church. Woe betide those advanced thinkers like 12th century Peter Abélard whose original ideas and lifestyle challenged contemporary clerical norms. Abélard’s castration, as punishment for his affair with Héloise, again symbolises the intellectual’s weakness against religious or political authority. Even the great Catholic Angelic Doctor, St Thomas Aquinas, was for a time suspected of heresy by the University of Paris. His own Arts Faculty petitioned for his removal.xviii Becker explains the paradox that medieval universities were ‘singularly bound and yet curiously free’ through the universal acceptance of Christianity. Scholars, ‘by an ingenious use of logic, dialectic, and symbolism’ could reconcile their faith with new knowledge.xix But tensions remained. According to the American economist, Thorstein Veblen, the ‘unmitigated pragmatic aims’ of these early universities were undermined when staff insisted on pursuing knowledge for its own sake. The latter was ‘a work of scholarly supererogation by men whose ostensibly sole occupation was the promulgation of some line of salutary information.’
Another American scholar, Preserved Smith of Cornell, traces the emergence of the related ideas that universities should seek new truth and that their professors should have academic freedom in the process to the German University of Halle in the early 18th century. Previously, he argues, ‘novelties had been proscribed and the doctrines on all subjects taught had been prescribed by the ruling powers.’ King Frederick William I of Prussia, for example, proposed to execute students who cut classes as military deserters. Slowly, with many vicissitudes, universities like Leipzig and Gottingen endeavoured to follow Halle’s lead. Goethe enjoyed himself at Leipzig, but was highly critical of the bad teaching of false and outdated ideas. In other European countries universities were worse.xx
In the 18th century, the great English medieval foundations, Oxford and Cambridge, had moved away from such exalted notions of learning for its own sake. They not only maintained discriminatory religious tests but had sunk into sloth and decay, requiring the sharp lash of governmental intervention to restore some vigour. As the Rev. H. Griffith, a 19th century critic, pointed out, if education was the pursuit of truth it was anomalous that Oxford imposed religious orthodoxy on new students. Echoing John Milton’s Areopagitica,xxi Griffith declared, ‘Truth, Sir, always does best when most free’.xxii The more eminent John Stuart Mill later developed this notion of a free market of ideas.xxiii
Higher Education: Cultural or Instrumental?
If a university system built in heaven never existed, throughout the ages many of humankind’s greatest minds have grappled with questions of learning, teaching and their association with the good life. Tension has invariably existed between the ‘instrumental,’ or ‘service station’ objective of higher education and the ‘cultural’ role which emphasises the development of human beings to the fullest extent of their capacity, pursuing learning for its own sake.xxiv Experience shows that a satisfactory balance between the two is rarely maintained for any length of time. On such substantive issues the ideological pendulum swings wildly. In economics, a socialism seeking public control of life is superseded by ideological privatisation which insists on total freedom from state control. In art and literature rigidity of form and content give way to principled formlessness. Education is particularly liable to such oscillations.xxv An unrealistic insistence on learning entirely for its own sake sometimes prevails; more often education is crudely determined by the immediate needs of a particular economy. As the Canberra Times pointed out in 2005, ‘educational theory changes every generation or so – in a circle, rather than a straight line – and has been for some time at the top of a horrible phase in which education is seen as but a handmaiden to industry and of no use or importance in its own right.’xxvi
Universities cannot do without a strong career orientation; the ‘mission’ of Plato’s original Academy was the production of better rulers for the state. On the other hand, thinkers in all ages emphatically deny that training in a particular skill for entry to the job market is the main function of a university. To the Australian academic and essayist, Walter Murdoch, university education cleansed the many windows of the mind. ‘For practical breadwinning we need to enrol ourselves with the specialists; but we need not be one-eyed specialists.’ Murdoch shows the close relationship between the ‘service station’ and ‘cultural’ approach when he claims that the most valuable achievements of humankind were those ‘done by specialists who were also educated men.’xxvii
Walter Murdoch (1874-1970) born in Victoria. Lectured at Melbourne University before becoming Professor of English at the University of Western Australia in 1912. A notable essayist who contributed to newspapers in his nineties. Picture from Australian.
Institutions of higher education have peculiar difficulty in balancing organisation with ultimate objectives. External authorities may intervene. Human weakness produces timeservers. ‘Academic freedom depends, therefore, on the balance between factors within the academic community and those outside of it.’ ‘Abuses on one side tend to lead to abuses on the other, with a resulting decline in the force of the norms themselves.’xxviii Originally, churches and religious bodies were reluctant to loose their stranglehold on higher education. In the high Middle Ages, clerics, often the sole literate members of the community, happily monopolised universities. Many universities depended on endowments by wealthy individuals. Sometimes groups of privileged scholars, enjoying past generosity, co-opted their successors, apparently ensuring freedom from extraneous intervention. Even today some wealthy institutions, like All Souls College, Oxford, originally established to pray for those fallen at the Battle of Agincourt, 1415,xxix can maintain, without any students, a scholarly aloofness from the demands of the academic market. At the other end of the scale, Scottish Universities have been traditionally dependent on their ability to attract sufficient student fees to provide a living for their professors.xxx Their position was not dissimilar to the early medieval student bands who took the initiative in enticing teachers of note and sacking them if they failed to live up to expectations. Only in the 19th century did the state, representing the community as a whole, become a major player in the finance and control of universities.
The Corruption of 18th Century Oxford and Cambridge
Inevitably he who pays the piper can demand a particular tune and politicians usually require the buzz of a ‘service station’.xxxi But when endowments enable scholars to work to their own rhythm, the general public does not always benefit. Churches naturally emphasise literary, philosophical and theological studies, while the needs of a particular clientele can have a considerable effect. In the 18th century, Oxford and Cambridge (or Oxbridge) required ordination and celibacy in many of their fellows. As Halévy pointed out, ‘the vast majority of undergraduates were drawn from the nobility and gentry.’ Studies in Latin and Greek allowed such classes, and the clerics and lawyers who served them, ‘a sufficient stock of philosophic and historical commonplaces, a few tricks of oratory, and some reminiscences of the classics.’xxxii Despite several exceptional alumni, the system provided little intellectual stimulus for the average don, or Oxbridge academic.
Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) Professor of Mathematics Cambridge 1669-1701. Discovered law of gravitation, calculus and colours of spectrum. MP for Cambridge, 1689-90, 1701-2. President of Royal Society, 1703-27.
The most famous Oxbridge graduates were often an indictment of the system. In the 17th century Isaac Newton achieved most progress on his epoch-making theory of gravitation when Cambridge was closed down by the plague. John Milton at Christ’s College, Cambridge, found the emphasis on the Greek and Roman classics irksome. By 1642 he was convinced that both Cambridge and Oxford were sick indeed.xxxiii The eminent English philosopher, John Locke, ‘looked back, in after-life, with little gratitude on the somewhat dry course of studies which the University [Oxford] prescribed to its younger scholars.’xxxiv Even more significant, the 18th century doyen of modern economic rationalists, Adam Smith, an exhibitioner at Oxford before he obtained a chair at Glasgow, attributed the indolence of the former’s professors to the fixed stipends which saved them the trouble of attracting students. ‘In the University of Oxford the greater part of the public professors have for many years given up altogether the practice of teaching.’ xxxvHe saw these older universities as ‘sanctuaries in which exploded systems and obsolete prejudices found shelter and protection.’xxxvi Smith believed that the Scottish educational system which kept academics dependent on their students, was responsible for the ‘superior intelligence and the providential, orderly habits of her people.’xxxvii Eric Hobsbawm agrees that ‘the austere, turbulent, democratic universities of Calvinist Scotland’, contrasted with ‘intellectually null’ Oxbridge.xxxviii A succession of brilliant Scotsmen enlivened the south. Though Britain’s industrial revolution inventors were not generally inspired by universities, James Watt, designer of the crucially important steam engine, ‘worked from the standpoint of theoretical, not merely of applied, science’ in the laboratory of the University of Glasgow.xxxix An advocate of education for practical use, Adam Smith himself was nevertheless aware that the love of system building often motivated creative minds.xl
Adam Smith (1723-1790) educated at Glasgow and Oxford, Professor of Moral Philosophy at latter. Argued for free trade, laissez-faire and the division of labour in The Wealth of Nations (1776)
Perhaps the most powerful indictment of Oxford at the end of the 18th century came from the renowned historian of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon. Both Oxford and Cambridge were unpromising resorts for an historian. In 1724 George I established regius professors, appointed by the crown, in history at both universities, but these chairs became sinecures for men without qualifications or interest in the subject. According to John Kenyon, it was not until the 1866 appointment of William Stubbs as regius professor of history at Oxford that the serious study of the discipline began at that and other English universities.xli
It is thus not surprising that Gibbon was disillusioned by his fourteen months at Magdalen, one of the richest Oxford Colleges, founded by the Bishop of Winchester in the 15th century. Here, surely, independence from outside control led to learning for its own sake. As Gibbon himself asked, ‘is it unreasonable to expect that a body of literary men, devoted to a life of celibacy, exempt from a care of their own subsistence, and amply provided with books, should devote their leisure to the prosecution of study, and that some of the effects of their studies should be manifested to the world.’xlii
Gibbon, though only fourteen, as a wealthy gentleman commoner was privileged to eat at high table and associate with the staff. He soon discovered that these ‘monks of Magdalen’, unmarried while fellows, wasted their days at chapel, hall, coffee house and common room. ‘From the toil of reading, or thinking, or writing, they had absolved their conscience’ and ‘their conversation stagnated in a round of college business, Tory politics, personal anecdotes, and private scandal: their dull and deep potations excused the brisk intemperance of youth’. As for the University professors, most ‘had given up altogether even the pretence of teaching.’ Gibbon not surprisingly disliked the collegiate atmosphere of Oxford, which overseas enthusiasts have attempted to recreate through residential colleges in unpromising sectors of the globe. ‘The irksomeness of a cloistered life repeatedly tempted me to wander’ and he frequently ‘eloped from Oxford’. Far better, he believed, was the Continental (and Scottish) system in which students lived in town and preserved some connection with the real world.
Edward Gibbon (1737-1794) English historian famous for The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. English MP 1774-83, opposed to American Revolution but more sympathetic towards the French. Considered affected in speech, manner and dress.
Nor was the famous Oxbridge one-on-one tutorial system any more satisfactory to the future historian. For the first few weeks, Gibbon attended his tutor, Dr Waldegrave, only to receive ‘a dry and literal interpretation’ of the text of a play by the Roman dramatist, Terence. When Gibbon ceased to turn up for instruction, the tutor appeared unconscious of his ‘absence or neglect’. Only at home for the long vacation did Gibbon’s interest in books revive. On his return to Oxford his new tutor ‘well remembered that he had a salary to receive, and only forgot that he had a duty to perform.’ Gibbon visited this worthy only once in eight months. Receiving no religious instruction in what was purportedly an Anglican college, the young man converted to Roman Catholicism and was promptly expelled from Magdalen. Education was lax, but bigotry strong. Gibbon’s stint at the College ‘proved the fourteen months the most idle and unprofitable of my whole life’. He won no degree from an institution to which ‘the obvious methods of public exercises and examinations were totally unknown’, and proceeded to more effective study under a tactful tutor at Lausanne. The balance was clearly wrong, erring on the side of unrestricted individualism and excessive emphasis on the unpractical.
Despite his unhappy experience at Magdalen, Gibbon gained a clear understanding of what a university should do. One modern viewpoint sees education as best supplied by the internet, with a reduced need for human teachers. Gibbon confronted a similar argument that, except in the sciences where manual dexterity in the use of costly apparatus was required, oral instruction had been superseded by the availability of good treatises on every subject. He pointed out, however, that ‘there still remains a material difference between a book and a professor’. It was worth congregating students at a particular hour: ‘the presence, the voice, and the occasional questions of the teacher’ were helpful; the idle students would gain something, while the industrious would compare what they had heard with the textbooks. Good teaching, might, for example, replace dry textual criticism of Latin drama by an enlivening comparison with modern theatre. The philosopher Raymond Gaita of King’s College, London, and the Australian Catholic University, argues similarly that use of the internet, or even reading in isolation at home, cannot make up for the presence of an exemplary teacher.xliii
While his lectures appeared only moderately useful, Gibbon’s ideal academic effectively combined teaching and research. ‘The advice of a skilful professor will adapt a course of reading to every mind and every situation; his authority will discover, admonish, and at last chastise the negligence of his disciples; and his vigilant inquiries will ascertain the steps of their literary progress. Whatever science he professes he may illustrate in a series of discourses, composed in the leisure of his closet, pronounced on public occasions, and finally delivered to the press.’ Whether Gibbon meant ‘chastise’ literally, when fourteen-year-olds like himself attended university, his student ideal was clearly ‘apprenticeship’, not the ‘customer’ objective of some 21st century authorities. The teacher, instead of acting as a simple ‘service station’ for student needs, real or imaginary, had a vision towards which he (in that male dominated age) attempts to draw his disciples. The affluent Gibbon appears concerned mainly with education as an end in itself, not a means to vocational success. He exhibited his ‘voracious appetite’ for the history of all parts of the world. Gibbon also speaks of the need for students to find the appropriate teachers, ‘according to their taste, their calling, and their diligence’.xliv Ultimately, the demands of a future profession, or calling, had to be balanced against personal taste.
Gibbon experienced Oxford in the 1750s. By the end of the century, slow reform had begun. The Oxford Examination Statute of 1800, the work of three enlightened heads of colleges, established written papers providing ‘a real examination and not a mere formality.’xlv Public confrontation appeared with paid examiners testing both Greek and Latin texts as well as the principles of logic and mathematics. Cambridge had already moved in this direction. However, the Reminiscences of Henry Gunning at Christ’s College, Cambridge, in the penultimate decade of the 18th century dispel notions of Cambridge superiority. Like Gibbon’s mentors, Gunning’s tutor Parkinson soon absolved him of any need to attend lectures. Indeed, Gunning discovered a more literary atmosphere when the College Fellows were absent. During the term, shooting, cards and the company on non-reading men preoccupied him. Drunkenness was the ‘besetting sin’ for undergraduates and dons alike. At St John’s, Cambridge, the young William Wordsworth dutifully attended lectures, but found them uninspiring, and resented compulsory attendance at chapel.xlvi A Cambridge tutor, the Rev. Connop Thirwall, was dismissed from his fellowship for criticising the system. The philosopher John Stuart Mill regarding both Oxford and Cambridge with ‘utter abhorrence’ found the degree requirements of Cambridge ‘utterly contemptible’ while at Oxford they were ‘somewhat higher, but still very low.’xlvii
Ultimately, an honours system for able students was established at Oxford as at Cambridge. Gone were the days when the candidate chose his own examiners to test rote learning of abbreviated cribs. At Oxford in 1770, Lord Eldon received his degree for knowing that Golgotha was the Hebrew for skull and opining that King Alfred had founded University College.xlviii Such trials, by the ignorant of the ignorant, often ended hilariously. As Bell and Grant cynically observe, until 1800 ‘the Oxford examination system restricted itself almost entirely to discovering whether candidates were gentlemen’.xlix
England was not alone in experiencing the breakdown of her universities. In France, the European cultural dictator of the 18th century, universities were at a low ebb. ‘The University of Paris, once the mightiest and most renowned of all institutions of learning, struggled helplessly against the oppression of king and priest.’l For French universities in general, ‘decay and corruption had reduced them to a mere shadow of their original medieval selves.’ The Oxbridge abuses were rife, lecturers abandoned lecturing and students avoided lectures. Examinations were virtually the purchase of privilege. The MA degree was of secondary school standard. The the Revolution abolished the universities and left learning, usually of a low standard, to a number of isolated specialist ‘faculties’ until the 1890s.li
John Henry Newman (1801-1890) Anglican cleric and Fellow of Oriel College. A founder of the Oxford Movement. Joined the Catholic Church in 1845. Made a cardinal by Pope Leo XIII 1879. His Apologia pro Vita Sua (1864) is highly regarded.
Newman to the Rescue
1801 saw the birth of John Henry Newman who was to lay down a new university ideal. Though often criticised, his arguments provide an essential basis for informed discussion. As Australian philosopher Tony Coady points out, recurrence to Newman is far from an attempt to restore an unchanging idealised past.lii Newman’s world was not dissimilar in some ways to that of the early 21st century. Economic rationalism, then known as political economy, following the publication of Adam Smith’s more circumspect Wealth of Nations in 1776, was gradually becoming the prevailing orthodoxy. It was also a period, especially in Britain, of frenetic technological change, punctuated by periodic slumps and depressions.
Newman’s father achieved moderate success as a small banker in the boom years of the Napoleonic Wars, but was ruined by the depression after 1815. The son, then more proficient in mathematics than the classics, fortunately won a scholarship to King's College, Oxford. He soon obtained a reputation as an exceptional student. But when he took his degree in 1819, overwork caused an embarrassing breakdown shortly before the final examinations and Newman suffered the ignominy of a poor second. His scholarship still had several years to run and he redeemed himself in 1822 in the fellowship examination for the distinguished Oriel College.
Newman at Oriel
Newman entered Oriel as a priggish, Evangelical Anglican, without the social graces expected of the aristocratic Oriel fellows. His father's death as a virtual pauper made him the head of his family and financial provider for his mother, sisters, and eccentrically incompetent brother Charles. John Henry embarked on a hectic regime of private tutoring to raise the necessary funds. In Oriel he was regarded as a prickly isolate, once mortifiied by the Provost’s advice on the gentlemanly use of his fork. However, the influence of other fellows such as Hurrell Froude and the former fellow, Richard Whately, later Anglican archbishop of Dublin, succeeded in socialising Newman and moderating a bitter anti-Catholicism which regarded the pope as Antichrist.liii
In 1826 Newman became a College tutor. He rejected the convention, no more effective than individual instruction in Gibbon’s Magdalen, that tutors merely harangued their students in large groups and exacted payment for individual instruction. Though he also took private pupils, Newman and his friends were determined to provide individual tuition for their official charges, and even superintend their morals as the statutes demanded. The College authorities did not appreciate such innovations, and Newman lost his tutorship, but not his fellowship, in the early 1830s. Lord Malmesbury, one of the aristocratic student fellow commoners, whose privileges must have irked the less well-born fellows, later alleged that Newman was totally ineffectual. Lord Blachford, formerly Frederic Rogers, permanent secretary at the Colonial Office, denied Malmesbury’s allegations. Another tutor had been ragged, while Newman had always secured respect. Obstreperous students, on the contrary, quailed before Newman’s penetrating eye. Here was the order and ‘apprenticeship’ so lacking in Gibbon’s day.
While an Oriel tutor, Newman determined to use the long vacation of 1826 for an extended reading of the early Christian Fathers. Searching for an Anglican via media between Roman Catholicism and extreme Protestant Evangelicalism, Newman, with Hurrell Froude, Henry Pusey, John Keble and others inaugurated the Tractarian, or Oxford, Movement. Newman himself ultimately left Oxford and was received into the Roman Catholic Church in 1845, to be ordained a priest in Rome a year later and finally sent back to England to inaugurate the Oratorian Order of St Philip Neri. This task occupied him until his death in 1890. Meanwhile, he received his cardinal’s hat in 1879.
Newman and the Catholic University, Dublin
In 1845 the Conservative Government of Sir Robert Peel set up three non-denominational University Colleges in Ireland. These were denounced as ‘Godless’ by many Irish Catholic bishops. The Young Ireland nationalist leader, William Smith O’Brien, a Trinity, Cambridge, man and later Australia’s most celebrated convict, attacked the government patronage in the institutions as ‘a powerful agent of corruption.’liv
The Irish Catholic bishops responded in 1851 by establishing a Catholic University to counter the influence of the ‘Godless’ Colleges. Archbishop (later Cardinal) Paul Cullen invited Newman to Ireland to lecture against non-denominational universities and to accept the post of rector of the new Catholic institution. Newman complied with both requests, but the result was not quite what Cullen had intended. Published as The Idea of a University in 1852, Newman’s lectures became a landmark in the theory of academic education.
Chagrined by the tone of Newman’s discourse, Cullen was no better pleased by the new rector’s plans for the Catholic University. Cullen wanted a small classical college, while Newman aimed at an institution catering for science and medicine as well as the humanities. Cullen also looked askance at Newman’s appointment of professors associated with the Young Ireland movement which, goaded by the government’s failure to relieve the horrendous famine of 1845-49, had attempted a brief revolt against British rule in 1848. In 1858, Newman resigned his rectorship of the Catholic University. He found the need to commute between Dublin and Birmingham across the rough Irish Sea detrimental to his health. The University distracted from the problems of his Oratory, and he regretted the lack of full co-operation from the Irish bishops. Newman continued to write on University education in the midst of his other activities.
Never receiving a government charter, the Catholic University barely survived. After the establishment in 1879 of the purely examining Royal University, the Catholic University was enabled to act as a teaching college preparing students for the examinations of the former institution. James Joyce graduated in this manner. London University began on a similar model and the idea appealed to some Australian politicians as a cheap form of higher education. In 1908, the Catholic University became the nucleus of the new University College, Dublin, a constituent of the National University of Ireland. Though non-denominational, the National University has always been acceptable to the Irish Catholic episcopacy, while its older rival, Trinity College, Dublin, only received full Catholic endorsement in 1970.
The Idea of a University
To the general academic world the chief significance of the Catholic University episode was the publication of Newman’s The Idea of a University. Although he fulfilled his brief to justify denominational universities, Newman’s lectures, to an audience mixed both by sex and religion, have been best remembered as a passionate plea for the autonomy of liberal education from both utilitarian and theological requirements.
While most of the chapters emphasise religious education in its different manifestations, three – Knowledge its own end, Knowledge in Relation to Learning, and Knowledge in Relation to Professional skill – are particularly illuminating for all higher education. Many of Newman’s conclusions in these chapters coincide with the views of writers such as Bertrand Russelllv and Virginia Woolf,lvi who would not share the Cardinal’s religious principles.
Essentially Newman argued that Knowledge requires no utilitarian justification at all. So opposed to the dominant political and economic thought of the 2000s, the idea is worth unpacking. The pagan Greek Aristotle, whose philosophy had been integrated into Christianity by St Thomas Aquinas, guided Newman. Believing that a free citizen must devote himself to ‘liberal’ pursuits, leaving ‘useful’ activities to slaves or servants, Aristotle appears to symbolise an aristocratic élitism, irrelevant to the modern world. Newman’s insistence that the object of a liberal education is the production of a ‘gentleman’ increases the appearance of an archaic class-based ideology, for which 18th and 19th century Oxford received much criticism. According to one commentator, however, Newman was ‘translating into nineteenth-century English’ the Greek ideal of the free citizen.lvii His ‘gentleman’, whatever his views, would avoid giving pain, and show social tolerance. A liberally educated atheist would thus respect the religious susceptibilities of his interlocutors and enable productive discourse.
Aristotle (384-322) Greek philosopher whose philosophy dominated medieval Europe until the Renaissance.
Accordingly, while a liberal education must not aim directly at practicality, it is nevertheless ‘useful’ as the basis of community life. If a medical practitioner, asked Newman, is not required to demonstrate the usefulness of curing illness and maintaining a healthy body, why then should the educator be compelled to justify the creation of a healthy mind? Good judgement is always ‘useful’ in this sense and a well-trained intellect is vital in the effective performance of the duties owed by an individual to society. This is the antithesis of a modern view that the recipient of higher education secures a high salary and should therefore pay fully for the privilege.
Knowledge to Newman is far from a mere accumulation of facts. It must be impregnated with reason and adapted to general ideas, as opposed to the mere particulars instilled by ‘instruction’, best relinquished to non-university institutions. The mind must react energetically on ideas. Newman would have agreed with the 20th century philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead, who rejected ‘inert ideas’, demanding that they be ‘utilised, or tested, or thrown into fresh combinations.’lviii Newman likewise saw the mind reacting energetically on ideas. What he called the ‘eyes’ of the mind must be developed: ‘We require intellectual eyes to know withal, as bodily eyes for sight.’ Newman used this eye metaphor, borrowed from Keble’s elucidation of the Psalms, to depict God’s religious guidance.lix
Newman’s distinction between liberal and illiberal pursuits was austere. Watching cricket or hunting, though not intellectual, could be liberal pursuits if they had no object beyond themselves. The study of theology, however, if its purpose was catechetical, was illiberal. Only theology undertaken in pursuit of abstract truth qualified as a liberal activity. Yet Newman was forced to concede that professional studies like medicine had a place in the University structure. In the 18th century neither Oxford nor Cambridge graduated doctors or lawyers, who, after some university study, obtained their professional qualifications elsewhere.lx Newman exhibited a new balanced tolerance of professional training. Medicine and law, aided and corrected by contact with other disciplines, became liberal in a general University context. Even political economy in its dependence on the profit motive, could be corrected by theology which taught that it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. This approximates Bertrand Russell’s view that ‘utilitarian knowledge needs to be fructified by disinterested investigation, which has no motive beyond the desire to understand the world better.’lxi Similarly, the Australian Walter Murdoch cited an eminent surgeon with no time for anything but his profession: ‘By all means let us honour such a man; let us pity him; but do not let us darken counsel by calling him an educated man.’lxii
Newman, speaking on behalf of Archbishop Cullen’s denominational university, emphasised the need for theology to provide the coping stone for the arch of higher education. He did not, however, insist on theological interest as a sine qua non for an educated man. Rather he looked to theology to assist in providing a general balance of disciplines. In the 2000s, when market ideology reigns supreme in many walks of life, even an atheist can welcome a theology which at least insists on the consideration of alternative viewpoints. As Newman demonstrated in his lectures, education as an end in itself versus instruction for immediate utility has been regularly debated throughout history. Thus Cato the Elder rejected Greek culture as unproductive for Romans, while Cicero maintained that the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake was the prime human need after the wants of Nature had been satisfied. Before Newman’s time, W.J. Copelston and John Davison of Oriellxiii had defended classical education against the onslaughts of the utilitarian Edinburgh Reviewers, who, like Cato, derided its lack of relevance to the modern world. While the debate is cyclical, in the 2000s there is sometimes a lack of recognition that there are two sides to the argument.
Newman’s lectures for Archbishop Cullen postulated free discussion in which all viewpoints receive an airing. Though Newman, earlier in his career was less ready to advocate such freedom, it had become an essential aspect of his philosophy by the time that he addressed his Dublin audience. Earlier he had been greatly influenced by Archbishop Whately, who according to Newman’s own account, taught him to think. Yet Whately, throughout the 19th century Catholic world, became notorious for concocting a set of Scripture readings (with the aid of his Catholic opposite number) for Irish National schools, which, by his own admission, were designed to wean Catholics from their religion.lxiv Newman always insisted that a liberal education was no guarantee of personal morality.
Did Newman separate Research and Teaching?
The relevance of Newman’s views to contemporary debate is so far undeniable. Yet it has been argued that the context of Newman’s thought, in his rejection of research and insistence on collegial rather than lecture-based higher education, was far removed from the educational issues of the 21st century. On the first point, it is true that Newman suggested specialist research in institutes separated from teaching duties, which distract from original work. Superficially this appears to endorse those education ministers, like Brendan Nelson in Australia, seeking to divorce teaching, leavened by a vague ‘scholarship’, from specialist research. Newman thus appears as a scholar, but not a researcher. This is not, however, the whole story. Newman’s own practice is precisely that of a modern teacher/researcher. As mentioned, in 1826, he informs us in his Apologia, the timely arrival of the long vacation enabled him to begin a massive project for reading the early Fathers of the Christian Church. Ultimately this study led to the Oxford Movement and conversion, outcomes totally unexpected when he set out to follow the Truth wherever it led. The eminent Irish-Australian historian, Oliver MacDonagh, argued that Newman’s Apologia was in itself a masterpiece of historical writing.lxv In more conventional academic terms, study of the early Fathers culminated in a 400-page book on the Arian heresy, an achievement which should certainly have produced promotion in any modern ‘publish-or-perish’ college of knowledge. Although Newman was not a physical scientist, despite an early predilection for mathematics, as Rector of the Catholic University he irritated Archbishop Cullen by demanding science and medical faculties. Newman’s definition of a University as ‘a place where inquiry is pushed forward, and discoveries verified and perfected’lxvi is a very fair summary of research objectives in most modern disciplines. Given the relatively primitive organisation of scientific resources in Newman’s day, his ideas can scarcely be seen as the endorsement of the notion, beloved by cost cutting politicians, that not all academics need be funded for research.
The second caveat against Newman is on grounds of impracticability. Did he not reject the lecture-based professorial system in favour of collegial institutions? What of his preference for young men collected in colleges without specific instruction over a lecture based system with formal examinations? Ironically, Newman’s scepticism of the traditional lecture is in line with modern educational research. Progressive institutions have for many years varied lectures with tutorial instruction. In Scottish universities, where the formal lecture to a large audience was the norm, some professors devoted a lecture, or part of a lecture, to the correction of their students’ work.lxvii But, as Bertrand Russell, who, with his Cambridge contemporaries, regarded ‘lectures as a pure waste of time’, pointed out in 1926, ‘the real reason for lectures is that they are obvious work, and therefore business men are prepared to pay for them. If university teachers adopted the best methods, business men would think them idle, and insist upon cutting down the staff.’lxviii Newman’s delight in informality led him to distrust the committee meeting, an essential component of the modern ‘Professorial-style’ university. At Oxford, moreover, the future cardinal escaped the shadow of the ‘God-professor’: ‘As is the custom of a university, I had lived with my private, nay, with some of my public, pupils, and with junior fellows of my college, without form or distance, on a footing of equality.’lxix
Newman had set the agenda for the essential debate on the meaning of higher education. Despite some opinions of relevance only to his own time, his views must be considered as seriously in 2008 as in 1852. English academic contemporaries did not doubt the importance of the issues raised by the future cardinal.
IBob Jones, Degrees for Everyone (Christchurch, Hazard Press, 2004).
iiAustralian, 3 October 2001 (Edith Cowan University).
iiiSee Barry Jones, in Symposium: Newsletter of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, no. 12, May 1999, p. 6.
ivSignificantly, Professor Stephen Castles of Wollongong, an expert in refugees studies, had his funding for immigration studies slashed earlier in 2001. See Sydney Morning Herald, 8 January 2001.
v Milanda Rout, Australian, 13 February 2008.
vi Dorothy Illing, Australian, 27 August 2007.
viiAustralian, 28 May 2003.
viii Mercury, 24 April 2005.
ixNicholas Rothwell, ‘Turbulent Teacher’ (Ted Steele), Australian, 5-6 January 2001.
xDon McNicol in Australian, 28 November 2001.
xiRobert Peston, ‘War on Terror: The Economy’, New Statesman, 1 October 2001. Quotes corporate giant Warren Buffett to the effect that ‘the role of the state is not quite as insignificant as the proponents of globalised free market capitalism would like’, especially when insurance is involved.
xii Summary of 8th Manning Clark Lecture, Sydney Morning Herald, 1 March 2007. Jones cites US Vice-President Cheney’s view that there will be a permanent restriction of civil liberties.
xiiiLuke Slattery, ‘Did September 11 mean the end of postmodern relativism?’ Australian, 24 October 2001.
xiv Elspeth Probyn, ‘Fallout from the World Trade Centre and Pentagon disaster’, Australian, 19 September 2001.
xvJohn Dawkins, Australian Education Minister, 1987-1991.
xviCarl L. Becker, Freedom and Responsibility in the American Way of Life (New York, Vintage, 1955), pp. 63-5.
xvii‘The Speech of M.T. Cicero for Aulus Licinius Archias, the Poet’, a literal translation, Select Orations of Cicero (London, James Brodie, n.d.), p. 10.
xviiiAntony Kemp, Aquinas (New York, Hill and Wang, 1980), pp. 20 and 26.
xixBecker, pp. 66-7.
xx Preserved Smith, The Enlightenment, 1687-1776 (New York, Collier, 1962), pp. 347-363.
xxi‘Let her and falsehood grapple; who ever knew truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter.’ Milton, ‘Areopagitica: A Defence of the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing’, in Henry Morley, ed., Famous Pamphlets (London, Routledge, 1886), p. 73. See Liverpool meeting to open universities to all denominations. L. Heyworth, MP, in chair. Addressed by Griffith and the Rev. James Martineau; Examiner, 7 September 1854.
xxiiLiverpool meeting to open Universities to all denominations, quoted in Launceston Examiner, 7 September 1854.
xxiiiSee Seamus Miller in Why Universities Matter, p. 116.
xxivSol Encel, ‘The Social Role of Higher Education’, in E.L. Wheelwright, ed., Higher Education in Australia (Sydney? 1965?), pp. 1-32.
xxv‘Education seems particularly prone to wholesale changes of pedagogical fashion which brook no recognition of value in a previous practice. The costs of single-mindedness can be severe.’ New Zealand Herald leader, 15 August 2001.
xxviCanberra Times, 22 April 2005.
xxviiWalter Murdoch, Speaking Personally (Sydney, 1934), pp. 175-7.
xxviii Joseph Ben-Davis and Randall Collins, ‘A Comparative Study of Academic Freedom and Student Politics’, S.M. Lipset, ed., Academic Freedom and Student Politics (New York, Basic Books, 1967), p. 150.
xxixMorning Chronicle, quoted in Launceston Examiner, 2 November 1854.
xxxRobert Bell and Nigel Grant, A Mythology of British Education: A Thorough Examination of a Choking System (St Albans, Panther, 1974), p. 94.
xxxiThis was opposed by the Australian Universities Commission in its Sixth Report (May 1975): ‘One of the roles of a university in a free society is to be the conscience and critic of that society; such a role cannot be fulfilled if the university is expected to be an arm of government policy.’ Quoted by Peter Karmel, ‘Funding Universities’, in Why Universities Matter, p. 165.
xxxiiElie Halévy, A History of the English People in the Nineteenth Century, vol. 1, England in 1815 (London, Benn, 1961), p. 550.
xxxiiiArthur Gray, Cambridge and its Story (London, Methuen, 1912, pp. 198-9.
xxxivThomas Fowler, John Locke (London, 1880), p.6.
xxxv Quoted by P. Smith, The Enlightenment, p. 355.
xxxviW.J. Day, ed., The Life and Letters of Edward Gibbon: with his History of the Crusades (Chandos Classics, London, n.d.), pp. 25-6 and V.H.H. Green, The Universities (Harmonsdworth, Penguin, 1969), pp. 50 and 89.
xxxviiEncel, p. 1.
xxxviiiEric Hobsbawm, The Age of Revolution: Europe, 1789-1848 (London Abacus, 1999), p. 45.
xxxix Halévy, England in 1815, p. 542.
xlAdam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (London, A. Millar, 1759), p. 351.
xliJohn Kenyon, The History Men: The Historical Profession in England since the renaissance (London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1983), pp. 58-9, 146-7 and 149.
xliiDay,The Life and Letters of Edward Gibbon, p. 26.
xliiiQuoted in ABC’s Background Briefing, ‘The Digital University’, 27 January 2002.
xlivFor quotations in the preceding section, see Day, The Life and Letters of Edward Gibbon, pp. 25-32.
xlvJohn Sparrow, Mark Pattison and the Idea of a University (Cambridge, 1967), p. 69.
xlviGray, Cambridge and its Story, pp. 277-84.
xlviiJ.S. Mill, 'Civilization' (1836), quoted in Peter Keating, ed., The Victorian Prophets: A Reader from Carlyle to Wells (Glasgow, Fontana, 1981), pp. 94-99. Mill acknowledged that the worst abuses had been removed by legislation when he wrote.
xlviii P. Smith, The Enlightenment, p. 356.
xlixBell and Grant, A Mythology of British Education, p. 93.
l P. Smith, The Enlightenment, p. 352.
li Theodore Zeldin, ‘Higher Education in France, 1848-1940’, Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 2, no. 3, July 1967, p. 53.
lii‘Universities and the ideals of inquiry’, in Raimond Gaita and Anthony Coady, eds., Why Universities Matter: A conversation about values, means and directions (St Leonards, NSW, Allen and Unwin, 2000), pp. 2-3. See also Tony Coady and Seamus Miller, ‘Australian Higher Education and the relevance of Newman’, Australian Universities Review, 36 (2), 1993.
liiiApologia, p. 70.
livRichard Davis, Revolutionary Imperialist: William Smith O’Brien (Sydney and Dublin, 1998), p. 188.
lvAccording to Russell, ‘specialized knowledge which is required for various kinds of skill has little to do with wisdom . . . The world needs wisdom as it has never needed it before: and if knowledge continues to increase, the world will need wisdom in the future even more than it does now.’ Knowledge and Wisdom, quoted by Karl L. Wolf, ‘A Collection of Scientific Sayings and Quotations (1)’, Earth-Science Review, 6 (1970), p. 365.
lviVirginia Woolf’s putative women’s society of ‘Outsiders’ would ‘practise their profession experimentally, in the interests of research and for love of the work itself, once they had earned enough to live upon.’ The Three Guineas (London, Hogarth Press, 1938), p. 204.
lviiMichael Tierney, introduction to J.H. Newman, University Sketches (Dublin, Browne & Nolan, 1961), p. xviii.
lviiiA.N. Whitehead, The Aims of Education and other Essays (London , Williams & Norgate, 1955 ), p. 2. Whitehead was quoted in Senate Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training, Priorities for Reform in Higher Education (Canberra, Australian Government Publishing Service, June 1990), p. ™
lixJ.H. Newman, Apologia Pro Vita Sua (London, Everyman, 1921), p. 43.
lxHalévy, England in 1815, p. 550.
lxiBertrand Russell, On Education: Especially in Early Childhood (London, Allen and Unwin, 1937), p. 243.
lxiiWalter Murdoch, Speaking Personally (Sydney, 1934), pp. 175-7.
lxiii Davison was elected a fellow in 1800 and replied to the Edinburgh Review in 1810.
lxivE. Jane Whately, Life and Correspondence of Richard Whately, D.D., vol. 2, (London, 1866), pp. 235-249.
lxvOliver MacDonagh, ‘Apologia Pro Vita Sua: in Vita mea Vademecum’, in F.B. Smith, Ireland, England and Australia: Essays in Honour of Oliver MacDonagh (Canberra, Australian National University, 1990), p. 227.
lxviJohn Henry Cardinal Newman, The Idea of a University Defined and Illustrated (Chicago, Loyola University Press, 1927), p. 472. It was ‘the place to which a thousand schools make contributions; in which the intellect may safely range and speculate, sure to find its equal in some antagonist activity, and its judge in the tribunal of truth. It is a place where inquiry is pushed forward, and discoveries verified and perfected, and rashness rendered innocuous, and error exposed, by the collision of mind with mind, and knowledge with knowledge.’
lxviiHalévy, England in 1815, p. 540. Professor Jardine introduced this practice at Edinburgh.
lxviiiBertrand Russell, On Education: especially in Early Childhood (London, Allen & Unwin, 1937 ), p. 241.
lxixApologia, p. 75.
Chapter Two: Newman’s Successors grapple instrumentalism
Mark Pattison enters the debate
The conflict between Professorial and Tutorial teaching was much canvassed following Newman’s departure from Oriel in 1841. An important player in the debate, Mark Pattison, came to Oriel as a student in 1832. His memoirs relate how Gibbon’s Autobiography ‘seized upon my interest’ and ‘supplied the place of a College tutor; he not only found me advice, [check] but secretly inspired me with the enthusiasm to follow it.’i Despite Newman and earlier reform the problems of Oriel teaching remained and it began to decline in 1831.ii Pattison pursued a lonely progress of self-instruction, eked out by private tuition, and, like Newman, graduated with only a second in 1836. The younger man was also influenced in his religious opinions by Newman who remained in residence until 1845 when he converted to Rome. Pattison did not follow him but grew sceptical of religion itself. After a struggle, he was elected to a fellowship at Lincoln College, Oxford, where he became a successful tutor, using new and progressive methods.
[Mark Pattison (1813-1884), fellow of Oriel College and later Rector of Lincoln College, Oxford.]
Pattison refused to give his students ready-made answers but ‘sent them away from his lectures with the feeling of roused enquiry, rather than with that satisfied sense of acquisition which is so conducive to success. But he made us think. He made us desire to know.’iii Soon Pattison won the reverence of his pupils. Nevertheless, despite his enthusiasm, Pattison faced ‘the monstrous abuse’ by which he was, under the College system, compelled to ‘teach everything that was taught in the college to all its students.’iv Not averse to encouraging his students to think widely of art and literature, Pattison realised that for a teacher to cover too wide a field forced superficiality and deadened interest in research. In vacations he took chosen groups of students on reading parties to encourage intellectual habits. Like Newman, he ‘thought the living together might enable me to make more impression upon them than mere college relations allowed of.’v
A Place for Women? The Importance of Wollstonecraft
There was apparently no suggestion here of homosexual interest or harassment on the part of a compulsorily ‘celibate’ tutor with exclusively male students. Pattison married when the system permitted such a relationship. His friend George Eliot may have partly modelled the dry-as-dust phoney scholar, Casaubon, on some aspects of Pattison. Unfair in some ways, Eliot’s Middlemarch illustrates, through the intellectually lively Dorothea, one of the worst imbalances in the Oxbridge system, its male exclusivity. This was not corrected until well into the 20th century. While women might attend the public lectures of Scottish professors, there was no place for them in the Oxford collegiate system. As late as the 1920s, the historian Kathleen Fitzpatrick, used to the free association of the sexes at Melbourne University, was shocked by Oxford. ‘I felt really degraded by the position of women at Oxford and did not at all relish being regarded as socially impossible, and deprived of the society of young men, which I had taken for granted at home.’vi According to Veblen the older universities regarded the admission of women as ‘derogatory to the dignity of the learned craft’ which had originally been monopolised by clerical males.vii
An intellectual culture based on the classics provided little excuse for such sexual exclusivity. Plato in his Republic made it clear that his guardians, given superior education to rule the masses, would consist of women as well as men. Accepting that the only gender difference lay in generation, Plato insisted that women guardians should bear arms, exercise naked and receive the same education as their male colleagues. His proposed community of wives and children suggested the possibility of co-educational colleges. His only caveat was the belief that, all other things being equal, men would perform better than women.viii The issue was carried further by Mary Wollstonecraft in her attack on Rousseau’s patriarchal insistence on the subordinate instruction provided for his ‘grossly unnatural’ Sophia, the ‘weak and passive’ partner of his ideally educated Émile. Wollstonecraft, like Plato, argued that, apart from physical strength, women were in no way inferior to men and equally capable of benefiting from the highest forms of education: ‘if men eat at the tree of knowledge, women will come in for a taste’. Rousseau’s suggestion that women’s education be practical and eschew ‘researches into abstract and speculative truths’ were, according to Wollstonecraft, ‘wild chimeras.’ Indeed, ‘the power of generalizing ideas, to any great extent, is not very common amongst men or women.’ She went further and insisted that ‘till women are more rationally educated, the progress of human virtue and improvement in knowledge must receive continual checks.’ix
[Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) early feminist author of Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792). Married William Godwin and mother of Mary Shelley, wife of the poet.]
Wollstonecraft had no sympathy with the type of male bonding of Oxford dons, considering it often made males, separated from wholesome family influences, into sexual predators (282). Writing in 1792, after Gibbon but before Newman and Pattison, Wollstonecraft was scathing about both schoolmasters and Oxbridge dons: ‘there is not, perhaps, in the kingdom, a more dogmatical, or luxurious set of men, than the pedantic tyrants who reside in colleges and preside at public schools.’ (278) Instead she demanded co-educational day schools. Like Plato, Wollstonecraft separated the education of the able and the gifted. With a type of 9+ (not the later British 11+) division, she required a mainly instrumental education for boys and girls destined for domestic and mechanical occupations, allowing them to spend a portion of the day with the intellectually oriented. The able or more affluent children would learn ‘the dead and living languages, the elements of science, and continue the study of history and politics, on a more extensive scale, which would not exclude polite literature.’ Surprisingly, Wollstonecraft justified her argument as likely to lead to earlier marriages, but marriages between the intellectually equal. (287)
The right of spirited girls to study classics like their brothers was not infrequently raised in the 19th century. As Veblen pointed out, women were expected to concentrate on domestic accomplishments and dexterity associated with ‘a performance of vicarious leisure.’ They were debarred from ‘knowledge which expresses the unfolding of the learner’s own life, the acquisition of which proceeds on the learner’s own cognitive interest, without prompting from the canons of propriety, and without reference back to a master’.x Instrumentalism is thus demanded for women, but knowledge for its own sake for men. A 19th century example is Lucy O’Brien, daughter of the Irish political exile, William Smith O’Brien. Lucy insisted on learning Greek and Latin like her clever elder brother. Her father acquiesced, with the rider that a woman’s duties’ were more important than her accomplishments or knowledge ‘usually supposed to belong exclusively to the male sex.’ O’Brien, however, wanted his daughter to gain proficiency in drawing for the instrumental motive of earning her living. Lucy’s enthusiasm for classical languages may have helped in her marriage with Edward Gwynn, ultimately Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Dublin and one of the greatest oriental linguists of his day.xi Wollstonecraft, if not Veblen, would have approved. Lucy might have answered her father by quoting Sydney Smith: ‘A woman’s love for her offspring hardly depends on her ignorance of Greek, nor do we apprehend that she will forsake an infant for a quadratic equation.’ Later in the 19th century, women such as Frances Mary Buss (1827-94), principal of North London Collegiate School, Dorothea Beale (1831-1906) headmistress of Cheltenham Ladies’ College and social workers like Frances Power Cobbe (1822-1905) and Josephine Butler (1828-1906) insisted that women had both the capacity and right to the highest education. On the opening of London University degrees to women in 1878, a colleague of Buss determined to matriculate in classics and proceed to a doctorate in philosophy.xii
Demonised as a wicked woman for flouting the sexual conventions of her day, Wollstonecraft’s views did not appeal to her contemporaries. While university reform was mooted by mid-19th century, women’s opportunity had not yet come. In the so-called Great Reform Bill of 1832 women had, on the contrary, been explicitly refused the franchise for the first time. Though differing in some respects from the male educationalists of the day, Wollstonecraft was basically at one with Gibbon, Newman and Pattison in seeing higher education as the pursuit of self-understanding and the ability ‘to think for themselves’ rather than regurgitate facts. (pp. 273 and 280) From a feminine angle, she presented good instrumental reasons, such as social cohesion and the emancipation of both sexes, for apparently disinterested learning. She also raised obliquely the issue of sexual harassment which so concerns higher education in the 21st century, pointing out that while women depend for support on men, rather than their own earning power, the latter should be compelled to maintain the children resulting from ‘seduction’. (164) But Wollstonecraft appears in line with some modern post-feminists who assert that strong women now have the capacity to look after themselves.
Mark Pattison, whose memoirs mention few women but his sisters, had no thought of feminine education when, in 1851, he narrowly failed in the election of Rector, or Head, of Lincoln College. Although reform was in the air and he was a noted liberal, the position was won by a conservative. Turning inward to his own research, Pattison, played less part in the College life until 1861 when another opportunity came to win the prized Rectorship and the consequent right to marry a lady 27 years his junior.
High noon appeared to have arrived in the 1850s for Oxbridge. There were attacks on the universities for poor teaching, lack of real research, staff laziness, misuse of endowments, Church of England exclusiveness, and inadequate curricula. The need for administrative cohesion, when Colleges dominated and the University had little significance, was also at issue. Could the government act? Prime Minister Lord Melbourne was certain that universities would not reform themselves, but there was considerable heart-burning at the thought of heavy-handed government intervention against independent scholarship. William Gladstone, then an MP for Oxford University, believed that no reform was required. The misgivings paralleled those in Australia at the time of the Dawkins White Paper of 1987.
Reformist pressure was, however, sufficient for the Whig Prime Minister, Lord John Russell, one of the few non-Oxbridge Prime Ministers, a promoter of the new non-sectarian London University and grandfather of the philosopher, Bertrand Russell. The Prime Minister established commissions of enquiry into both Oxford and Cambridge.™ A number of resentful academics refused to co-operate, but Pattison submitted a defence of the tutorial system against the professorial practice so notable in Scotland. The commissions duly reported. Reforming acts of parliament, for Oxford in 1854, and Cambridge in 1856, passed. According to Russell, they ‘required only amendments and reforms in conformity with the spirit of their institutions, and with a view to those more liberal studies which must from time to time be made suitable to the spirit of the age.’xiii
As a result the reforms were not too exacting. Gladstone, originally opposed to the royal commission, drafted the Oxford act, which ‘effected a quiet revolution’. The Oxford Hebdomadal Board, consisting of the heads of the different colleges, was opened up to election by the resident masters and doctors, thus introducing more ‘collegiality’ as it was later termed. The heads of colleges, however, had been elected in their own institutions. Improved examinations and syllabuses were demanded and more university-wide professors were appointed, without ending the college tutorials. Elections to college fellowships now depended on merit, and ordination for fellows in some Colleges was no longer compulsory. Religious tests were dropped for Bachelor’s degrees.xiv Another royal commission twenty years later focussed on the Oxbridge finances and led to the endowment of more chairs and readerships by the richer colleges. Teaching grew more efficient.
The German Example
Mark Pattison was still not satisfied. Earlier in his career he had flourished as an ultra-conscientious teacher, now he emphasised research. This was partly the result of visits to Germany where a professorial system, not unlike that of Scotland, predominated. There were no tutors or colleges. Students lived in the town, attended professorial lectures and followed up with their own reading. Sometimes professors organised tutorial meetings with select students, but generally the latter were responsible for themselves. Without the constant interposition of petty exercises, the German student appeared more enthusiastic about learning. The exalted notions of Lehrfreiheit and Lernfreiheit, freedom of teaching and learning, backed by Wissenschaft, the pursuit of science and knowledge for its own sakexv arose there as the basis of the ‘academic freedom’ which is so significant in the defence of academia today. Such privileges had not come without a fight. The German Confederation, dominated by Prince Metternich, the reactionary Austrian Chancellor, had imposed the Carlsbad Decrees of 1819, which censored universities and subjected both students and staff to strict government control. The protests of the Grand Duke of Weimar against this supervision, which denied free thought and discussion, leading to truth, went unheeded.xvi The ‘morals and ideas Austrian professors’ were constantly checked’. Nevertheless with their students they strove vigorously for Liberalism in the Revolution of 1848.xvii Continental students in the 19th century were more active in politics than their counterparts in England. The Oxford-educated Gladstone considered the purpose of universities to be ‘authoritative inculcation of religious truth, and something like a domestic superintendence of the pupils.’xviii
[William Smith O’Brien (1803-1864) descendent of King Brian Boru. and brother of Lord Inchiquin. Educated at Trinity College, Cambridge. After seventeen years in British parliament, led 1848 Young Ireland Rising. Transported to Van Diemen’s Land. Returned to Ireland 1856.]
The PhD, as a stimulus to research, originally developed in Germany. There were well-publicised drawbacks such as the duelling cult, ritualised drinking and the emergence of the arrogant ‘God professor’ surrounded by obsequious satellites. In 1853, William Smith O’Brien, exiled in Van Diemen’s Land, considered a German university education for his sons. Aware of the duelling and drinking, he nevertheless approved ‘because even in its very dissipations there prevails that intellectuality – that imagination – perhaps visionary – intellectuality [sic] which characterises the German Nation and because the wildest excesses are refined if not subdued by appreciation of the teaching of the muses.’xix Twenty years later, the future British War Minister, Richard Haldane, found at the University of Gottingen that ‘despite the exuberances of German student life, many of my fellow-students worked hard and systematically. Some of them were good company, companions who were trying to seek after truth.’xx
Universities in the United States tended to follow the German, rather than the Oxbridge pattern. The American Veblen maintained that the athletics and fraternities of the leisure-class American universities replaced Germany’s ‘skilled and graded inebriety and a perfunctory duelling.’xxi Sadly, Nazi regime in the 1930s and ’40s brought such exalted ideas of academic freedom to a temporary end. It did, however, produce academics willing to pay the ultimate price for their beliefs. Professor Karl Huber, of the Munich Faculty of Philosophy and Psychology, with two of his students, was beheaded in 1943 for asserting that the indoctrination of the SA (Sturmabteilung – Storm Troops) and SS (Schutzstaffel – security echelon) was ‘the despicable method by which all independent thinking and values have been choked with platitudes. . . . We are concerned for true knowledge and for genuine freedom of the spirit. No threat can intimidate us, not even the closing of our universities.’xxii
Pattison seeks balance in Victorian England
Back in Victorian England, Pattison welcomed of some of the recent reforms like the abolition of ‘closed fellowships’ which ‘opened the colleges to an amount of talent and energy hitherto unknown in them’ and removed the ‘inferior men’. But he discovered that the introduction of a ‘moderations’ examination in second year, taking pressure off the finals, proved a mixed blessing. ‘Little did we foresee that we were only giving another turn to the examination screw, which has been turned several times since, till it has become an instrument of mere torture which has made education impossible and crushed the very desire for learning.’xxiii Pattison complained that ‘our young men are not trained; they are only filled with propositions, of which they have never learned the inductive basis. From showy lectures, from manuals, from attractive periodicals, the youth is put in possession of ready-made opinions on every conceivable subject; a crude mass of matter, which he is taught to regard as real knowledge.´xxiv Something similar has occurred in Australian universities since the 1960s with the development of ‘continuous assessment’ and semester examinations which vastly increased the amount of graded work, deadening the enthusiasm of teacher and student alike. Here again there is need for balance between corrupt or perfunctory testing and a relentless regime of petty exercises.
Pattison, like Newman, was alive to the time-wasting committee work which accompanied the greater academic self-government after 1854. Twice he stood unsuccessfully for the new Hebdomadal Board, remarking, ‘fortunately for me I was left in a minority each time, or I might have wasted years in the idle and thankless pursuit which they call university business.’ In the 1850s he only attended college meetings when asked to make up a quorum. Living solely for study at this time he was aware that ‘in a university ostensibly endowed for the cultivation of science and letters, such a life is hardly regarded as a creditable one.’xxv He had the ‘moral courage’ to refuse the university vice-chancellorship in 1878. In the 21st century Australian universities there is also a noticeable tendency for administrative or financial authority, rather than originality of scholarship, to gain the highest recognition.xxvi
The career of Mark Pattison is an object lesson in the difficulties of maintaining a balance in academic life. Disillusionment with teaching led to an emphasis on solitary research as the main function of a university. This accompanied a movement from belief in the collegiate tutorial system to a professorial organisation based on lectures. He saw the lecture not as instruction per se but as an encouragement to self-development. Ultimately, Pattison found, in John Sparrow’s words, ‘the only stimulus it [learning] needs is the pleasure that a man feels in the consciousness of the development of his mind.’ This enabled man at last ‘to live with a life which is above nature.’xxvii Like Newman, Pattison had moved far away from any instrumentalist view of education.
Utilitarian Criticism: Jeremy Bentham’s ambiguity
In their own day, Pattison, Newman and advocates of personal development and the disinterested pursuit of truth faced the dominant philosophy of Utilitarianism, the greatest happiness of the greatest number, often associated with political economy, or economic rationalism as it is called in the 21st century. One of the philosophy’s leading progenitors was Jeremy Bentham. Like Gibbon and Adam Smith, his hero, Bentham had a bad experience at Oxford from which he graduated at a ridiculously early age. To him the tutors at Queen’s College were morose, profligate and insipid.xxviii The obvious weaknesses of Oxford and Cambridge in the early 19th century encouraged Bentham and his friends to work towards a different ideal, embodied in University College, Gower Street. In 1836 the latter became a constituent part of the new University of London, then little more than an examining body. Appropriately, Bentham’s clothed skeleton is still paraded on special occasions at University College.
[Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) writer on jurisprudence and leading advocate of philosophy of Utilitarianism, the greatest happiness of the greatest number. Legal reformer. Published Principles of Morals and Legislation (1889).]
As Utilitarianism by definition emphasises the instrumental aspects of life, education in particular, Bentham appears on first reading the philosopher par excellence for the 21st century. Dividing studies into those for ‘amusement and curiosity’ from those of utility, he placed the fine arts, music, poetry, painting, sculpture, architecture, and ornamental gardening in the former category. Like some current postmodernists, he rejected any hierarchy of pursuit. ‘Prejudice apart, the game of push-pin is of equal value with the arts and sciences of music and poetry.’ Indeed, as push-pin is played by more people than relish poetry, it gives more pleasure and is therefore more valuable. Poetry, moreover, has mischievous tendencies, in that it encourages false morals by its lack of true exactitude. Bentham ridiculed writers who set up ‘the fantastic idea of bad taste.’ Those moderns, like Harold Bloom,xxix who still cling to a literary canon, are retrospectively repudiated. A modern Mills and Boon novel, appealing to more people than a Shakespeare play, may be deemed superior, according to this philosophy. As for the 19th century veneration for Greek and Latin, Bentham was scathing. The study of dead languages should be replaced with science. They had no conversational value and their literature was available in translation. To provide ‘a fund of allusion’ to ornament the speeches of a minority was no compensation for the time and money spent on such pursuits. All arts and sciences, learnt from books, such as jurisprudence, history, moral philosophy, logic, metaphysics, grammar and rhetoric, could be left to interested individuals, ‘permitted to pay for their amusements.’ The chief advantage of these relatively harmless occupations was activity for ‘an army of idlers’ who might otherwise have ‘possessed no amusement but in the hazardous and bloody game of war.’xxx
A Daniel is come to judgment! A modern Minister of Education, saving money by encouraging tertiary study in areas for which private enterprise is willing to pay, and phasing out the humanities and social sciences which have little appeal to major corporations, might regard Bentham as a model philosopher. But even Bentham presented difficulties. His idea of utility was broad and he refused to draw a hard and fast line between the arts and sciences. Nor would he make an absolute distinction between studies for personal pleasure and those for general utility; he demonstrated that the same undertaking might start as private amusement and end as socially valuable. A remarkable example, he cited, was electricity, not very far advanced when Bentham wrote in 1827. Initially, it ‘seemed destined only to amuse certain philosophers by the singularity of its phenomena’. Accordingly, Bentham maintained that the government should reward researchers who investigated ‘pure theory’. ‘There are many discoveries which, though at first they might seem useless in themselves, have given birth to thousands of others of the greatest utility.’ Often the motive force has been ‘the pleasure experienced by those interested in such researches.’ This powerful assertion of support for fundamental curiosity-based research relates to many issues of the 21st century. Those currently wishing to restrict funding to applied research of immediate interest to particular industries would find no favour with Bentham, the founder of Utilitarianism. Bentham, moreover, believed that the state should establish in each area equivalent to an English county professors of medicine, veterinary art, chemistry, natural history, botany and mechanical and experimental philosophy. While the social scientists and humanities’ scholars could pay for themselves, Bentham believed that the state should provide them with libraries.
Even Utilitarian education manifest in the ‘fearful experience’xxxi young John Stuart Mill, was not totally instrumental. Compelled by his father James, a Bentham devotee, to undertake a mind-numbing course of study, including classical Greek, from the age of three John Stuart Mill was not dismissive of the pedagogy. In his Autobiography, the younger Mill acknowledged his father’s constant encouragement; Mill senior allowed persistent questioning while he wrote his celebrated History of India. Like all good teachers, James Mill rejected rote learning and ‘strove to make understanding not only go along with every step of the teaching, but, if possible, precede it.’xxxii As rector of St. Andrew’s University, an older John Stuart Mill insisted that the aim of university study was to produce ‘more effective fighters in the battle between good and evil’,xxxiii a far cry from the simple training of future professionals.
Matthew Arnold and ‘sweetness and light’ in Cornell’s America
While modern governments can derive cold comfort from Bentham the writings of Matthew Arnold if anything appear to overplay education as an end in itself. Son of the renowned Dr Arnold of Rugby, Matthew was elected to a fellowship at Oriel College, Oxford, in 1845, the year that Newman quit his. Like the other Oxonians mentioned, Arnold was very much aware of the limitations of his institution’s education. He insisted that neither Oxford nor Cambridge were real universities, but rather glorified high schools. The best critics considered universities the weak point of the British educational system.xxxiv Nevertheless, though Oxford ‘has many faults’ and ‘heavily paid for them in defeat, in isolation, in want of hold upon the modern world’, she brought her students and staff to perceive that ‘beauty and sweetness are essential characters of a complete human perfection.’xxxv
[Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) son of Dr Thomas Arnold of Rugby. Poet and critic. Fellow of Oriel. Inspector of Schools, 1851-86. Author of ‘The Scholar Gipsy’, ‘Sorab and Rustum’, Culture and Anarchy (1869).]
Such was the essence of Arnold’s celebrated Culture and Anarchy of 1869. He set out to convert the materialistic Victorian middle classes to ‘sweetness and light’, or beauty activated by a critical intelligence. The phrase, also used by Newman, was borrowed from Jonathan Swift.xxxvi In Swift’s The Battle of the Books ‘sweetness and light’ represented the ancient bee production of honey from ‘infinite labour and search’, while the modern spider spun ‘dirt and poison’ from inside itself.xxxvii Arnold’s high ‘culture’ was a direct riposte to Bentham. A poet himself, Arnold denied Bentham’s contention that poetry encouraged falsehood; rather it represented the essence of truth. ‘Science I say will appear incomplete without it.’xxxviii Arnold was particularly concerned to educate the English middle classes whom he dubbed ‘Philistines’, a term used by Milton to denounce censors.xxxix Bentham’s views made him a typical Philistine (pp. 118-19). Such people, Arnold maintained, worshipped the cash-nexus in a civilisation which had become far more ‘mechanical and external’ than those of ancient Greece and Rome. Technology appeared all important; machinery, no longer a useful tool, was accorded a value ‘in and for itself.’xl This encouraged a popular culture where ‘a common sort of readers’ demanded ‘a common sort of literature’.xli ‘A violent indignation with the past’ resulted.xlii The upper classes employed debased literature to indoctrinate the masses ‘with a set of ideas and judgments constituting the creed of their own profession or party.’xliii
These arguments not only challenged Bentham’s 19th century instrumentalism, but remain germane to the 21st century debate. Though the pace of change has accelerated, the Industrial Revolution of Arnold's day ‘is still going on’ according to historian Eric Hobsbawm.xliv Computer technology and the internet often appear ends rather than means; current electronic TV culture, developed from Bentham’s pure amusement, is criticised in much the same terms as cheap books for the newly literate classes in the 19th century. In opposition to Bentham and some postmodernists, Arnold insisted on a hierarchy of values. Ten-pin bowling was not, to him, as significant as the products of a cultivated mind. It was essential to distinguish between good and better poetry, the best incorporating a ‘high seriousness’. In ‘The Study of Poetry’ Arnold attempted such a task. While Bentham ‘failed in deriving light from other minds’ and exhibited contempt for ‘some of the most illustrious of previous thinkers’,xlv Arnold revered the past. By seeking ‘the best which has been thought and said in the world’ it was possible to pursue perfection. ‘A stream of fresh and free thought’ could dissolve our ‘stock notions and habits’.xlvi In other words, Arnold sought an intellectual ‘best practice’ as opposed to the dominant administrative ‘best practice’ of the 21st century. His acceptance of classical learning and Bentham’s rejection of it are logical given their respective veneration and contempt for classical thinkers. Bentham had no hesitation in pronouncing Plato and Aristotle fools, while Arnold appreciated the study of dead languages in probing the depths of great masters.
Sometimes, however, Bentham and Arnold converged on a similar objective. Arnold admitted to ‘having been brought up at Oxford in the bad old days, when we were stuffed with Greek and Aristotle, and thought nothing of preparing ourselves by the study of modern languages’.xlvii Even Arnold’s insistence on unmercenary effort towards self-understanding as a path to perfection — he defined criticism as ‘a disinterested endeavour to learn and propagate the best that is known and thought in the world’xlviii — is not so far from Bentham’s belief in scientific curiosity leading to practical results. Arnold believed that his enlightened individual, who tried to understand things as they really are, would produce good social consequences such as neighbourliness, beneficence and a desire to eliminate human misery. Bentham feared that humanistic studies would only amuse the coterie who enjoyed them, but Arnold endowed them with an instrumental role approximating Utilitarianism. Current postmodernists would, however, smile at Arnold’s desire to discover an unattainable ultimate truth.
The United States seemed to Arnold a vigorous developing country saturated in Philistine attitudes. One influence was de Tocqueville’s magisterial survey of 1835 and 1840, Democracy in America,xlix which complained that ‘in few of the civilized nations of our time have the higher sciences made less progress than in the United States; and in few have great artists, distinguished poets, or celebrated writers, been more rare.’ Tocqueville rejected a direct link between democracy and anti-intellectualism, accepting American preliminary concentration on the useful comfortable arts when ‘learned and literary Europe’ had moved on to ‘exploring the common sources of truth’.l
Arnold cited Tocqueville’s later French compatriot, Ernest Renan, who was more forthright in complaining that, despite the United States’ emphasis on popular instruction, its failure to provide for higher learning resulted in intellectual mediocrity, vulgarity of manners, superficial spirit and a limited general intelligence. To Arnold, American education lacked ‘the harmonious perfection of our whole being, and what we call totality.’ Mr. Ezra Cornell’s generous endowment of a ‘noble monument’ in his university was ‘calculated to produce miners, or engineers, or architects, not sweetness and light.’li The stereotype of Americans, and by extension all colonials, as brash instrumentalists, clever at money-making but pathetically lacking in the higher virtues, was long-lasting. The obverse ‘cultural cringe’ believed true values unobtainable outside the 19th century ivied walls of Oxbridge.
But is the picture of colonials as inevitable instrumentalists true? In the mid-20th century the educationalist John Dewey, born in 1859, was regarded by many as America’s leading philosopher. His philosophy of ‘Pragmatism’ or ‘Instrumentalism’ appeared to epitomise the dynamic materialistic culture, a word which now denotes the ‘low culture of the masses’, not Matthew Arnold’s élitist ‘high culture’. Bertrand Russell irritated Dewey by apparently ‘connecting the pragmatic theory of knowing with obnoxious aspects of American industrialism.’lii A closer reading of Dewey absolves him of being an apologist for laissez-faire capitalism, or economic rationalism: ‘The idea of a pre-established harmony between the existing so-called capitalistic regime and democracy is as absurd a piece of metaphysical speculation as human history has ever evolved.’liii Though Dewey saw higher education increasingly as science, his belief in the value of disinterested study took the argument well beyond its 19th century exponents. Love of truth, not ‘material serviceability’, he considered the motive force behind most scientific innovators. Only a select minority are able to ‘hold belief in suspense’, ‘doubt until evidence is obtained’, follow evidence rather than a preferred solution, use ideas as hypotheses to be tested not dogmas to be asserted, and enjoy the pursuit of new problems. As Dewey pointed out, all of these characteristics went ‘contrary to some human impulse that is naturally strong.’liv
[John Dewey (1859-1952) scholar, educator and philosopher of pragmatism or instrumentalism. Author of The School and Society (1899). Taught at Columbia University, New York.]
Even the maligned Mr. Ezra Cornell on scrutiny appears somewhat different from Arnold’s stereotype. Andrew D. White, a well-to-do New Englander, after attending an inefficient college in west New York, went on to Yale. Neither satisfied him. The western college, like 18th century Oxbridge, made little attempt to teach anything, while Yale in 1859, with its ‘substitution of gerund-grinding for ancient literature’, all but killed an enthusiasm for Cicero's De Senectute, ‘a beautiful book’.lv Far from being crude instrumentalist versions of English originals, American universities were currently suffering the same problems, over similar curricula, as Oxford and Cambridge. Nevertheless, White read of Oxbridge’s ‘quadrangles, halls, libraries, chapels’ and found his western college, ‘sordid’, and Yale remote from the dream. He built ‘air-castles’ of inspiring buildings and libraries like the Bodleian. ‘The dream became a sort of obsession.’
However, in his ideal university, the narrow curriculum of classics and mathematics was broadened to include modern literature, modern history and architecture. Even more important, ‘it should be free from all sectarian and party trammels.’lvi As Oxford and Cambridge imposed religious tests till 1871, this was an immense improvement on the original, and on Matthew Arnold’s discourse, which still hankered after religious establishment. It was also a step towards the foundation of Cornell University, ridiculed in Culture and Anarchy.
[Andrew Dickson White (1832-1918) educated in America and Europe, taught history in University of Michigan. New York State Senate (1864-67). Founding President of Cornell (1867-85). US diplomat.
When he eventually reached Europe, White was duly impressed by the Oxbridge buildings and somewhat uncritical of the combination room and quadrangles, ‘which give a sense of scholarly seclusion’. He was perhaps more pleased with the ‘French university-lecture system, with its clearness, breadth, wealth of illustration, and its hold upon large audiences of students’. Student life at Berlin reinforced White’s determination ‘to do something for university education in the United States.’lvii Though White does not explicitly state it, this was a very different conception to the collegiate system of Oxbridge, and one that Mark Pattison himself ultimately preferred.
White’s opportunity came when he met Cornell as a fellow member of the New York legislature. With his considerable experience as a professor of history, White agreed to become President of Cornell’s new university. Far from being the uncultured Philistine of Arnold's Culture and Anarchy, Cornell, altruistic and benevolent, had, according to White, the highest ideals of university purpose. Although his specialities were agriculture and science, Cornell insisted that students could study anything that interested them. He sent White to obtain the services of Goldwin Smith, Regius Professor of History at Oxford, one of the most inspiring scholars of his day. Ezra himself ‘enjoyed greatly’ Goldwin Smith’s lectures on history and those on literature from the eminent poet and essayist, James Russell Lowell, also won for his new university.lviii Of even greater importance, Cornell insisted on non-sectarianism and academic equality for women when his university opened in 1868, thus anticipating Oxford and Cambridge which did not accord full rights to women until the First World War. For a man apparently incapable of perceiving ‘sweetness and light’, Ezra Cornell's record was impressive, as were those of eminent scholars in the humanities and social sciences produced by his university.
[Ezra Cornell (1807-1874) a labourer with mechanical ability who assisted Samuel Morse to establish telegraph.. Founder of Western Union Telegraph Company and Cornell University 1865.]
Thorstein Veblen anticipates Australia in the 21st century
By the 20th century American universities were outstripping their English counterparts, not only in practical achievement, but sometimes in the disinterested pursuit of truth. Thorstein Veblen, another Yale graduate, who served for a time as a Cornell instructor, lampooned both American capitalism and the university system it engendered. In his first book, The Theory of the Leisure Class, Veblen distinguished between ‘esoteric knowledge’, which enjoyed the greatest American prestige, but had no influence on the economy, and ‘exoteric learning’lix which was useful in practice, but without academic standing. At this time, Veblen seemed to favour the latter, in what appeared undiluted instrumentalism. He argued like Bentham, against the dead hand of the classics, and indeed humanities in general, in favour of ‘those more matter-of-fact branches which make for civic and industrial efficiency.’ He rejected canons of taste as nothing more than the ideas of ‘a predatory, leisure class scheme of life’. If classics were mere ‘conspicuous consumption’, Veblen, rather uneasily, admitted the importance of ‘knowledge for its own sake, the exercise of the faculty of comprehension without ulterior purpose’, simply for ‘the intellectual or cognitive interest’. He papered over the discrepancy by insisting that the ‘leisure class’ could not be trusted to engage in curiosity-based studies.lx
[Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929) economist and social critic. Educated at Johns Hopkins, Yale and Cornell and teacher at Chicago, Stanford and Missouri Universities. Coined the phrase ‘conspicuous consumption’.]
By 1904, when he published The Theory of Business Enterprise Veblen’s emphasis had turned to a defence of altruistic study against instrumental pressure. He complained that so-called business principles were permeating the learning process with ‘mechanical routine, with mechanical tests of competency in all directions. This lowered the value of the instruction for purposes of intellectual initiative and a reasoned grasp of subject matter.’ Institutions ‘took on the complexion of competitive business; which throws the emphasis on those features of school life that will best attract students and donors.’ The ‘avowed ends’ of the institutions were obscured and ‘the standards which it is found imperative to live up to are not the highest standards of scholarly work.’lxi
Fourteen years later he expanded these arguments in The Higher Learning in America. Veblen repeated the main argument in The Theory of Business Enterprise that ‘the intrusion of business principles in the universities goes to weaken and retard the pursuit of learning, and therefore to defeat the ends for which a university is maintained.’lxii Now he demonstrated those ends without equivocation. ‘This esoteric knowledge of matter-of-fact has come to be acknowledged as something worth while in its own right, a self-legitimating end of endeavour in itself, apart from any bearing it may have on the glory of God or the good of man.’ It was based on ‘the idle curiosity’ which is ‘a native trait of the race.’ Veblen quoted Adam Smith’s view that ‘love of system’, ‘the beauty of order, of art and contrivance’, leads to institutions promoting public welfare. To Veblen this was the equivalent of the ‘idle curiosity’ so emphasised by others.lxiii It may explain his movement from the practicality of The Theory of the Leisure Class to the altruistic pursuit of truth in The Higher Learning in America. Although Veblen was aware that such ideas had not prevailed in the past, he was confident that recent generations had accepted higher education as an ‘end in itself’ and it was ‘now freely rated as the most humane and meritorious work to be taken care of by any enlightened community or any public-spirited friend of civilization.’lxiv
Veblen knew his Arnold and set out to denounce the ‘Philistine’lxv businessmen who, through their domination in the early 1900s of many of the American universities, were trying to force higher education back to the practical or vocational emphasis he had appeared to favour in his first book. Veblen rebuked the pusillanimity and authoritarianism of the university presidents, or ‘captains of erudition’, who acted as agents for corporate interests, and tried to run their institutions like departmental stores.lxvi Also denounced by Veblen were the blacklisting of critics of such policies (p. 185), learning presented as a ‘merchantable commodity’ (163), ‘committees-for-the-sifting-of-sawdust’ distracting attention from bureaucratic control (186), universities competing and advertising for student ‘customers’ (77), staff regarded as ‘a body of employés, hired to render certain services and turn out certain scheduled vendible events’ (67), and ‘mechanical standardization and accountancy that accounts for nothing but its superimposition’. (208) Much of the book reads like an analysis of the corporatisation of Australian universities at the end of the 20th century.
Veblen’s views were naturally unpopular with American university establishments, which took advantage of his love affairs to terminate appointments. His insistence that he was the pursued, not the pursuer, even before the enunciation of the subsequent feminist doctrine of harassment through power disparity, did not save him. As late as 1940 it was possible to bar Bertrand Russell from the City College of New York on account of the sexual morality argued in his writings.lxvii More importantly, as Veblen’s admirer, J.K. Galbraith, points out, ‘American university presidents are a nervous breed; I have never thought well of them as a class. They praise independence of thought on all occasions of public ceremony, but worry deeply about its consequences in private.’lxviii
J.K. Galbraith, a leading critic of economic rationalism, and a sworn opponent of Milton Friedman, the apostle of the market, sometimes appeared to lean towards the ‘exoteric’ believing that the social sciences should be useful. But his usefulness was not of the kind that would appeal to corporate CEOs or modern governments. With a wide-ranging experience of American and British universities – Princeton, Berkeley, Harvard, Cambridge and the London School of Economics – Galbraith was concerned at the student anti-intellectualism of Princeton and to a lesser extent Harvard. He was horrified at the structural class discrimination at Princeton, a quasi reversion to the Oxford fellow commoners of Gibbon’s day. The charm of Cambridge in the 1930s, architectural and intellectual, still attracted; the common-room discourse he experienced appears to have born no resemblance to that of Gibbon’s Magdalen, Oxford.
[John Kenneth. Galbraith (1908-2006) Canadian-born, and educated at Toronto and California Universities.Taught economics at Princeton and Harvard. Adviser to President Kennedy and US Ambassador to India. Defended Keynesian economics against members of the Chicago School represented by Milton Friedman.]
The gad-fly influence of Veblen made writing for Galbraith most pleasurable when he thought his work ‘might annoy someone of comfortably pretentious position. Then comes the saddening realization that such people rarely read.’lxix Galbraith endorsed the policy of a senior academic who never gave tenure to economists who had testified ‘on behalf of a corporation in an antitrust case, for such behavior meant that the man’s views could be had for money’.lxx In his satirical novel, A Tenured Professor, Galbraith tells the story of Montgomery Marvin, a Harvard economist who wished to change the world, but who, after initial success making money on the stockmarket, was forced to hide behind his tenured academic position.lxxi The ever-increasing dependence of Australian universities of the 21st century on the corporate world renders such discussion A Tenured Professorof particular contemporary importance.
Chapter Three: The Foundation of Australian Universities
Australian Higher Education Established: an Instrumentalist Paradise?
The establishment of the University of Sydney in 1850 was closely followed by that of Melbourne in 1853, with Adelaide (1874) and Tasmania (1890) appearing after longer intervals. As indicated, this was a period of intense debate on English universities, with Oxford and Cambridge facing commissions of enquiry preceding government intervention. The rival collegiate and professorial systems caused much contention. De Tocqueville’s analysis of American higher education weakness had Australian counterparts. William Smith O’Brien, the widely read Cambridge graduate, now expiating his revolutionary flutter in Van Diemen’s Land, spoke for many in 1853 when he declared in a newspaper review that despite the palpable advance in general wealth ‘we are obliged to confess that no corresponding activity is to be discerned in the cultivation of Tasmanian intellect, or in the accumulation of literary treasure. In fact, intellectual gifts and accomplishments are despised.’i To many colonists, universities were expensive luxuries, subsidising the affluent who could afford to send their children overseas. Public finance was required more urgently for primary schools. Some colonists, however, especially in former penal colonies, wished to eradicate ‘the hated’ stain by establishing civilised amenities like those of England itself.
[William Charles Wentworth, founding father of University of Sydney.]
In New South Wales, W.C. Wentworth (1790-1872) led in promoting both primary and university education. His ideal appeared a perfect blend of the cultural and instrumental, esoteric and exoteric, ‘to enlighten the mind, to refine the understanding, to elevate the soul of our fellow men’, while at the same time training those who would administer the state. Wentworth insisted on secularity, leaving religious teaching to affiliated colleges. Like Cornell, Sydney University was to be open to all.ii W.J. Gardner argued that Wentworth’s real objective was an institution for training the upper classes to retain their dominance under self-government.iii David Macmillan, however, acquits Wentworth of such crude instrumentalism, emphasising Wentworth’s desire to provide a liberal education to all members classes, breaking down ‘the arbitrary and conventional distinctions of society’ to restore ‘the primitive and natural equality of man.’ Professor John Woolley, first Principal of Sydney University in his inaugural address gave a classic depiction of the dual university ideal. The first, ‘a school of liberal and general knowledge’ comprised the University proper. It treated the learner as ‘an end in and for himself, his perfection as a man simply being the object of his education.’ Secondly, there existed a ‘complementary and ministerial’ collection of special schools which aimed at ‘an end out and beyond the learner, his dexterity, namely, as a professional man.’iv
Such ideals were then difficult to promote. There was little popular demand for a university, apart from an apparently élitist group. Wentworth, who had won a poetry prize at Cambridge, tried to defuse criticism of the new institution with its initial handful of students. He cited the modest pretensions of London University, not the overblown glories of Oxbridge. Despite the strictures against colonial Philistines by William Smith O’Brien, published in the same paper a few days earlier, the Hobart Town Courier insisted that Sydney was ‘neglecting a more arduous and pressing educational task’ by establishing ‘a school of high and abstract learning.’v The Sydney People’s Advocate agreed: ‘Preserve your gravity unmoved, if you can, gentle reader. In this land of beef and mutton, of wool and tallow, great and special care has been taken to initiate the student, and to stimulate his progress in the construction of Greek Iambics and Latin Hexameters!’vi The Sydney Morning Herald, under the editorship of the eminent historian, the Rev. John West, was more sympathetic to the academics. When professors were criticised for examing their own students, it reported: ‘Its educational function is to erect an independent standard, and furnish an impartial and dispassionate test of literary merit. Academic honours are the stimulus and proof of scholastic efficiency. The Professors are necessarily assumed to be the most competent men in their several departments; and wherever their function is a reality, are always the principal, often the sole examiners.’ It quoted Gladstone’s denial that ‘the high cultivation of the mind is incompatible with bodily vigour or with the energy of the practical character.’ Moreover, the Saturday Review demonstrated that ‘such an education will not directly enable a man to turn a sixpence into a shilling, and it will directly incapacitate him from swearing that stale fish is fresh, or that a bubble railway is a sound investment. Therefore we have always felt that the existence of liberal education rather hangs by a thread.’vii Such arguments are still relevant in the 21st century.
Complaints against academia were vigorous when New Zealand set up its higher education system in 1877. Newspapers like the Otago Daily Times and New Zealand Times considered the establishment of universities premature while primary education ‘is in a state of atrophy from want of funds’. Good enough for the time was the low level Associate of Arts qualification of Tasmania.viii
The idea that university study was a bit of sickly icing on the educational cake died hard. However, the West’s more influential Sydney Morning Herald denied that the University was a class institution. On the contrary, a mechanic on good wages could support a son at Sydney University but not at an overseas institution. Some aspirant legislators accepted this line; one pointed out that the son of a plasterer had just won university scholarships and looked forward to taking his degree.ix
'There are collateral benefits which it is impossible to overlook, but which cannot be estimated with precision. The existence of such an institution must raise the standard of general education. It is a stimulus to schools of the highest kind. Many who will never enter its walls will derive benefit from its existence. In civilized life there are innumerable indirect advantages which compensate the public at large for an outlay which seems, at first sight, to have an exclusive or special direction, and the University is one of these.'x
It was a similar story in Melbourne. Three years after the opening of Sydney’s institution came the turn of the southern gold-enhanced metropolis. At the opening ceremony of the new university an interesting clash occurred between instrumental and cultural ideals. Melbourne University’s first Chancellor, Sir Redmond Barry, a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, made a strongly practical speech, rejecting the importation of the faulty European academic model and insisting on a university adapted to colonial requirements, which placed science above the classics. It was left to the Lt. Governor, Sir Charles Hotham, to extol classical learning and love of knowledge for its own sake. Earlier Hotham himself had demanded the German model, emphasising science and modern languages, rather than the English, based on dead languages.xi Gardner sees Barry in the Wentworth mould, ‘as crusted an Anglo-Irish Tory as Ireland ever exported to Australia.’xii Of more importance at the time was Melbourne’s strong insistence on secularity, while Sydney in 1854 subsidised local denominational colleges.
[Sir Redmond Barry (1812-1880) lawyer educated at Trinity College, Dublin. Subsequently Victorian puisne judge, Chancellor of the new University of Melbourne and founder of the Public Library of Victoria. Sentenced Ned Kelly to death.]
Even Van Diemen’s Land, still struggling to become self-governing Tasmania, rather than a penal colony, had university pretensions in the late 1840s. When the Anglicans attempted a proto-university in Christ’s College, with the Rev. H.P. Gell, a student of Dr Thomas Arnold at Rugby, as Warden, the dissenters, not to be outdone initiated the Hobart High School, appointing and then discarding the famous historian J.A. Froude as its head.xiii The Launceston Examiner hoped that these institutions would not become ‘schools of extravagance and perjury’, like Oxford and Cambridge. Instead they should follow the model of Edinburgh University, where the current British Prime Minister, Lord John Russell, had obtained his educationxiv and, no doubt, some of the determination to reform Oxbridge. The High School buildings were designed like an Oxbridge college and, in 1893, became the home of the new University of Tasmania as its original promoters had hoped.
Ornate side entrance of Sydney University. In July 1858 it was estimated that £50,000 had already been spent on the buildings and another £20,000 or £30,000 would still be required. Described by Sydney Morning Herald, 13 July 1859, as a ‘masterly' design in Perpendicular English or Florid Gothic by E.T. Blackett, the former Col Architect. The façade was 'probably not to be equalled - and certainly not to be surpassed - by anything of the kind in any British colony or dependency whatever.'
Sydney University, far from being a pale colonial instrumental cramming shop, acquired magnificent sandstone buildings, complete with quadrangle and cloisters, self-consciously based on Oxford.xv The resultant expenditure was criticised in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly by Deniehy, who argued that the many American Universities were just as effective with humbler premises, and that the money should have been spent on staff.xvi A parliamentary committee also objected to excessive expenditure and the Rev. J.D. Lang argued that some German universities of note managed with virtually no buildings. The professors, he claimed, taught in their own houses.xvii The Colleges of Melbourne University were more richly endowed. Sir Keith Hancock, a student of both institutions, found the gothic architecture of Balliol, Oxford, ‘a horrible descent from the gothic of Trinity College, Melbourne.’xviii The embittered Veblen had complained of the ‘disjointed grotesqueries of an eclectic and modified Gothic’ for new American universities.xix The splendour, if not the ‘Perpendicular English or Florid Gothic’,xx of Sydney and Melbourne’s equally impressive sandstone was followed by a number of other Australian universities.
English opinion was patronising. The Guardian forgave Sydney for copying its error in taste of twenty-five years back when the new Houses of Parliament were built. This was not surprising seeing that the colonies were so far behind the Mother Country in the fine arts. Regardless of the ridiculous colonial comparison of Sydney University’s Hall with Westminster Hall, so much larger, the English paper conceded ‘the whole undertaking reflects the greatest credit upon all concerned in it.’xxi In New South Wales, a parliamentary committee, citing German universities where accommodation was notoriously scanty, concluded that splendid surroundings were irrelevant to good higher education.xxii
Perhaps, as David Macmillan argues, Australian universities offered the glimmerings of colonial nationalism. Men like Wentworth and Redmond Barry were reacting against the exploitive attitude which saw Australia as a mere field for a quick fortune which would be enjoyed back ‘home’.xxiii With universities of her own, Australia could become a nation in her own right with a culture worth cherishing.
Despite such private ideals, rhetorical flourishes and a feeling that some cultural window-dressing was essential to remove the stereotype of intellectual boorishness in the Southern Hemisphere, Sol Encel insists that ‘as far as Australia was concerned, the struggle between these two conceptions of higher education was decided very early in the piece – almost, it seems, by default – in favour of the instrumental view.’ He cited a 20th century Vice-Chancellor of Newcastle University, J.J. Auchmuty, like Redmond Barry a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin. To Auchmuty, Australian opinion still regarded its universities as ‘homes of privilege and teachers of outmoded and useless knowledge.’xxiv This message had been loudly expressed in the 1850s and was repeated in a Tasmanian Labor paper of the 1890s. Repudiating the struggling local university, the Hobart Clipper declared that ‘it would be a pity to shut up the show and sack the beautiful professors who ride bikes so gracefully and give the correct Hinglish haw haw accent to our local society tea-parties.’xxv Similar popular hostility appears quite general towards Australian universities at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.xxvi In his first book, Veblen had seen ‘great purity of speech’ as typical of the leisure class dominance of universities.xxvii
Sydney and Melbourne acquired affiliated colleges, often with impressive architecture of their own, and large endowments from local magnates. These provided the institutions with buffers between themselves and the taxpayers. But Tasmania's University was particularly impoverished and reliant on a miserly grant from its reluctant state government. It early experienced in cameo the difficulties of all Australian universities in the 21st century when the expenses of higher education grew too vast to be relieved by the generosity of wealthy individuals, prepared to give academics a free hand. Finance, once supplied by the states, now depends on a reluctant federal government, large corporations determined to gain the maximum private advantage, or overseas full-fee-paying students.
Tiny Tasmania, the Litmus University, absorbs English ideals
The University of Tasmania’s origin could not have been less prepossessing. Only when enthusiasts demonstrated that a scholarship scheme, sending a trickle of Tasmanians abroad for higher education, could be converted into a local institution with cut-price lecturers was the pre-federation parliament willing to act. The infant was almost snuffed out by politicians with second thoughts when student enrolments were initially scant. Similar complaints had been made during the early days of Sydney University.xxviii The inclusion of women students, not destined for important professions, provided an argument against the practicality the university. Efforts to appease critics by instituting an ultra-instrumental mining school during the copper boom on the west coast made matters even worse when the new school also failed to attract students.xxix On the mainland, universities likewise emphasised chairs in agriculture, industry and other practical studies.xxx
Nevertheless, friends of the University of Tasmania, like the dynamic James Backhouse Walker, a lawyer and one of its first Vice-Chancellors, still hankered after an Oxbridge model and saturated themselves in Newman’s Idea of a University. In his public defence of the University, however, Walker was constrained to use instrumental arguments: the expense was minimal; it was not a perk for the rich but a ‘leveller of classes’; the curriculum was modern and Latin and Greek only optional subjects; the institution responded to local needs rather than promoting British cultural imperialism; a local university kept other forms of education up to the mark. When the state government was in cost-cutting mode, Walker saw it behaving ‘like a little boy with a new hatchet. The more valuable the tree, the more it tempts the destructive axe.’ These words anticipated the experience of many Australian universities in the years after 1988.
By 1914 the University of Tasmania had survived, but without any fat. During the World War I, academics, still outnumbered by laymen on most boards and councils, were gradually generating some esprit de corps. Several threw themselves into council elections to give staff a voice on higher management. The university council rebuked an eccentric lecturer for criticism of the establishment, arguing that as a ‘servant’ he had no rights against his employers; the lecturer's colleagues, who included the future Sir Douglas Copland, diplomat and Chancellor of the ANU, protested against an ‘infringement of this recognised right’. Political dissent also brought trouble for the historian Professor Arnold Wood of Sydney, the archeologist V. Gordon Childe at the same university, Herbert Heaton in Tasmania, and several others.xxxi A doctrine of academic freedom emerged painfully. In America, Veblen emphasised the employee issue in 1918.xxxii The Tasmanian protest was relatively successful and Council, with some provisos, conceded the right of staff to discuss university affairs, a concession sometimes denied today.
Staff at Tasmania then developed a stronger image of independence. When salaries were cut during the depression of the 1930s they insisted, rather pathetically, that they should reduce their own pay instead of bowing to government demands. The establishment, by the first effective academic vice-chancellor in 1935, of a more powerful professorial board provided senior staff with a stronger voice in the management of the university. Sydney had appointed its first full-time academic vice-chancellor as early as 1924. Collegial power in Tasmania was not lightly conceded by Council or the new and dynamic, but extremely authoritarian Chancellor, Chief Justice Sir John Morris.
In 1950, in the aftermath of the Second World War, UNESCO laid down three defining principles for universities: (i) the right to pursue knowledge for its own sake and to follow truth wherever it led, (ii) tolerance of divergent principles and freedom from political interference, and (iii) promotion through teaching and research of ‘the principles of freedom and justice and of human dignity and solidarity.’xxxiii A rapid expansion of British and Commonwealth universities followed, with public money available for new institutions and additional places in the old. Australian universities were assisted by the 1943 Commonwealth Universities Commission and an influx of students on returned servicemen’s grants.xxxiv In 1939 there had been six Australian universities, with 14,000 students. After the War, in the late 1940s, student numbers rose to 40,000. By 1971 fifteen universities educated 123,000 students.xxxv At the end of that decade the latter number had reached 200,000.
In 1943, a British academic writing under the name ‘Bruce Truscott’ coined the term ‘Redbrick’ for the universities which had developed from regional colleges to compete, in the second half of the 19th century, with London University and Oxbridge.xxxvi In 1968, Michael Beloff, an Oxford don, christened the wave of new institutions which had developed in that decade ‘the Plateglass Universities.’xxxvii While emphasising the distinctiveness of new universities, especially in funding, closer dependence on the government, and greater responsiveness to public demand, most commentators still insisted on a balance between the instrumental and the cultural. Research was particularly emphasised by Truscott who placed it above teaching as one of the two aims of a university. It must be ‘patient and unremitting – including the cultivation of the spirit of research in even the youngest.’ He claimed to differ fundamentally from Newman’s diffusion of scholarship, when emphasising original discovery, but the cardinal’s ideal was not fundamentally opposed.
Imagine a group of men, in any age, retiring from the life of the world, forming a society for the pursuit of truth, laying down and voluntarily embracing such discipline as is necessary to that purpose and making provision that whatever they find shall be handed on to others after their deaths. They pool their material resources; build a house; collect books; and plan their corporate studies. This, in its simplest form, is the true idea of a university.’xxxviii
Such idealism was heady stuff for new overseas post-war lecturers at Australian universities, especially the University of Tasmania. Roy Chappell, late of the RAF, now teaching in the Tasmanian Education Faculty, heavily underlined the above passage in his copy of Truscott. These high notions were difficult to reconcile with the reality of the University of Tasmania in the 1950s, when the state government balked at spending earmarked funds to move the institution from the cramped 19th century High School to an adequate campus. The Tasmanian Attorney-General, Roy Fagan, who had previously lectured in law, insisted in 1951 that ‘Freedom of thought and action was more important to a university than money. . . If there was any danger of a university losing its freedom by accepting financial support from a government, it would be better for the university to remain poor’,xxxix fine sentiments for a period when a blackboard and chalk were the main teaching aids, but already out of date in the 1950s.
Except for a small minority of staff, research was almost impossible given the higher priority of producing lawyers, teachers and scientists for local consumption. Apart from the instrumentalist University of Tasmania military optical section in World War II, lay authorities wrote off most of the university’s scholarly activity, or curiosity-driven fundamental research. To them, research in the humanities and social sciences appeared a self-indulgent hobby of academics who should devote more energy to teaching.
A few years after Truscott, Sir Walter Moberly’s The Crisis in the Universities (1949) examined the whole range of British tertiary education in a seminal work, comparable to Newman’s Idea of a University. Like Newman, Moberly, whose experience ranged from Oxford to Birmingham, Edinburgh and Manchester, where he served as vice-chancellor, argued for Christianity as a vital component of university study. But, again like Newman, Moberly saw higher education as possessing its own validity. Moberly accepted that the ‘liberal’ concept of university study, endorsed by Newman and Arnold, was based on an aristocratic culture. This had little relevance to the greatly enlarged university populations of the post-war period with their interest in the application of science to society, rather than the Greco-Roman classics. The ‘Liberal’ ideal was parasitic in that it required leisure and disinterestedness in its students. It was remote from the reality of production and distribution and snobbish in its aristocratic disdain for manual workers.
Moberley agreed with Veblen and others when pointing out the hypocrisy of the liberal appeal to the medieval ideal. In the middle ages universities prepared students ‘not for lifelong research, but for careers outside the university.’ Nevertheless, Moberly, like the Australian Walter Murdoch, rejected a slide into total instrumentalism. Both the ‘Liberal’ and professional training ‘policies are one-sided and some combination is needed. Neither the technical expert in blinkers nor the “gentleman amateur,” is equal to the demands of the times.’ Indeed, ‘the uncultured technician is crippled as a practical man in his own calling.’ He cited Lord Haldane, a most successful War Minister and administrator who was also ‘a foremost exponent of the theory of the liberal university.’ To Haldane, inspired by the philosopher René Descartes discovering co-ordinate geometry while apparently loafing in bed, ‘you cannot, if you are to have even the best scientific education, separate it from that individual quality of humanism’.xl In choosing appropriate subjects for university teaching, Moberly argued like Newman that ‘the proper criterion is to be found in method of treatment rather than in subject matter. . . . Does it confine itself to imparting “the tricks of the trade” or does it concern itself with fundamental principles?’
Moberly’s was a well-balanced analysis of academic independence. Some general planning was inevitable and the government had a responsibility for seeing that universities addressed ‘major social needs’. Government and universities were partners, not master and servant. Writing with the Attlee Labour Government in power, Moberley argued that the major threat to universities came not from government but from ‘the pervasive influence of the mass mind’. Universities needed ‘the maximum of autonomy and inner flexibility.’ The condition of such autonomy was sensitivity to real world developments and power of self reform. As the German philosopher Karl Jaspers put it, ‘the university claims freedom of teaching and learning as the condition of the responsible independence of teachers and lecturers.’ The only guarantee of a successful balance was an educated public opinion, inside and outside the universities.xli
Australian historian Sir Keith Hancock, emphasised Moberly in the first volume of his autobiography. Like Moberly, Hancock had been a professor at the University of Birmingham and a Fellow of All Souls, Oxford. Hancock agreed with Moberly that Oxbridge fifty years earlier had offered ‘an education that was in harmony with the culture and convictions’ of the minority class which could appreciate education as enrichment of life, though they did not value it for its own sake. Now, however, ‘the sons and daughters of very different families are coming in their hundreds’ to Oxbridge and in their thousands to Redbrick, demanding vocational training, but also ‘a clear and worthy view of life.’ In practice, he found Birmingham students too willing to apply stern values to practical problems and pleaded not guilty to the charge of evading critical issues. Hancock saw that when academics became increasingly specialised the task of providing for these competing demands was no easy one.xlii A partial solution was the establishment of schools of research and higher degrees at the Australian National University, Hancock himself presiding over the ANU’s Research School of Social Sciences from 1957 to 1965.
During this period, especially in the United States, McCarthyism and the cold war questioned the whole notion of of academic freedom. Was membership of the Communist Party compatible with the objectivity required of an academic? Should a Faculty member who admitted to Communism or took the 5th Amendment and refused to answer questions on his or her political views, be automatically sacked? University President tended to say, yes, while the American Association of University Professors said, no. Unfortunately, the AAUP proved pitifully weak in condemning the hundreds of sackings which took place. As Ellen Schrecker has argued, ‘The academy did not fight McCarthyism. It contributed to it. The dismissals, the blacklists, and above all the almost universal acceptance of the legitimacy of what the congressional committees and othe official investigators were doing conferred respectability upon the most repressive elements of the anti-Communist crusade.’xliii While McCarthyite communist hunters professed little interest in what institutions taught, as opposed to catching the enemy, Walter Goodman argued that too nice a line was drawn between ‘pursuing individual Communists and influencing entire faculties.’ The ‘dimmest right-wingers’ used the campaign as a cover for attacking progressive education and inhibiting classroom controversy. They thus, contributed to ‘that much-lamented phenomenon of the fifties known to magazine readers as the Silent Generation.’xliv Schrecker suggests that mainstream scholars meanwhile celebrated the status quo.xlv
It took the Civil Rights movement and the opposition to the Vietnam War to revive radicalism. But student the anti-Vietnam resistance sometimes played into the hands of conservative politicians. The confrontation between Ronald Reagan, Governor of California and later President of the United States, and the prestigious educator Clark Kerr, anticipated a battle soon to be engaged throughout the academic world. As President of Berkeley, Kerr had refused to sack staff who rejected the loyalty oaths of the McCarthy period. During the student militancy of the late 1960s he had striven to maintain a middle ground between radical youth and conservative power brokers. Actor Ronald Reagan, running for governor, exploited the situtation with overblown rhetoric against ‘middle-aged juvenile delinquents’ who operated a curriculum of ‘sex, drugs and treason’. Reagan promised to end the traditional Californian right of free university education for the top 20% of school leavers. Not only did he keep his election promise but secured the dismissal of Clark Kerr.xlvi Though later confused by the distracting spin of governments pleading poverty, here we see the replacement of the ideal of education as a public service aiming at national betterment with the counter proposition of education as an income-producing commodity to be sold in the market. The corollary of the latter is the removal from higher education of politically inconvenient critical thought.
Australia did not escape the academics as communists furore of the United States. During World War II, the Melbourne University Vice-Chancellor, Sir John Medley, was able to ‘hose down’ an incident where a number of staff protested against censorship of Communist and trade union publications. He resisted the imposition of a loyalty oath on the staff. During the early cold war, former Liberal Victorian Premier Albert Dunstan and Liberal State MP Frederick Edmunds took up the McCarthy role in their denunciations of ‘pink professors’. Medley defended his staff, who included historians Manning Clark and R.M Crawford against such accusations of Communism. During the referendum on the Communist Party Dissolution Bill of 1950 several leading professors took part in the ‘No’ campaign, including Crawford and ‘Pansy’ Wright, soon to play a prominent part in the Tasmanian Orr case. Medley again rejected accusations of indoctrination, insisting that a good university should be a hotbed not a refrigerator. A Royal Commission in 1950 demonstrated that Melbourne University was no hotbed of Marxist revolutionaries,xlvii but the Liberal Committee on Communism maintained that half the students at Sydney University were reds.xlviii
The most spectacular Australian conflict over academic values, however, occurred in the small, underfunded University of Tasmania. Some also saw it as a breeding ground of communism. Attorney-General Roy Fagan, who had been a part-time lecturer, retorted that ‘if a student is not radical in his ideas while at a university, his future will be dull’.xlix But a more specific protest movement of staff, complaining of poor working conditions, lay interference in academic decisions, delays in moving to a suitable new campus, and inadequate salaries, confronted the University Council, acting as a front for a generally unsympathetic State Government. Some of their criticisms of their State paymaster, resemble those directed at the federal government of the early 21st century, now financing the tertiary sector throughout the country.
The Significance of Tasmania’s Royal Commission (1955) and Orr
On 28 October 1954 the Hobart Mercury published an open letter to the Premier from Professor Sydney Sparkes Orr, who owned a copy of Moberly’s The Crisis in the University. Orr demanded a ‘searching and thorough inquiry into the whole question of University conditions.’ The issue, he pointed out, was not merely salaries but the power of a largely lay Council to overrule the Professorial Board on academic issues such as the lowering of matriculation standards. He complained, once again, that the academics were treated as ‘servants’. This behaviour conflicted with ‘the ideals and conditions existing in other parts of the democratic world’, another appeal to intellectual ‘best practice’ as it was later called. Orr’s arguments were instrumental in their demand for funding to provide increased staff. These would produce the leadership required to meet changing conditions, such as post-war immigration and developments in hydro-electric power. But Orr also claimed ‘a general lowering in the appreciation of, and attachment to, spiritual and cultural values’. His ideal Tasmanian University was ‘a forum for the dissemination and discussion of those principles and values in which our democratic civilization is cradled and upon the vitality of which its life depends.’
[Sydney Sparkes Orr (1914-1966) philosopher educated at the Queen’s University of Belfast. Professor of Philosophy University of Tasmania, 1952-55. Summarily sacked for affair with student which he denied. Compensated 1966.]
If such rhetoric appears overblown in the 21st century it comes close to views, also expounded in 1955, of the renowned American historian already cited, Carl Becker. The McCarthyite onslaught on American universities was just subsiding. Democracy, said Becker, depends on people acquiring ‘sufficient intelligence and integrity to govern themselves better than anyone can do it for them’. Their ‘intelligence and integrity’ must enable the people ‘to manage their affairs with a minimum of compulsion, by free discussion and reasonable compromises voluntarily entered into and faithfully maintained.’ Such high ideals, rarely contemplated today, would necessitate ‘freedom of learning and teaching’, for, as Becker pointed out, ‘it is obvious that the better informed the people are the more likely it is that the ends they desire will be wise and the measures taken to attain them effective.’ For this reason, Becker insisted that teaching and research could not be separated. Teaching, removed from critical research, ‘tends to become conventional and dogmatic and to leave the student with a body of information learned by rote and housed in a closed and incurious mind’. On the other hand, the pure researcher can ‘run into barren antiquarianism, as harmless and diverting, and just about as socially useful, as crossword puzzles or contract bridge.’i
Orr’s letter had the immediate effect of stimulating the appointment of the 1955 Royal Commission on the University of Tasmania. Its report brought joy to the embattled academics, whose case was presented by a future Chief Justice of Victoria, John Young. The three-man commission, consisting of a retired judge, a scientist and a classical scholar, duly criticised the State Government’s failure to use available funding to build a new campus and insisted that the Professorial Board be given more responsibility for academic decisions. Salaries should be equated with those of mainland states. The Commission recommended the phasing out of the current University Council. The report also insisted that ‘research is a fundamental part of University life; it differentiates tertiary education from secondary and some forms of Technical College teaching; its support is essential.’ Far from being a self-indulgent perk as some lay Councillors claimed, sabbatical leave, especially in a somewhat isolated institution, enabled academics to further their research, bring themselves up to date and provide ‘the mental refreshment which will prevent their teaching from becoming stale and uninspired.’ The Commissioners even suggested the establishment of a grade of ‘readers’ who would be occupied mainly with research. Essentially, the Royal Commission sought to bring a balance between the instrumental needs of teaching and curiosity-based scholarship and research.
Tasmanian academics for years afterwards cited the findings of the 1955 Royal Commission as their particular charter. The Commission is important as its whole emphasis is completely out of tune with the attitudes of higher education administrators today. But it summed up a hundred years of advance and development of higher education.
The state government and University Council were less impressed and dragged their feet over implementing the report. Although, as one of the commissioners, Classicist A.B. Trendall, subsequently pointed out, they leaned over backwards to be conciliatory, tension mounted immediately afterwards. Ultimately most of the recommendations appeared in some form. In the 1960s, for example, the University was relocated to a bright new, architecturally utilitarian campus at Sandy Bay, Hobart.
Unfortunately, the positive effects and philosophy of the 1955 Commission have been obscured by conflict arising from the summary dismissal of Professor Orr in early 1956; his ten-year campaign for rehabilitation and compensation, ended shortly before his death in 1966. The battle resulted in a boycott of his chair of philosophy by the Australian and international academic community. Meanwhile hard negotiation by the federal staff union and its local branch achieved exceptionally strong tenure provisions at the University of Tasmania. This was deservedly famous as the longest and most fruitful example of academic assertion in Australia’s history. It contrasts remarkably with the passive acceptance of the Dawkins revolution in higher education after 1988.
The current authority on Orr, Cassandra Pybus,ii has created a distraction by treating the issue as an early example of sexual harassment. Her success is demonstrated by the lack of significance given to the Orr case by McIntyre and Marginson’s otherwise valuable survey of ‘The University and its Public’.iii The pretext for sacking the man who had caused the University Council and state government so much embarrassment, after other charges had failed, was an affair with a student, denied by Orr to the last. The High Court, when it finally dismissed Orr’s claim for wrongful dismissal, stated bluntly that the student had initiated the relationship. Orr did not claim the right to have consensual sex with a student; he denied any liaison at all and accepted the justice of sacking had such a relationship taken place. Nor did the University Council which sacked Orr contain committed feminists, radical or otherwise, whose arguments had not then been formulated.
Orr’s character and veracity are digressions from the essential issues of the academic protest, the Royal Commission and the long negotiation to provide strong tenure arrangements in the wake of the High Court’s acceptance of the Tasmanian Supreme Court ruling that Orr was indeed a servant of the Council. The significance of this issue is indicated by the Oxford dons who rejected a speaker’s description of them as employees of the University by insisting, ‘We are the university.’iv Cassandra Pybus published her diverting history and comprehensive attack on Orr and other academics, shortly after the Dawkins revolution which transformed Australian academia. By reinforcing current stereotypes of academics as lazy and debauched the book may have helped to weaken the resolve of some late 20th century scholars to resist, when administrators and politicians determined ‘to put a bomb under all that academic stodge.’v It was appropriate that Professor Alan Gilbert, doyen of economic rationalist vice-chancellors, launched Pybus’s book on Orr and that Pybus publicly applauded Gilbert’s erosion of the authority of senior academics at the University of Tasmania.vi
Murray, Martin and John Anderson
While the Orr case was in progress, Prime Minister Robert Menzies ‘decided to revolutionise the universities’.vii After some relatively small payments from the Federal Government, Menzies, in the full knowledge that the result would be ‘vastly expensive’, appointed a high-powered committee under Sir Keith Murray, chair of the British Universities Grants Committee, to investigate Australian higher education. The Murray Report of 1957 duly recommended increased federal funding and opened a new era for Australian higher education. Tabling it in parliament, Menzies accepted the public’s heavy financial burden in order that ‘the community may be served’. ‘We must, on a broad basis, become a more and more educated democracy if we are to raise our spiritual, intellectual, and material living standards.’ The words sounded like Orr’s appeal to the Tasmanian Premier. In his balanced blend of the instrumental and cultural, Menzies insisted that universities were not for the privileged few but ‘something essential to the lives of millions of people who may never enter their doors.’viii Menzies argued elsewhere for ‘untrammelled research’ and university autonomy. He saw ‘the virtues’ of ‘the modern doctrine that boys and girls who can pass the qualifying examinations have a right to university training’, but feared that costs might eventually impose a limitation. The Prime Minister accepted responsibility for the Colombo Plan. ‘We have so great a duty to our neighbours, particularly our Asian neighbours, to assist them in the raising of their own educational, medical, scientific and technological development that we must take our part in finding or training our share of the expert minds that they need.’ There was no suggestion here that Asian countries might help to keep the Australian tertiary system in existence by buying its education.
An Australian Universities Commission was established in 1965 to join the National Health and Medical Research Council of 1936. Federal finance to Australian Universities increased from $12,000 in the 1955-57 triennium to $40,000 in 1958-60, and doubled in the next three years. As demonstrated, student numbers rose from 40,000 in the late 1940s to 200,000 by the early 1970s. Murray followed the Tasmanian Royal Commission in denouncing the ‘intolerable’ conditions then experienced by that university. The report also complained of minimal research funding. On the divide between exoteric and esoteric learning, the Murray Committee like Menzies maintained a balanced course on the need for national development and an education with breadth to produce ‘rounded human beings’.ix
John Anderson (1893-1962), Professor of Philosophy, University of Sydney, 1927-1958. Born in Scotland and educated at Glasgow University. A powerful advocate of freethought Portrait by William Dobell, Sydney University.
As in England after the Oxbridge 19th century reforms, not every Australian academic was satisfied. Professor John Anderson of Sydney, ‘certainly the most original philosopher Australia has produced’,x complained that the projected expansion of Australian universities would cost them their independence. Academics would become schoolteachers providing instruction for the professions. This would force down standards as students were pushed ‘through in the minimum time’ rather than being presented ‘with problems about which they are to think critically.’ Anderson was prepared to reject ‘progressivist and egalitarian dogma and to uphold privilege’ for the intellectually able. He went further than Newman in rejecting professional courses in the university and rejected any place for religion in education.xi Anderson’s opposition to ‘planning’ and special strategies to reduce failure rates is highly relevant to debate in the 21st century. Anderson pinpointed a vital issue by arguing that certain students, incapable of reaching the appropriate level, were artificially raised by cramming ‘to a standard which can only be aped, not attained, by those who have been given “personal assistance”, and shown the methods of passing.’xii The argument reinforces Bertrand Russell’s view that the apparent dichotomy between teaching and research arose from ‘a wrong conception of teaching, and to the presence of a number of students whose industry and capacity are below the level which ought to be exacted as a condition of residence.’ This apparent élitism was explained by Russell’s insistence that ‘abstract knowledge is loved by very few, and yet it is abstract knowledge that makes a civilized community possible.’xiii Instrumental education may contain abstract reasoning but it is more likely to be found in self-directed scholars. Where Anderson’s standard represented genuine curiosity, powers of abstract reasoning and cognitive understanding of the discipline, he pointed unerringly to the divide between instrumental instruction and learning for its own sake. His fears were to be fully realised in the 1990s. Indeed, Anderson’s stand was reminiscent of Mark Pattison’s concern at the apparently beneficent government reform of Oxbridge a century earlier.
The subsequent 1965 Martin Report dealt with the instrumental/cultural divide by recommending a binary system which led to the creation of a tier of Colleges of Advanced Education. Sir Leslie Martin had a particularly exalted notion of university pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. As Macintyre and Marginson argue, this was remote from the contemporary reality of Australian universities which were often struggling to make ends meet.xiv Martin endeavoured to ensure that the practical or instrumental subjects were to be taught separately from the theoretical. Staff were not required to do research. Similar to the contemporary British division between universities and polytechnics, the binary system was a failure. The Colleges of Advanced Education, often staffed by PhDs from universities, moved stealthily towards university status, encouraging the research denied in their job descriptions and granting their own degrees.xv As Veblen said, practical colleges drift naturally towards ‘more and more of an academic, non-utilitarian character.’xvi Sol Encel pointed out that the attraction of CAEs to both federal and state governments was that they cost half the price per student as the universities.xvii
The Growing Academic Consensus, 1960s
By the 1960s a consensus seemed to have been reached in Britain, Australia and many other parts of the world on the aims and functions of universities. A British landmark was the Robbins Report of 1965. This accepted the ‘simple faith’ that money poured into universities would inevitably quicken national economic development.xviii In Australia there was also a belief in the importance of universities in providing for defence during the Cold War.xix Lord Lionel Robbins, a conservative economist, naturally emphasised the instrumental significance of academic funding. But Robbins himself considered universities ‘not only as centres of training, but also as centres of thought and learning.’ While the development of civilisation depended on science and technology, ‘in a complex society such as ours, the hope of order and freedom in social conditions must rest in considerable measure upon the advancement of systematic knowledge in social studies.’ Nor were these studies restricted to public utility. They might also foster activities ‘which most of us would regard as good in themselves. To attempt to understand the world, to contemplate and to analyse its values – these are activities which, even if they were never associated with practical advantage, would still lend meaning and dignity to life on this planet.’xx Cardinal Newman could not have expressed it better. Similarly, in the 1960s writers who had directed major institutions of learning, such as Murray G. Ross (York University, Canada),xxi Sir Sydney Caine (London School of Economics),xxii G.L. Brook (University of Manchester),xxiii all exhibited strong feeling on the value of disinterested research and knowledge for its own sake. Brook believed that the essential work of a university could be carried on without degrees and accepted that the slightly archaic 1851 eulogy of A.J. Scott, first principal of Owens, College, Manchester, was ‘central to the true conception of a university’. It was subsequently adopted by an Australian Senate report on higher education.xxiv
'He who learns from one occupied in learning, drinks of a running stream. He who learns from one who has learned all he is to teach, drinks “the mantle of the stagnant pool.'
Those with Australian experience, such as A.P. Rowe (Vice-Chancellor, University of Adelaide)xxv and ‘Nugget’ Coombs (Chancellor of the Australian National University)xxvi were not far behind in their idealism, though aware of practical difficulties in its realisation. There was some disagreement between these authorities on issues such as linking research and teaching. Rowe, for example, believed combination impossible in practice. All nevertheless had something in common with the academic idealists of the past, such as Gibbon, Newman, Pattison and Arnold.
England: the Consensus falters
The breakdown in this consensus did not come out of the blue. In England the Robbins Report led to a huge boom in academia. The number of universities doubled, thirty-two polytechnics were established, the Universities Grants Commission doubled in size, there were ‘jobs galore for would-be academics’, but, as Menzies had feared in Australia, it was ‘all ruinously expensive’.xxvii The ‘love affair’ between the government and the universities when money was handed out ‘on the assumption that good would follow’ began to break down and talk of strict accountability ensued.xxviii Student revolt in the 1960s played a part irritating public opinion. As Macintyre and Marginson argue, rebellious students capitalised on the traditional arguments for academic immunity from outside interference, but at the same time struck a blow against knowledge for its own sake by demanding ‘relevance’ and radical political orientation.xxix The bountiful funding of universities and the introduction of free tuition by the Whitlam Government of 1972-75, was followed, as a partial result of the world oil crisis, by comparative austerity under Malcolm Fraser (1975-83) when academic finances were pegged.
The 1979 election in Britain of Margaret Thatcher, a dedicated and ruthless economic rationalist, and the Hawke-Keating government of 1983, which followed closely in her deregulatory wake, brought about a rethinking of the comfortable welfare state. Corelli Barnett, a Cambridge historian,A Tenured Professor argued that Britain’s poor economic performance was the result of the liberal education associated with Newman in the 19th century. While not all Thatcherites approved, the way was opened for the 1988 Education Act designed to dismantle the ‘self-regarding academic producer-monopoly’ which appeared pampered with handouts failing to assist Britain’s economic growth. Managerial and business principles were introduced; tenure was made difficult to obtain; ‘relevancy’ demanded for all activity and quality indicators with increased paper-work made de rigeur; the divide between polytechnics and universities was abolished; funding became cut-throat; academics struggled for basic finance. Opponents like Elie Kedourie of the London School of Economics, denied, like Veblen, that universities were analogous to business.xxx The left-wing New Statesman argued, that ‘the Tories, in the 1980s, complaining of an excess of theoretical research that offered no national economic benefit, reduced state funding for universities and encouraged them to seek private sponsorship for “relevant” projects.’ As a result, in matters like health, the public cannot trust academic scientists, funded now by pharmaceutical companies.xxxi Meanwhile other governments used the same arguments toA Tenured Professor justify academic corporatisation.
In New Zealand, as early as 1969, the pugnacious finance minister and subsequent prime minister, Bob Muldoon, asserted that New Zealand universities were failing to meet his country’s ‘practical needs’. Scholarship should be played down in favour of vocational studies. Muldoon was challenged by Professor Neville Phillips, Vice-Chancellor of Canterbury University, who insisted that such a formula would produce intellectual illiterates in an unenlightened society. Phillips clung to a middle course ‘not because it is easier to compromise but because it is right.’ Muldoon was forced to backtrack.xxxii Ironically, it was after the Muldoon Government’s final defeat in 1984, that both Labour and National administrations successfully implemented his higher education demands.
Chapter Four: Instrumentalism Rampant, 1988-2005
Downhill with Dawkins
Australian academics had due warning of changes to come with belt tightening under Fraser. The Universities Grants Committee was replaced by CTEC (Commonwealth Tertiary Education Council) which united Universities and Colleges of Advanced Education under one authority. Staff who disliked the new emphasis could at least reflect that there was still an attenuated buffer between the Government and the universities. Worse was to follow. The Hawke-Keating Labor Government jettisoned financial controls and opened the country to economic rationalism. Science Minister Barry Jones admitted that ‘there was an extraordinary degree of convergence, with both parties deeply committed to market force economics.’i The Review of Efficiency and Effectiveness in Higher Education probed the Australian academic system. If its promoters hoped to discover the same sort of corruption as had appeared in Oxbridge before the government reforms of the 1850s, they were disappointed. Academics were in general found to be hard working and conscientious. As Hugh Stretton summed it up, ‘they found that the universities were running fairly efficiently with their costs cut to the bone.’ii There was no structural dereliction of duty. Indeed, apart from a small handful of unambitious seat warmers, content to remain routine teachers, the average tenured Australian academic faced a constant round of applications for research grants, promotion and leave, requiring regular written demonstrations of research prowess.
In April 1987 the Minister for Education, Senator Susan Ryan, toured the country’s campuses to promote the raising of finance by attracting full fee-paying students from Asian countries. Ryan, ‘an unreconstructed Whitlamite’ according to bone-dry Finance Minister Peter Walsh, had fought a long battle in cabinet to maintain university funding. She successfully blocked a cabinet attempt in 1985 to reintroduce tertiary fees by appealing ‘to the rabble of the Caucus Education Committee’.iii To the academic community in 1987, however, her new advocacy appeared ominous. The Federated Australian University Staff Associations (FAUSA)iv president, John Fox, complained of the ‘commodification’ of education.v Ryan’s battle against fees was lost when in 1989 the Hawke-Keating Government abandoned Whitlam’s free tertiary education policy in favour of delayed fee payments, the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS).
The reintroduction of fees, resisted by Susan Ryan, marked an important ideological change. The policy followed a suggestion of Milton Friedman, doyen of the Chicago School of economists, whose writings greatly influenced President Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Free education implied public benefit from educating all citizens to their full capacity. This had seemed obvious to a range of opinion from Menzies to Moberly. But Milton and Rose Friedman denied that such public benefit existed and that fees or loans should pay for the ultimate financial advantages individuals derived from their higher education.vi The Wran Committee which recommended the imposition of delayed fees demonstrated its ideological confusion by asserting initially that a better-educated population was in the national interest and then claiming that students themselves were the chief beneficiaries from increased salary potential. The philosopher Max Charlesworth, complained that ‘this is rather like arguing that an increase in our army is absolutely essential for Australia’s defence, but that the Government is not willing to fund any increase, so that the new soldiers should supply their own guns and pay a “training tax” and the army should hire itself out for profit.’vii In a few years such statements would approximate government policy, rather than parody. The architect of the HECS scheme suggested that élite athletes similarly pay back the cost of their training at the Australian Institute of Sport,viii but this idea has evoked no enthusiasm, despite the extremely high salaries now available to sportspeople. Ironically, while the Friedmans quoted Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ leading to private and public benefit, Karl Marx demonstrated that Smith favoured education of the people by the state.ix
[John Dawkins (1947-) Labor MP for Fremantle after 1977. Member of Hawke Ministry and Minister for Education. Subsequently Treasurer under Paul Keating before retiring from politics.]
Susan Ryan, too solicitous of university interests, was replaced as Education Minister later in 1987 by the more ruthless economic rationalist John Dawkins in a new mega-department which jettisoned the celebrated public intellectual and Science Minister, Barry Jones, recorded an outbreak of Philistinism from both opposition and government, which he admitted should have led to his resignation. Research projects in the Humanities were ridiculed and the government slashed one million dollars from the Australian Research Grants Committee (ARGC). There was little response from academia. According to Jones, ‘Treasury and Finance learnt a lesson from the fiasco – that the research community could be hit without any risk that it would fight back, and that they had relatively little community (or media) support.’x Two years earlier, the American historian, Ellen W. Schrecker, had published her No Ivory Tower, demonstrating the extremely weak-kneed response of representative American academics to the McCarthyite onslaught on United States’ academics. Such realisations may have empowered Dawkins, who early showed his disdain for academics by rebuffing the President of FAUSA. The AGM of that institution was, however, unperturbed when the president informed it of the likelihood of unpalatable changes in the system.xi
The extent of the change was soon apparent in Dawkins’ Higher Education: a Policy Discussion Paper.xii ‘Discussion’ was perhaps a misnomer as the Green Paper insisted that the Government had already made up its mind and was prepared only to accept suggestions on detail. The influence of Milton Friedman, strange in a Labor Government, was perceptible. The Green Paper’s tone was purely instrumental throughout, without the customary lip service to cultural or curiosity based learning. Instead, the Green Paper was saturated with demands for ‘flexibility’, soon found to be a synonym for reduction of staff and expenses.
[Milton Friedman (1912-) American economist, teaching at Chicago. Leading anti-Keynesian monetarist. Nobel Prize for economics, 1976.]
After stating baldly that the Australian higher education system had traditionally provided ‘both a “liberal” education and the educational preparation required for entry to the well-established professions’ (1) Dawkins ignored the former and demanded that the latter be broadened. Statistics demonstrated that graduates had better employment prospects than non-graduates. The Green Paper aimed specifically at increasing the ratio of students taking science and practical subjects. Back in the 1850s Newman had insisted on science, then an innovative proposal, at the Irish Catholic University, but Dawkins gave little encouragement to the Humanities or Social Sciences. Women, comprising a large proportion of Arts students, were to be guided towards more utilitarian pursuits. This harked back to the 19th century Tasmanian politicians opposed to the new state university because too many students were unpractical women.
Instead of recognising the general benefits of broadening the mind and honing the intellect for life in a democratic society, Dawkins aggressively demanded that Australia adapt to international technological progress by significantly increasing its graduates. John Anderson’s worst fears now bore fruit. An obvious precedent was Lord John Russell’s demand in the 1830s that Oxbridge respond to the world of rapidly multiplying innovations. Russell, a firm supporter of the economic rationalism of his own day, did not propose public expenditure to oil his reform package. Similarly, Dawkins’ Green Paper insisted that the Federal Government would not necessarily meet the payment for the additional graduates. Universities must therefore become more entrepreneurial and find other income from full fee-paying students and collaboration with industry. Academics should be made more efficient and productive. A top-down managerial system would replace time-wasting committees, with trained administrators substituted for elected officials, such as deans. Academic freedom was applauded in theory, but in practice tenure was to be limited by compulsory redundancy where courses were no longer required. Emphasis was placed on retirement schemes to persuade staff to depart. Teaching was accorded priority over research. While the existence of basic research was recognised, concern was expressed over the country’s poor rate of conversion to practical results. Dawkins promised minimal intervention in individual universities, but demonstrated that those who refused to join the Unified National System of Universities and CAEs, providing mission statements and performance indicators, would be penalised financially. Indeed, a competitive research ‘clawback’ was foreshadowed, forcing universities to compete for a proportion of their funds initially deducted by the government.
[Barry Jones (1932-) University Lecturer, polymath and quiz king who became a federal Labor MP in 1977. Minister for Science under Hawke. President of ALP for several years.]
As Barry Jones, who remained unhappily in the Government at this time, summed up Dawkins: ‘Universities and research institutes were put on notice that they had to produce tangible economic benefits for the national economy and seek more collaboration with industry. This narrow instrumentalist view created some problems since Australian industry showed little interest in medium to long term research and had no track record of achievement in developing new products.’xiii In his subsequent autobiography, Jones was even more emphatic, maintaing that ‘Dawkinisation’ was the greatest mistake of the Hawke-Keating Government. Dawkins rejected the concept of universities ‘as public goods, asserting that they were private benefits or traded goods to be paid for by the beneficiaries (mainly middle class) and that all values had a cash equivalent.’ He quoted Simon Marginson and Considine’s argument that Dawkins did for Australian higher education what Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan did for the economies of the UK and the United States.xiv
The Pace of Change Accelerates
Australian academia was shocked. Surely these things could not be done? There must be a mistake. Sol Encel a Labor-leaning sociologist, claiming that it appeared to be based on a philosophy of education which is entirely opposed to Labor principles’, suggested it was perhaps not to be intended seriously. Rather it was ‘an ambit claim, designed ‘to startle and provoke.’xv But there was no mistake. The Green Paper became a White Paper xvi with little essential change. To critics fearing that the proposed changes might ‘distort the system’s traditional functions of intellectual inquiry and scholarship’, jeopardise ‘the arts, humanities and social sciences’ and tailor courses to narrow vocational or instrumentalist objectives, Dawkins was unrepentant. He reaffirmed his policy, admitting that ‘the maintenance of valuable traditions’ had received little attention in the Green Paper. The White Paper, however, did little to allay anxiety on this score, apart from a ritual declaration that ‘a high quality of life’ required ‘a culture of intellectual inquiry’ based on arts, humanities and sciences of western, eastern and Aboriginal traditions. By a trickling down process they might share development.(8) Like Moberly and others, Dawkins emphasised the change from a higher education enjoyed by a privileged minority to one generally available. He fell far short of insisting on education as a good in itself, regardless of direct economic benefit. Only in his paean to ‘excellence’ and his requirement that higher education was a major source in society’s understanding of its ‘own political processes’ did he suggest a broader role for learning.xvii
The White Paper’s organisational changes were generally in line with those of the Green Paper. There was an offer to provide a legislative guarantee of ‘academic freedom’, though this idea had evoked little interest. (107) Dawkins withdrew for the immediate future the Green Paper’s very unpopular ‘flexible hierarchies’ which would have forced regular re-competition for posts higher than senior lecturer. He justified this change by citing the Arbitration Commission settlement of 21 June 1988 between Government and academic unions. This eliminated stronger tenure provisions, like those of Tasmania, and permitted staff redundancy,™ in return for a 5% salary increase.xviii On research, Dawkins recurred to the debate initiated by Cardinal Newman, distinguishing between ‘original research’, to be restricted to a minority of academics, and general scholarship, easily combined with extensive teaching. (92) After the White Paper, the CTEC buffer between Government and universities was abolished. DEET (Department of Education Employment and Training), its very name a monument to instrumentalism, dealt directly with academia. The apparatus of managerialism was duly established. Many institutions phased out Professorial or Academic Boards, criticised as unwieldy and inefficient by Dawkins. As early as 1966, Francis E. Rourke and Glenn E. Brooks, in The Managerial Revolution in Higher Education, had demonstrated that the ‘direct democracy’ of universities was losing out to new computer-based managerial techniques. They suggested creating an ‘academic civil service, which will reflect faculty rather than administrative points of view in the management of the university.’xix It was now too late for such an initiative from below. Administrative necessity from above had taken control. A number of universities and CAEs were amalgamated to achieve the minimum 8,000 students demanded by the White Paper.
Thus Milton Friedman’s instrumental conception of higher education prevailed in Australia. Following Dawkins, the quest for full fee-paying students from Asia and the re-introduction of fees for local students effectively implanted entrepreneurship on the university system. University administrators, short of funds, sought flexibility by reducing the proportion of income paid in staff salaries. Academic ‘downsizing’, inseparable from the current shibboleth of ‘micro-economic reform’, became inevitable. Meanwhile, Thatcher’s assault on English academia removed the ‘cultural cringe’ motivation for maintaining a university system dedicated to learning for its own sake. Australians could not be accused of colonial Philistinism when the English were Philistines too. The Vice-Chancellor of Melbourne University, Alan Gilbert, demonstrated this new freedom when he demanded that Australia follow the world’s leading institutions, rather than relying on the homogeneity of Australian higher education: ‘if you look at higher education around the world, there is a huge surge of innovation and development in the idea of what it means to be a university.’xx Gilbert went on to become Vice-Chancellor of Manchester University, while John Hood Vice-Chancellor of Auckland proceeded to Oxford. There Hood set out to force performance reviews of academics by line managers and the limitation of college autonomy. David Palfreyman, bursar of New College Oxford, was constrained to ask: ‘Will we dispose of 800 years of academic self-governance to curry favour with folk ill-informed about just what is a world-class university?’xxi
An unsuccessful attempt to balance the debate appeared in a report by a Senate Committee chaired by Tasmanian Labor Senator Terry Aulich, a former Tasmanian Minister for Education and a published poet.xxii The Aulich Report complained that Dawkins had over-emphasised structure and control of higher education, missing the ‘crucial’ issue of quality. The changes Dawkins advocated sprang ‘from managerial considerations rather than from an educational rationale.’(19) While Aulich accepted instrumentality in meeting the country’s needs, and stressed the importance of teaching, many of his report’s comments approximated ‘cultural’ preoccupations. He quoted Dr Don Anderson’s view that recent reports failed to address education ‘for its own sake, or for the sake of a more informed citizenship, or individual fulfilment’. (17) Aulich’s Report regretted the emphasis on languages taught for effective communication, rather than their literary significance. (44) By questioning the division between ‘scholarship’ and original research, it reverted to the issue raised by Newman. (61-2) Great difficulties in ‘establishing a successful agenda for national priorities in research’ were anticipated. Professor John Passmore, cited, like Bentham, the early criticism of electricity researchers as self indulgent. He was quoted on the serendipitous results of interest-driven research, thus invoking another long-term discourse. Fears were also expressed for basic research, given second place to applied research by Dawkins. (135-139)
Even more germane was the Aulich Report’s explicit critique of managerialism. Authorities like Professor Peter Karmel repeated the old principle, enunciated by writers like Veblen, that Universities cannot be run like business enterprises. The Report cited a number of submissions questioning the need for small management groups in the administration of universities. (151-2) Concern was expressed over ‘the growing mass of paperwork’ imposed on academics by the new system, though a DEET bureaucrat pronounced this but a temporary phenomenon. (130-2) The ANU and Karmel, its former Vice-Chancellor, dared criticise the much vaunted performance indicators as unlikely to anticipate multiple goals. (132-3)
Terry Aulich (1945-) poet and novelist. Educated at University of Tasmania. Tasmanian Minister for Education, 1979-82 before entering Senate for Tasmanian Labor.
Although the Aulich Committee contained a number of ALP senators, as well as its chairman, Dawkins’ response could not have been more dismissive. In an onslaught which the Sydney Morning Herald dubbed ‘extraordinary’, the Education Minister ridiculed the Report as ‘a totally useless contribution’ to the education debate which showed that some senators ‘obviously have too much time on their hands.’ He launched into an ad hominem attack on Aulich, who for his part was astonished that the Minister refused to ‘properly debate’ so important an issue. Dawkins was backed by the Vice-Chancellors’ Committee.xxiii The Education Minister’s attitude underlined the Government’s determination to proceed on its course, regardless of informed criticism. As the changes gathered further momentum a number of concerns raised in the Aulich Report were borne out in practice. Dawkins, for example, had promised that professional managers would enable academics to concentrate on their real jobs of teaching and research.
Despite the bureaucratic promises, academic staff were still blitzed by demands for returns of every shape and hue. As in Thatcher’s Britain, time was consumed in ‘answering endless, mindless, meaningless questionnaires, with no idea of who will evaluate the answers or how.’xxiv These often appeared to have little purpose but to discipline staff to the requirements of economic rationalism. In 1966 Rourke and Brooks had warned that many academics with research contracts and other fruit of academic affluence were refusing to participate in academic self-government instead of cherishing it as the hallmark of academic freedom.xxv Administrative apathy had now backfired. Early retirement schemes were snapped up by some of the most dynamic staff, despairing of research or effective teaching opportunities under the new dispensation.
Notwithstanding some criticisms of the widespread changes, Australian academics, in marked contrast to their counterparts in the Orr period, made little effective resistance. Staff Associations throughout the Commonwealth accepted their 5% salary increase in exchange for attenuated tenure, wiping out, inter alia, the detailed dismissal provisions negotiated in Tasmania in the wake of the Orr case. Distinguished scholars learnt to grovel before the Orwellian ‘duck-speak’xxvi of quality control, best practice, mission statements, strategic plans, re-engineering, and above all constant downsizing. In 1984 George Orwell had postulated a dictatorship in which the removal or debasement of words such as ‘liberty’ had destroyed the concept in the popular mind. The philosopher Raimond Gaita similarly complained of ‘the continual erosion of the means to articulate a serious conception of learning for its own sake. . . The managerial Newspeak that now pervades universities is both a cause and an expression of the fact that the language that might reveal that value has gone dead on us.’xxvii The almighty dollar dominated all disciplines; corporations provided, or were hoped to provide, funding, and laid down who could do what research, rarely wasting money on curiosity-driven basic investigations. Few academics in line for research grants wanted to rock the boat. Humanities and Social Sciences fared as badly as the Dawkins’ Green Paper had hinted.xxviii
The reasons for the weak academic reaction are not difficult to find. Historian John Molony, reminiscent of critics of United States’ academic response to McCarthyism, talks of treason within the universities themselves. ‘The litany of our supine compliance in the face of manifest tyranny is endless.’xxix Gaita found that, under threat, the defence of the traditional university was pathetically ‘lame’,xxx scholars neglecting Hancock’s advice to analyse their beliefs. Academics were better paid and housed than in the 1950s, having more to lose than their earlier counterparts. Some, as Molony suggests, went into denial and tried to continue their usual work as if nothing had happened. Others, unwilling to see the structural change embracing them, attributed all problems to a particularly authoritarian Vice-Chancellor or Executive Dean, believing a series of forthright Faculty motions would soon restore normality. Moreover, the Government had cleverly dropped the much-feared ‘flexible hierarchies’. With such a horror removed many senior scholars sighed with relief at less threatening changes. While some suffered badly from the revolution, glittering prizes opened up for others. Vice-Chancellors had an opportunity to become Veblen’s true ‘Captains of Erudition’ and obtain a long sought authority over their staff. Initially many Vice-Chancellors were prepared to overlook the inconvenience of reduced per capita funding. Soon the new system created its own vested interests. The intense competition for full fee-paying students created a major overseas broking company and offshore campuses in foreign countries;xxxi Melbourne University set up a private profit-making establishment alongside the public institution. Students became ‘customers’, always right by definition, not ‘apprentices’ expected to achieve the standards of their mentors.xxxii According to Alison Elliott, appeal mechanisms, easily manipulated by devious students, intimidated academics into over-generous marking to avoid endless grievance procedures.xxxiii Modern Australian academics began to slip into the culture of the Waldegraves and Parkinsons of 18th century Oxbridge, who happily played down the importance of their own classes and connived at effortless degrees.
Postmodernists, whose influence was spreading in most disciplines, discouraged a belief in any hard and fast value systems, thus depriving academics of a base from which to resist.xxxiv As the eminent Irish-Australian historian Oliver MacDonagh said of Newman, ‘He understood that though historical truth may not be wholly discoverable in this existence, it is vital to believe that it is there.’xxxv If there was no such thing as great literature and if history was merely fiction why should government waste taxpayers money on such disciplines? Cassandra Pybus, after demolishing Orr, did a similar hatchet job on James McAuley, the celebrated Australian poet, academic and conservative literary critic, portraying him as obsessed with sex.xxxvi™ The feminist argument, used by Pybus, that consensual sexual relations are still harassment if there is a power discrepancy between the partners, was in line with Michael Foucault, the patron saint of postmodernism, who made much of the argument that all sexual relationships are power based.xxxvii
Some academics consoled themselves with the hope of respite after so much rapid change. The Government, however, was determined to allow no comfort zone. As student numbers rose to over 600,000, government funding of universities fell from 91% in 1981 to 55% at the end of the century, and apparently to 40% by 2005.xxxviii A significant decision was taken in 1996 when the Simon Crean in the Keating Government, of which Dawkins was now Treasurer, refused to pay the academic salary increases awarded by an independent tribunal.xxxix University staff, compelled to engage in enterprise or workplace bargaining, now secured increments only at the cost of other items in their university’s budget. Salary increases for some meant downsizing for others. Labor lost the 1996 election to John Howard’s Liberal-National Coalition.
The new Government, far from reversing its predecessor’s decision, announced, as part of a cost slashing budget, a cut of $1.8 billion over four years, about 5%, from tertiary education.xl These reductions were, according to polls, rejected by 80% of the population.xli But Education Minister Amanda Vanstone ignored the advice of the Higher Education Council that universities had already suffered very severe reductions under Labor.xlii The Government philosophy appeared to be cuts followed by privatisation.xliii
Although Vanstone was herself downsized from the cabinet, her replacement David Kemp, a former professor of Political Science, maintained the pressure on universities. Unlike Dawkins, who made some effort to justify change as academically beneficent, more recent governments were less apologetic in their unashamed instrumentalism. While the 1955 Royal Commission on the University of Tasmania criticised the State Government for converting to more profitable uses funds earmarked for the University, it is now argued that ‘the issue is not whether higher education yields a positive return, but how this return compares with other uses of money.’xliv The introduction of a GST in 2000 provided no relief of academic penury. The Howard Government, however, had appointed its own high-powered commission on higher education.
The Roderick West Commission, which reported in 1998, encouraged some hopes. Its chair was a classical scholar who early hinted at a less instrumental approach. He raised an issue familiar to Plato and Aristotle, and refined by Newman, when he complained that universities had taken practicality too far by introducing vocational courses such as tourism and hospitality. Even Diplomas in Education were suspect. Universities, said West, should concentrate on ‘creative thinking’ and ‘inspirational teaching’.xlv But West soon accepted the facts of economic rationalist life in a system catering for 670,000 university students as opposed to 32,000 in the early 1950s, when Orr was appointed to his Tasmanian chair.
West’s introduction to the Report, released in April 1998, opened finely with quotes from Plato, Horace, Vitruvius and traditional Aboriginal wisdom. The Report itself bravely asserted that whatever the instruction, higher education must ‘nurture and refine minds, and create independent learners.’ (43) This introduction killed the Newmanesque dichotomy between original research and scholarship by refusing to distinguish between empirical investigation, interpretation, translation and the performing arts. Unfortunately, West balked at the vital question of finance, lamely concluding that the government would need to decide what money was available. (5-11) The Report itself suggested finance through a student voucher system. (113-18) This was initially rejected by the Education Minister, David Kemp,xlvi while the Prime Minister repudiated a subsequent plan for a total deregulation of university fees which Kemp seemed to favour.xlvii Similarly, West’s introduction applauded tenure, but insisted that more accountability was needed to reward ability and punish incompetence. Adherence to economic rationalism was indicated by the Report’s rubric, ‘We must increase access to the market, while ensuring minimum standards.’ (23) The Government was happy to implement the Report’s suggestion that public money should be paid for the first time to private universities.xlviii
The West Report, if nothing else, indicated the current level of Australian debate on higher education. The Report did not quite approve Professor Richard Johnson’s dismissal of ‘fruitless hours’ spent analysing the nature of a university which he summarily defined as ‘an association of highly qualified people who prepare others for professional careers, who assess their students and certify their competence.’(45) West’s committee preferred wordily to ‘open the mind, to strengthen and discipline the cognitive powers and sensibilities of the mind, to refine the mind, and to create efficient and effective independent learners and knowledge builders.’ It sought support from Aristotle’s view that proper studies are those ‘used for life, or those which make for goodness or those which advance the bounds of knowledge.’ (46) Despite the West committee’s obvious desire to maintain a worthy balance, it was clearly overawed by government financial priorities. Totally instrumental and Philistine opinions like those of Professor Johnson appeared in the ascendant.xlix The reception was generally critical. The Report failed, as Professor John Molony pointed out, to produce anything ‘deemed to be either useful or acceptable’.l Barry Jones denounced its lack of vision.li
The problems of academia were not lessened after West. In July 1998 the Board of the Melbourne University in equivocal circumstances rejected a book of essays, accepted by the Publications Committee, criticising current developments in higher education, including the establishment earlier in the year of Melbourne University Private Limited, which operated ‘on a fully commercial basis’. A chapter compared the mission statement of this new institution adversely with Sir Redmond Barry’s aspirations for the civic University of Melbourne in 1855.lii Justifying rejection, Professor Barry Sheehan insisted that there was no conflict of interest between his roles as chair of the Melbourne University Press and CEO of Melbourne University Private, while the supremo of both public and private institutions, Professor Alan Gilbert, insisted that the University must resist outside attacks on a justifiable decision.liii Although an argument for non-publication was the failure of the collection to give a voice to their opponents, Professor Peter Karmel’s contribution, suggesting payment of universities through scholarships, was not far from the much-criticised views of the West Report.liv Finally published in 2000 by Allen and Unwin as Why Universities Matter, the volume not only probed post-Dawkins academic malaise but highlighted a number of current examples of denial of free speech in academia, such as its own rejection by the MUP.
At Monash University Emeritus Professor John Legge was threatened with the removal of his office for speaking at a public meeting attacking financial cuts. A public outcry led to the restoration of his facilities. A subsequent Senate report cited the case as an example of the denial of academic freedom.lv The Victoria University of Technology suspended Professor Allen Patience’s email for criticising the University’s rental of a corporate box at Victoria’s Docklands Stadium. A Liberal MP pressured the Vice-Chancellor of the University of New South Wales when a law lecturer, Cathy Sherry, spoke out on native title.lvi Not to be outdone in authoritarianism, the Federal Minister of Education, Dr David Kemp, threatened to withhold $259 million to fund a 2% salary increase unless universities adopted a tough raft of workplace reforms.lvii
In the build up to the general election of 2001, Labor appointed a think-tank of 22, under the chairmanship of the redoubtable Barry Jones, to produce its Knowledge Nation education policy. The report appeared in July 2001. Despite a generally well-argued demand for greater spending, the report, accompanied by a complex diagram showing Knowledge Nation’s interconnection with all other areas of national significance, was ridiculed and lampooned in many newspapers and seized on with glee by the Government. Jones’s use of the word ‘cadastre’, dating back to William the Conqueror’s Doomsday Survey of 1087, was another gift for Philistine scoffers. Michelle Grattan more moderately declared the report a ‘wish list’ which ‘eschews numbers’. But the Australian dubbed Jones’s diagram ‘spaghetti and meatballs’. To veteran columnist Alan Ramsay, arguing that Jones had made Opposition leader Kim Beazley’s policy ‘a national joke’, claimed it might be the second biggest mistake of the election year, the first being ‘Labor’s equally incomprehensible decision to allow Jones’s report ever to see the light of day unedited.’ Ramsay went on to condemn Jones’s ‘intellectual élitism and rank political naivety.’ The Sydney Morning Herald’s Canberra bureau found the diagram a bird’s nest, which evoked memories of Prime Minister Paul Keating’s brutal put down of Jones, ‘his mind is like a bird’s nest – full of twigs and s––.’lviii
[The Cadastre, used by Liberal opponents to ridicule Labor Education policy in 2001 Federal Election. Reproduced Sydney Morning Herald, 3 July 2001.]
So vicious a reaction, even from ‘quality’ journalists, demonstrates how deeply Philistine attitudes lingered in the Australian consciousness. Significantly, Jones was labelled ‘esoteric’,lix Veblen’s term for interest-based learning. Jones’s diagram, possibly based on a very effective device adopted by Conor Cruise O’Brien, Ireland’s leading public intellectual, to depict the left- and right-wing influences on Charles Stewart Parnell in the 19th century, appeared difficult to comprehend. Demonstrating Knowledge Nation’s universal connections, Jones’s scheme, already complicated by excessive intersecting lines, could have shown even more linkages. Universities, for example, were attached directly to schools, medicine and health and trade and commerce, but not to government, the CSIRO, ‘Third Age’ lifelong learning, TAFE or communications. But such minor awkwardness cannot explain the outcry that followed unless it is assumed that powerful forces had a particular need to denigrate one of the few popular public figures capable of making a well-advertised stand against economic rationalism in higher education. Jones could not be sacked, have his email cut off, or be thrown out of his office, hence the necessity for strategic ridicule.
Kim Beazley’s final Knowledge Nation policy condemned the Howard Government for a ‘massive $3 billion’ cut from higher education, for allowing business development in research and development to fall by 26 % of GDP and for a Government reduction of 12 % in science and innovation. Though Labor promised to invest $1 billion over the next five years in improving the quality of teaching and learning in universities, and some other measures to reduce the brain drain, these fell far short of restoring the cuts made by John Howard and the Labor administrations which had preceded him. Pride of place was given to a scheme for internet teaching, the University of Australia Online.lx While ‘some face-to-face teaching component’ was suggested, the scheme hardly met Edward Gibbon’s 18th century insistence on the value of a living authority. The Sydney Morning Herald had followed him in 1855 by declaring that
'The fundamental idea of a university is the association of students in one place for mutual assistance in the cultivation of the liberal sciences. The scholars of old knew well the axiom that union is strength; that solitary study, however, intense and prolonged, cannot conquer the citadel of science; they knew, too, that help which the student requires is one which books alone are incompetent to supply; that little fruit would be produced by the most laborious reading, unless the spirit is stimulated and encouraged, the intellect refined and sharpened by the collision and antagonism of other minds.'lxi
Furthermore, as American historian Theodore Rosak, who coined the term ‘counter-culture’, showed, digital instruction is best suited for transmission of information rather than the interplay of ideas,lxii in other words instrumental instruction not self-directed learning. The Howard Government used Barry Jones’s much-abused diagram as an election advert in its successful campaign of 2001. Given the current rejection of tax increases to improve community services by the major parties, though not by public opinion polls, it is unlikely that government funding of universities will return to its original level in the next two decades. Sadly, in the 2004 Australian general election, Labor, then led by Mark Latham, appeared to have learnt its lesson. Playing down university policies did not, however, prevent a defeat worse than Beazley had suffered in 2001. The latter duly replaced the ailing Latham as leader once again, only to be dispossessed by the livelier Kevin Rudd.
A Cultural Reversal?
To the uninitiated the issue appears merely the acceptance of change in the modern world. Older academics, accustomed to a more privileged system, it seemed, longed for a return to the lost comfort zone. In the mid-19th century, some Oxbridge dons resisted changes, most of which now seem inevitable. The current issue is not, however, the ease and convenience of academics but some basic principles of democracy and its effective maintenance. Two great systemic abuses, obvious to those who have never set foot inside a university campus, result directly from economic rationalism and the loss of positive academic values. The first is the ‘soft marking’ of full fee-paying students whose finance is vital to shoring up the academic system. The flexibility, touted by Dawkins, has become, not ‘flexible hierarchies’, but ‘flexible assessment’. The postmodernist challenge to the existence of conventional standards confuses the issue. The proliferating scandals, when academics are pressured to pass profitable but undeserving students, arise, not because of evil individuals, but because of the relative reduction of government funding. More are inevitable. The absurdities of Oxbridge in the 18th century, when gentlemen acquired degrees for oral answers to two or three trivial questions, raise a smile today. But we are acquiescing in a similar descent into mercenary dishonesty. The Curtin University full fee-paying student, allowed to graduate after being twice caught cheating, symbolises the current malaise.i In January 2001 the Sydney Morning Herald declared
‘Academics Australia wide, including heads of department, professors, deputy deans and senior lecturers, contacted the Herald about falling university standards and exam marks being amended in the following subjects: Anatomy, physiology, management, Asian studies, microbiology, mathematics, engineering, health sciences, law, physics, banking, finance, marketing, cultural studies, history, humanities, accounting, education, languages, biology, environmental studies, human movement.’ii
[Cartoon by Moir in Sydney Morning Herald, 10 January 2001, indicating a general perception that universities had become mercenary.]
Its editorial criticised the financial cuts leading to ‘the “dumbing down” of standards to meet the commercial needs of universities’ and the brain drain of academics leaving Australia for overseas to seek opportunities for pure research. The argument was enlivened by the Herald’s cartoon of a degree ceremony with the Chancellor’s cash-box jinging for each new graduate.iii The contrast with the Herald’s report of a Sydney University commencement in 1860 could not have been greater. Then the Provost, Sir Charles Nicholson, insisted that high standards were ‘paramount to all questions of present expediency.’ The Governor-General of Australia, Sir William Denison, agreed that ‘they had no right to confer honours, unless they were properly earned’.iv In 2002 Australian universities’ increased dependence on full fee-paying students was highlighted when ten institutions recorded ‘negative operating margins’.v
The response to the Sydney Morning Herald revelations was ominous. The Vice-Chancellors’ Committee rejected an inquiry, insisting that it was a matter for individual institutions and directing critics to keep their views for university forums. Peter Reith, then acting as Education Minister, asserted that the allegations had not stood up to scrutiny and referred the issue to the projected Australian Universities Quality Agency. No protection was offered to academic whistleblowers.vi A few weeks later the University of Wollongong evoked memories of the Orr case by summarily dismissing Associate Professor Ted Steele for publicly protesting against soft marking. As with Orr, the case went to the courts, but, unlike Orr, Steele, backed by the NTEU, initially secured a judgment in his favour.vii Whether or not Steele was correct in his allegations has as little relevance in this context as the veracity of Orr’s denial that he seduced a student. The issue in both cases was the justice and legality of university procedures and the right of academics to speak freely on the policies of their institutions. The crackdown on dissent was not wholly successful. By the end of 2001, even some government senators supported the Opposition’s demand, following a Senate Committee Report, for a Higher Education Ombudsman to investigate soft marking and falling standards.viii Professor John Anderson’s apparently far-fetched predictions of low standards resulting from a federal stranglehold on university finance are demonstrated today. Like Northern Ireland at the height of her recent ‘Troubles’, we confront the politics of the last [academic] atrocity.
In April 2005 the failure of 27 full-fee-paying foreign students (60% of the class) in a business law unit at the University of Canberra caused a furore. Protest reversed an initial decision to allow a resit, and the administration accepted the evidence that they had not done the required work.ix A month later, the Sydney Morning Herald returned to the soft marking theme, reasserting the insistence that ‘academic standards have dropped to cater for growing numbers of students with poor English.’ It demonstrated that, while Australian universities needed 220,000 fee-paying foreign students to keep afloat, the finance poured into offshore branches by a number of universities desperate to attract fees had frequently been lost. Foreign students were themselves complaining about overcrowding and low standards. The euphoric approach of university administrators to the initial challenge of internationalisation was turning sour. A former vice-chancellor was reported to have ‘described it as fly-by-night cowboys chasing islands of short-term gain’.x
[Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) mathematician, philosopher and writer on social and historical issues Campaigner for nuclear disarmament. Succeeded to Earldom of grandfather, Prime Minister Lord John Russell.]
The second obvious abuse is the undermining of objective research by dependence on corporate interests for financing academic investigation.xi It is unrealistic to expect profit-making organisations to forego private advantages accruing from subsidised research. Richard Lambert, a member of the Bank of England monetary policy committees brutally pointed out to Monash University ‘that business should not be expected to bankroll blue-sky research not directly related to its marketplace.’xii As Bertrand Russell said of plutocrats in the 1930s, ‘it is they, much more than the insurgent democracy, who are the real enemies of pure learning.’xiii
The days of altruistic benefactors like Ezra Cornell seem to be over, despite Milton Friedman’s assertion that the market can maintain even classical learning through the desire of wealthy entrepreneurs to immortalise themselves in academic monuments such as chairs. Dawkins’ Green Paper of 1987 refuted Friedman’s belief that corporations provide finance without strings. Similarly, Friedman’s view that privately funded students work hard to take advantage of money spent is negated when they claim degrees for cash down, not personal effort.xiv Nearly a century ago Thorstein Veblen laid down the consequences of corporate control over higher education so precisely that further analysis is virtually redundant. Investigation becomes applied research under commercial secrecy provisions preventing the free circulation of results. There are already examples of qualified researchers being warned off areas dominated by corporate interests. Even where corporations are not directly involved, as in research funding through the ARC or NHMRC, the market-based competition of institutions for grants inhibits ‘research that is auto-driven by desires to know and to make.’xv Such factors discourage curiosity-based studies, which even the rationalist luminaries such as Adam Smith and Jeremy Bentham recognised as important and which often ultimately achieved the greatest practical results. As Bertrand Russell pointed out, 'utility and culture, when both are conceived broadly, are found to be less incompatible than they appear to the fanatical advocates of either.' [In Praise of Idleness, London, Unwin, 1970, p. 26] In September 2001 a Senate committee, chaired by Jacinta Collins, brought these issues into sharp focus in its comprehensive report, Universities in Crisis.xvi Unfortunately, the committee dissolved into its political components. The three ALP Senatorsxvii produced a majority report, critical of the Government, rejected in toto by their two Liberal colleagues,xviii thus absolving the Government from serious consideration of the Report. On the other hand, the lone Democrat, Senator Stott Despoja, while agreeing with many of the majority report conclusions, produced her own more radical statement.
Nevertheless, the Collins Report, correlates a great number of submissions containing a detailed examination of post-Dawkins higher education, and casts a cold eye on the establishment of the ‘enterprise’ or ‘entrepreneurial university’.xix It demanded increased Government funding. Universities were ‘too valuable and too important to be left to the vagaries of the market.’xx It demonstrated that a divide had opened up ‘between the two cultures: professional administrators and re-oriented academics running the enterprise university, and more traditional academics trying to retain an element of collegial management in determining university policy.’xxi The Report criticised globalised and corporatised institutions such as Melbourne University Private Limited and Universitas 21 Global, a virtual university established in conjunction with Rupert Murdoch’s News Ltd., Microsoft and the Thomson Corporation.xxii It argued that these were conceived in secrecy and appeared to divert public funding to private ends while placing local public students at a potential disadvantage over fee payers. The committee was sure that the establishment of MUPL ‘has resulted in the transfer of large sums from the public university to a speculative venture with grave implications for the public university.’xxiii Melbourne Vice-Chancellor, Alan Gilbert, fully committed ideologically to the enterprise university, claimed it was the only answer to the certainty that future Australian Governments were unlikely to restore full funding.xxiv The Collins Report, however, argued that comparable OECD countries, such as the USA, Canada and the UK, were now reinvesting in higher education; one Irish University, the little-known University of Limerick offered the same number of new senior research scholarships as the whole of the Australian Commonwealth.xxv The Democrats’ minority report, justifying its principle of ‘free, publicly provided education’ cited ‘the outstanding success of Ireland’ which reintroduced free education in the 1980s.xxvi This contention suggested that the old attitude of keeping up with the Mother Country in higher education to avoid the tag of colonial philistinism might be reintroduced, in the post-Thatcher era.
Some of the scandals which had been well-aired in the previous months were discussed. Two cases of plagiarismxxvii and the Steele soft-marking allegations were included.xxviii The committee did not necessarily accept Steele’s complaints but agreed that his summary dismissal was inappropriate.
The Democrats’ minority report refused to concede that the influx of foreign students was per se responsible for such problems and a general lowering of standards. It looked more to ‘an internalisation of a defective academic culture.’xxix Nor did it agree that the amalgamation of universities and CAEs was responsible for the marked shift to vocationalism and applied research. ‘Marketisation’, which saw students as consumers seeking private benefit, was the real culprit.xxx
Thus on lowering standards and soft-marking the Collins Report presented a great deal of evidence, clearly related to the aspects of economic rationalism. Both the Collins Report and the Democrats Supplementary Report took a strong line on learning for its own sake, basic research (quoting Education Minister D.A. Kemp)xxxi and the need for the integration of teaching and research.
Agreeing with the committee chair, the Democrats insisted that ‘it is vital the fundamental democratic functions of universities are defended: As “critic and conscience” underpinned by academic freedom, education committed to independent critical intellectual inquiry, sustained scholarship and the nurturing of original creative endeavour.’xxxii The official report demanded a better balance between basic and applied research, complaining that the Government paid only lip-service to the former.xxxiii It was concerned that industry still failed to fund universities to the extent of countries such as the USA.xxxiv Nevertheless, there was evidence that commercial sponsorship of research could inhibit the research of others and interfere with the principles of scholarly publicity.xxxv
The Democrats were also worried, especially as an ARC spokesperson, Professor Vicky Sara, appeared to play down the distinction between the two forms of research.xxxvi They pointed out that business was reluctant to fund research of ‘breadth and creativity’.xxxvii On the links between teaching and research, the Collins Report noted the strong view of academics that they should be combined,xxxviii while the Democrats insisted that teaching and research were both part of the academic core.xxxix
By contrast, the Government Senators asked ‘what crisis?’xl They saw no conflict in universities relying both on public and private capital.xli The Liberal Report, like Reith, claimed that there was no hard evidence of abuses such as soft marking, a problem blown out of proportion for ideological reasons.xlii The losses of Melbourne University Private did not constitute a crisis.xliii It even denied that there had been an effective cut in Government funding in 1996.xliv By contrast, the Australian Vice-Chancellor’s Committee complained that the Liberal Senators had misused its figures in claiming that there was no financial problem. In the Australian, Gavin Moodie heard the ‘noise of ideological axes being ground’ and dismissed the Report as 'petty point-scoring’ in a ‘fog of conceptual confusion’. Professor Alan Gilbert strongly disagreed with the criticism of his entrepreneurial university, but the debate did not probe very deeply.xlv
In such circumstances, there was little hope that the Howard Ministry would take seriously a considerable number of well-argued critical submissions. The Collins Report emerging in September 2001 came at a particularly bad moment to initiate a reasoned examination of Australian higher education. The issue hardly figured in the Australian Federal election campaign, dominated by fears of terrorism and refugees. As demonstrated above, the Government higher education propaganda retreated behind ridicule of Barry Jones’ grid.
Brendan John Nelson (1958-) educated in Victoria and South Australia. President Tasmanian branch AMA (1990-92), National President AMA (1993-95). MHR for Bradfield NSW since 1996. Minister for Education and later Leader of the Opposition.]
After the return of the Coalition Government, the new Federal Education Minister, Dr Brendan Nelson, true to the suggestion of the Collins Report, paid the usual lip-service to knowledge for its own sake, asserting that cultural education ‘is no less important than building an economic future’.xlvi He soon showed, however, that the Government had no intention of increasing the level of funding to universities, the only way to ensure non-instrumentalist learning. On the contrary, Nelson established a new investigation to achieve further academic cost cutting, returning to the tired old expedient of criticising academic expenses.xlvii His positions paper, insisting that universities had ‘a fair way to go’ in becoming efficient, was criticised as ‘unbalanced’ by the NTEU.xlviii Nelson also mooted a return to the binary divide, which Dawkins ended, by establishing teaching only universities.xlix This notion was reinforced in 2004. Some Australian universities would become instruction only institutions with the links between research and teaching finally broken. The Liberal Government’s control of the Senate after the 2004 election for a time inhibited critical reviews of higher education policy by the Upper House. Whatever the argument, university funding is pared away, thus destroying any chance of balanced development.
While Dr Nelson was demonstrating Government inflexibility on higher education, a furore threw a number of issues raised by Collins into sharp relief. The saga of David Antony Robinson neatly encapsulates the current overbalancing of Australian higher education. Robinson, graduating originally from the University of Wales, had a distinguished career with numerous prestigious appointments as a medical sociologist in England, specialising in alcohol, drug and gambling addiction.
In 1992 Robinson became Vice-Chancellor of the University of South Australia. Five years later he moved to what was then Australia’s largest university, Monash, with 42,000 students, including 6,500 from overseas, and an annual budget of $576 million. In the next five years Robinson proved himself the very model of a modern economic rationalist Vice-Chancellor. By 2002 Monash under Robinson had increased student numbers to 47,000 and nearly doubled the overseas contingent to 12,000. The financial turnover rose to $710 million. Robinson opened campuses in Malaysia, South Africa, Prato, Italy, and London.
[David Antony Robinson (1941-) born in the UK. Pro-Vice-Chancellor University of Hull (1989-91), Vice-Chancellor of University of South Australia (1992-1996) and Monash (1997-2001). Australian, 13-14 July 2002.]
There was, in fact, a downside to such development. Without criticising overseas expansion in principle, the Collins Report, expressed cautious misgivings over the lack of balance in Robinson’s external push, which might prove dangerous to the interests of local students.l Meanwhile, staff (4677 to 4724) numbers rose by less than 1% as opposed to a student increase of over 10%.li
Even before his formal appointment began, Robinson ‘restructured the entire Monash leadership’.i Many academics were by no means happy: ‘years of budget-cutting and reshaping left him with a reputation as a ruthless administrator.’ii The Department of Classics and Archaeology was wiped out. The Dean of Arts, Marian Quartly, complained that she had been ordered to downsize 55 staff. The Vice-Chancellor ‘never adopted the notion that the arts faculty could be of value.’ In personal relations, said the Arts’ Dean, Robinson ‘can be very charming but if he doesn’t like someone he gets an icy look and cuts them to shreds. His eyes narrow and his jaw juts out; you know it’s coming.’ It was little better with the Science Dean, Don Davies, who resigned after a row about retrenchment in his faculty. As demonstrated above, Robinson deprived Emeritus Professor John Legge of his office for speaking against cuts at a public meeting. According to a representative of the Academic union, the NTEU, Robinson had established a ‘climate of fear’ in the institution, words reminiscent of the University of Tasmania during the Orr case.iii Staff reportedly found it difficult to gain access to their CEO. Academics complained that staff-student ratios had doubled as a result of channelling funds to off-shore operations.iv Meanwhile Monash dropped from 5th to 8th place in acquisition of grants; staff claimed that, despite their increasing teaching loads, Robinson berated them on their inability to win such research prizes.v According to one lecturer, Dr Paul Rodan, Robinson was ‘obsessed with planning’, relying in its presentation on ‘marketing clichés’ which ‘largely alienated the academic community.’ Another scholar glued the Vice-Chancellor’s strategic plan to the floor of his office to force visitors to trample on it. In direct opposition to Robinson’s economic ideology, staff formed the Association for the Public University.vi
While some academics were furious with their Vice-Chancellor, others believed that he was doing an excellent job.vii The Council, headed by Jeremy Ellis, former CEO of BHP Minerals, had full confidence in Robinson who fulfilled his contract, duly renewed, to the letter. In September 2002 Robinson was scheduled to open a new Monash centre at King’s College, London. The publicity stimulated former colleagues at the University of York, who had not apparently realised that Robinson had become a Vice-Chancellor, to contact Phil Baty’s regular whistleblowers column in the Times Higher Education Supplement. The correspondents, a pair of disgruntled academics from the University of Hull,viii drew attention to two very public examples of plagiarism by Robinson in 1981 and 1983. In Robinson’s book for the World Health Organisation, Drug Use and Misuse: Cultural Perspectives (Beckenham, 1983), the publisher, Croom Helm, inserted the following embarrassing erratum:
'After this book was printed the publisher learned that David Robinson. . . had used material from another author. At least 20 sentences of the chapter were taken verbatim, without references and without quotation marks. . . Dr Robinson unreservedly apologised for this serious violation of scholarly standards.'
A second Robinson book, Alcoholism in Perspective (1979) had been exposed by the British Journal of Addiction (1960s) for plagiarising a paper by David Mandelbaum, ‘Alcohol and Culture’, in Beliefs, Behaviours and Alcoholic Beverages, a Cross-Cultural Study (1960s).ix Four pages of Robinson’s book relied ‘with minor alterations’, inadequately referenced, on his predecessor.x Before publication, Baty sounded out Robinson and the Chancellor of Monash. Robinson replied, that ‘these matters were dealt with and resolved more than 20 years ago. They were public at the time of their resolution and were discussed in an open and frank way between my then employer and myself. Following my immediate and unresolved apology, no further action was taken by the publishers, the authors or by my employers.’ On appointment to the Vice-Chancellorship of the University of South Australia, Robinson discussed the matter with the Chancellor. ‘I do not believe they affected my ability to lead the university. I was subsequently appointed vice-chancellor of Monash University largely on the basis of my performance at the University of South Australia.’xi
Jerry Ellis, the Monash Chancellor declared that Robinson ‘enjoys my full support’. On 24 June the Monash Council unanimously voted confidence in Robinson. A student representative on Council later revealed that Robinson assured Council that these were the only examples of plagiarism in his career.xii The Vice-Chancellor duly flew to London on 10 July to open the new Monash Centre.
But the crisis was not over. Many people, including Carolyn Allport, President of the NTEU, a spokesperson for the English Campaign for Academic Freedom, an anonymous English professorial colleague of Robinson’s, Monash students, and the Association for the Public University, were dissatisfied. According to the Campaign for Academic Freedom and Academic Standards, ‘The whole academic project depends on honesty. How else can the public trust the results of research? It is disturbing that someone capable of forgetting that should end up in charge of a university.’xiii To make matters worse, the Times Higher Education Supplement discovered another plagiarism case at Monash when in 1987 philosopher Susan Uniacke complained that Helen Kuhse had used her work without proper acknowledgement in a Monash PhD and an Oxford University Press book based upon it. As in Robinson’s case the Oxford University Press made a special announcement and eleven extra footnotes were attached to the book. However, the Monash special investigator, a friend of Kuhse, found little amiss and Kuhse was subsequently promoted to Associate Professor. According to the Times Higher Education Supplement, ‘concerns were also raised this week that Monash has an apparent record of leniency towards scholarly lapses by its senior staff.’xiv
On 5 July, the day this article appeared in England, Monash staff produced a third example of Robinson’s plagiarism. Professor John Bigelow, reportedly angered by the Council’s vote of confidence in Robinson, checked other works in the Library. By chance he found that Robinson’s 1976 From Drinking to Alcoholism: A Sociological Commentary (London, Wiley), had borrowed heavily from the book next it on the shelf, Julian Roebuck and Raymond Kessler, The Etiology of Alcoholism (1972). Dr William Webster, Vice-President of the Campaign for Academic Freedom and Academic Standards, publicised the issue. The next morning’s Age,xv followed by the Australian a week later,xvi published paragraphs from the two works in parallel columns. In an email to the Chancellor, Robinson excused himself as ‘sloppy’ but ‘unintentional’ under pressure ‘to publish more and to publish more quickly.’ The Age was not convinced. In a strong editorial it declared plagiarism ‘a profoundly serious matter. It is not only deceitful, it is a kind of theft, because it amounts to the appropriation of someone else’s effort, expertise and knowledge. If academics could plagiarise with impunity, the whole system of university education would be undermined.’ As Andrew Alexandra, Research Fellow of the University of Melbourne Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics, argued, after three such lapses it begins to look as if you don’t care.xvii Gibbon’s ‘monks of Magdalen’ were similarly insouciant. It is not improbable that the conversation of Monash’s managerial hierarchy ‘stagnated in a round of college business’.
Although he had already departed for England to open the new Monash centre in London, Robinson was forced to take the next plane home on 10 July. With rumours of a fourth example of plagiarism in the offing, even the supportive Jerry Ellis could not hold out. Robinson quit on 11 July.xviii There was, according to an Age reporter, ‘quiet rejoicing’ in the Monash corridors, which were soon ‘ringing with laughter’ as academics recounted the misdeeds of their former CEO.xix As a letter in the Age demonstrated, the defunct Department of Classics and Archeology handbook had declared: ‘Plagiarism is completely unacceptable. Even professors get sacked for it.’xx Although some embittered staff considered that Robinson deserved no severance package,xxi Council presented an unrevealed sum, believed to have been between $1 and $2 million.xxii
What was all the fuss about? Robinson still had supporters. The Cambridge University Ethicist, Colin Honey, argued that Robinson’s forced resignation was ‘cruelly expedient’ as he ought to have been given time to defend himself. Geoff Rose, Director of the Institute of Transport Studies, Monash, came out in his favour.xxiii Jerry Ellis properly demonstrated that Robinson had fulfilled to the letter his contract with Monash University.
Let the academic who has never made a research mistake throw the first stone. The CEO of a large modern university requires managerial expertise, not scholarly pedantry. How could a couple of early peccadillos be set against the magnificent growth of an institution under Robinson’s guidance? The final complaint, which ended Robinson’s career, dealt with an even earlier publication than those originally revealed by the Times Higher Educational Supplement. It is difficult not to feel a certain sympathy for the classical tragedy of Robinson’s downfall.
The episode will doubtless be soon forgotten as the unfortunate aberration of a single vice-chancellor who tempted Providence. Yet Robinson and Monash appear to highlight the huge cultural divide which separates the aspirations of a John Henry Newman from the higher education policies of successive Australian Federal Governments. Plagiarism itself, duly considered by the Collins Report of September 2001, illustrates starkly the worst perversion of modern education. Shortly after Robinson’s resignation a survey of 1000 students at four Australian universities showed that 81% pleaded guilty to plagiarism.xxiv
Plagiarism is repudiated because it steals another’s ideas and may give its perpetrator a dishonest advantage in a competitive world. But the problem goes to the very heart of the learning process and the essence of higher education. As demonstrated above, Newman argued that knowledge must be impregnated with reason and adapted to general ideas as opposed to the mere particulars instilled by ‘instruction’. A.N. Whitehead rejected ‘inert ideas’ which needed to be ‘utilised, or tested, or thrown into fresh combinations.’ Newman also spoke of the ‘eye of the mind’ which must be encouraged to discriminate. All this is rejected by the plagiarist, content to accept the work of another as it stands. Information appears an end in itself. If necessary, it can be learned by rote or downloaded from the internet. In 2007 210 full-fee-paying international students at the University of New Eangland were caught in an internet plagiarism scandal.xxv With the unbalancing of Australian universities, the ideal of ‘knowledge impregnated with reason’, rather than facts mechanically gathered, disappears.
Robinson’s justification that pressure to publish and publish again led to his careless lack of detailed acknowledgement raises another important related issue. His own staff objected to his insistence on publication to secure the lucrative research quantum gained by the institution, despite their ever-increasing workloads. Publication, either to win promotion to a managerial position, or to regain institutional finance otherwise denied by the Government, has a purely instrumentalist objective, far removed from the ideal of investigation for its own sake. The manager who uses publication as a step on the ladder to power and influence replaces the academic, whose lifetime ambition is to advance his or her discipline, in public esteem. In contrast the Australian philosopher Raimond Gaita insists that academia is not a mere profession but a vocation to seek the truth.xxvi Similarly, historian Sir Keith Hancock maintained, with R.G. Collingwood, that his subject represents ‘human self-knowledge’.xxvii Such a concept is totally divorced from the type of professionalism endorsed by Robinson and some other contemporary vice-chancellors.
The very success of Monash, with its multiple campuses proliferating under Robinson’s guidance, again underlines the cultural change in higher education. His achievement in nearly doubling the institution’s full-fee-paying overseas students revives the problem of standards, so much debated in 2001. The Collins Report devoted much space to questioning whether the full-blown ‘enterprise university’ was in the true interests of Australian students in higher education. The reaction of many Monash staff demonstrated that they did not believe it to be so. Where ‘soft marking’ is related to the attraction or maintenance of full-fee-payers, it is difficult to believe that a vice-chancellor with Robinson’s record would uphold ‘standards’ at the expense of institutional finance. Indeed, as the NTEU pointed out in 2007, from 1996 to 2005, revenue from international full-fee-paying students increased from 6% to 15% of total university income, ‘making it by far the most important source of income graowth over the period.’xxviii
The episode finally demonstrates the new ethos in Australian higher education. The Monash Chancellor and Council were reluctant to move against Robinson despite the Times Higher Education Supplement’s demonstration of two very public and exceptionally embarrassing past misdemeanours. Similarly, the Chancellor of the University of South Australia was apparently happy at Robinson’s appointment as Vice-Chancellor, though informed of the plagiarism. Robinson himself saw no connection between his work as a Vice-Chancellor and his scholarly weaknesses. Several senior Monash academics came out publicly on Robinson’s behalf. There was clearly a strong belief that management skills could be divorced from scholarly interests and the corollary that they could be transferred from one type of institution to another. Such was then the type of ‘managerialism’ that the Collins Report saw as destroying the proper balance of Australian universities.
Lack of balance causes a crash. This may ultimately result in Australian higher education. Despite reference to British teaching only universities,xxix Australia cannot automatically assume that it is simply following other Western nations. Some of these are retreating from the more extreme implications of market ideology. Already Australian public provision for higher education is slipping dangerously below the OECD average. Ireland, once an economic ‘basket case’, has become the ‘Celtic Tiger’. With free higher education and untaxed books Ireland has the infrastructure to become one of the largest suppliers of computer software in the European Union. Meanwhile the United Kingdom is about to expand its government expenditure on research and development from 1.9% to 2.5% of GDP.xxx
By contrast, the Australian Government, with control of both house of the federal parliament proceeded further towards the ideological marketisation of higher education. Teaching and research move towards separationxxxi and voluntary student unionism (VSU) was to be forced on all universities. An interesting reaction has come from vice-chancellors. The story is told that Dawkins, at the beginning of his ‘revolution’, promised to resign if he failed to secure the support of the vice-chancellors. Though some professed to deplore certain aspects of the Unified National System, most were reconciled by their greater power and authority, not to mention salaries, as CEOs. The need to keep their shows on the road in difficult circumstances, gave way to the challenge of making themselves, not just captains of erudition, but genuine captains of industry, spawning off private institutions and a multiplicity of offshore branches. D.A. Robinson at Monash was both a shining example and a caricature of the process.
Despite the lack of subsequent publicity, it appears likely that the Robinson saga has had a considerable effect on other Australian academic CEOs. As Christopher Hill said of the beheading of Charles I, it reminded later monarchs that they possessed neck joints.xxxii Some Australian Vice-Chancellors, like Daryl Le Grew of Tasmania, avoid Robinson’s problem by claiming no publications in their Who’s Who entries. During the period of student revolt in the 1970s that academic gadfly and satirist, C. Northcote Parkinson, lamented that the academic criterion of ‘fact rather than assertion’ was not applied to university administration. Whereas there were criteria for competence in scholarship, the most distinguished academics preferred their research to administration. Professors ‘undistinguished in every way’ saw their futures in adminstration rather than research, but this did not guarantee their competence. Parkinson, tongue in cheek, advocated an academic staff college, modelled on the military version which trained future field officers. Academics would not necessarily learn anything at such establishments, but they could be given objective tests to sort out those with some genuine administrative potential.xxxiii The academically-inclined Mark Latham, formerly Leader of the Opposition, in 1998 was ‘generally optimistic about Australia’s future until I met its Vice-Chancellors. What a drab lot. I expected agroup of dynamic heavy-hitters to lead the nation’s universities, but the standard is very poor.’xxxiv
In 2005 the rethinking process was further stimulated by the government’s comprehensive challenge. As the Canberra Times complained, Brendan Nelson had a ‘continual itch to play with toys in his control.’xxxv Researchers, especially in the humanities and social sciences, were shocked when Nelson personally, without explanation, ‘knocked back’ three recommended ARC grants in 2004 and seven in 2005.xxxvi The Australian National University stridently objected to the amalgamation of its celebrated School of Advanced Studies with the CSIRO, to teach it to become more entrepreneurial.xxxvii Separation of research and teaching threatened to revert to the previous binary divide where CAEs, theoretically unfunded for research, but staffed by PhDs from universities, soon developed higher pretensions of their own. The Sydney Morning Herald claimed that Dr. Nelson’s ‘attempt to redefine and broaden the term university’ had provoked a hysterical response, anticipating, like Bob Jones, a proliferation of McDegrees modelled on the Hamburger University of Illinois. The Australian Vice-Chancellors’ Committee naturally opposed the separation of teaching and research.xxxviii Vice-chancellors could hardly welcome a change leaving many of their number as CEOs of low status, non-reseach institutions.
Even more annoying from the vice-chancellors’ viewpoint was the introduction of VSU. CEOs who had battled for full-fee-paying overseas students, now found it difficult to provide an attractive campus environment. Di Yerbury, Vice-Chancellor of Macquarie University and chair of the Australian Vice-Chancellors’ Committee, insisted that VSU ‘reform’ would ‘achieve nothing’. Instead it would bring about ‘dramatic and harmful change’. The proposal was based on ‘an ideological mission’ and ‘misconceptions’, not ‘the realities and practicalities of campus life.’ Professor Yerbury also pointed out that six of the 38 universities represented in her organisation did not force union membership, while 19 provided exemptions for students unwilling to belong. VSU would do ‘enormous damage’, especially to regional instititions.xxxix Michael Osborne, vice-chancellor of La Trobe, agreed that it was ‘the death of university facilities.’ His university depended ‘substantially on overseas students and if we have campuses that don’t have services other than user-pays it will make it more difficult for us to recruit overseas.’ In short, ‘it’s madness.’xl No more enamoured of the idea was Vice-Chancellor Daryl Le Grew of Tasmania. Le Grew declared that ‘the life of the university would be destroyed’ as the Tasmania University Union and the Student Association were always regarded ‘as the cornerstone in creating a community that supports and fosters students — not just intellectually but spiritually, physically and mentally as well.’ There were undertones of Orr’s letter to the Premier in Le Grew’s statements to two student demonstrations, backed by Green’s leader Senator Bob Brown, against the forthcoming legislation.xli
On both occasions, Le Grew emphasised that his institution was one of those eschewing compulsion. Students could opt out if they so wished. That ideology rather than economic pragmatism played a leading part in the government’s policy was indicated by Minister Brendan Nelson’s insistence that currently single mother students were forced to subsidise axes to break down VCs’ offices.xlii Such a hard line worried some members of the ruling federal coalition. National Senator Barnaby Joyce feared that VSU might destroy sporting facilities, especially in regional institutions.xliii Famous sportspeople, including fast bowler Jeff Lawson, victorious World Cup Wallaby captain, Nick Farr Jones, and dual Olympic rowing gold medallist, Nick Green, agreed in denouncing—‘absolute bloody mindedness’—such tampering with university sport.xliv When HECS was introduced in 1990 by the Hawke Government to force graduates to pay back to the community some of the high salaries their training had provided, a suggestion was made that it should apply to the Institute of Sport which routinely produced multi-millionaire cricketers. The suggestion was not taken up. Sport is too important for Australian identity.
Political scientist John Warhurst showed that VSU was no minor change. ‘Mr Nelson speaks of universities not as communities but as providers of “academic services” of the narrowest kind. Unfortunately the traditional idea of the university is coming under threat not just from the minister.’ Society as a whole was being weaned from the idea of collective good.xlv
If Professor Warhurst in 2005 sounded like Professor Orr in 1954, the current Vice-Chancellor of Orr’s old institution spoke in a similar tone. He shifted the emphasis of his predecessor, Don McNicol, who had insisted that opponents of academic changes simply regretted the disappearance of an archaic comfort zone. Circumstances were now changing. Holding the balance of power in the Senate, Tasmanian Brian Harradine had supported the sale of Telstra in return for a research grant of over $20 million to his home state. He nevertheless insisted that the research should preclude any investigation of stem cells from human embryos and the Federal Government supported him. Arguing that this imposed a prohibition unknown in any other state, the University of Tasmania was unable to reach agreement with the Federal Government before a forced deadline. Le Grew addressed his whole staff by email. He pointed out that the University had agreed to 90% of the demands ‘but would not cave in on provisions that would have threatened our academic freedom, and that would have restricted our capacity to form partnerships and seek funding unless it also came under the stricture of these overbearing ethical provisions.’ Had the offer ‘been $200m, my response would have been the same.’xlvi
For an Australian vice-chancellor in 2005 to prefer principles such as academic freedom and the pursuit of truth wherever it leads as preferable to a large dollar grant was certainly refreshing. Rather than an isolated instance of administrative recalcitrance, the incident, combined with concern over VSU and teaching only universities, may indicate a slow erosion of the tacit, if sometimes fraught, alliance between market-dominated governments, both Labor and Coalition, and university CEOs. Are governments, buoyed by easy victories over diffident academics, pressing their ideological luck too far? An Australian student under VSU attending lectures in a teaching only college, and eating sandwiches in the car-park before heading off to all night restaurant service is unlikely to raise the country’s world standing.
In the Australian general election of 2007, resurgent Labor led by Kevin Rudd swept the Howard Government from office. An apology was immediately made the Aborigines of the ‘Stolen Generation’, but there was no apology to universities for their treatment by John Dawkins or Howard’s succession of ministers. Tertiary education, apart from the possibility of some increased funding, scarcely rated a mention in the election campaign which emphasised an ‘Educational Revolution’. The educational ministry was placed in the hands of Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, preoccupied with industrial relations.
When Gillard displaced Rudd and became prime minister her government gained considerable kudos for attempts to implement the demands of the Gonski Report which insisted on more finance into general education. However, academics soon learned that some of the finance required was to be stripped from universities! Kevin Rudd briefly returned as leader to receive a drubbing from Tony Abbott's Coalition in the election of 2013. There were no sweeteners for higher eduction in Abbott's programme. Universities found themselves stripped of further finance and, particularly threatening for regional institutions, the deregulation of fees which allowed the major G8 institutions to ramp up their charges while smaller institutions, unable to compete, would find themselves reduced to teaching only colleges.i A supporter of the new system ridiculed those so naïvely unaware that public funding of Australian universities had decreased by 14% since 1996. The industry minister, Ian Macfarlane, suggested that research grants should be based on patents, not publications. He drew a reply, not from an embattled humanist, but from Alan Finkel, president of the Australian Academy of Technical Science and Engineering, who emphasised, once again, the 'huge contribution of curiosity-driven research'.ii Meanwhile advertisements on Hobart buses inform the public that 75% of University of Tasmania staff are untenured.
iCaroline McMillen, vice-chancellor og the University of Newcastle, agreed with NTEU Secretary John Kenny that regional universities would lead to a two-tiered system. Examiner, Launceston, 5 September 2014.
iiAustralian, 27 August 2014.
What can be done?
In the face of the modern cultural reversal, we must rid our minds of the popular assumption that we have nothing to learn from the past. Physical, biological and technical sciences have progressed amazingly since the days of Plato and Aristotle, but the same can hardly be said for our ability to construct a humane society. Many of the arguments in the higher education of the early 21st century are not original responses to a brave new world but rehashes of ideologies which have been around for centuries, if not millennia. Sydney Orr, demanding in the 1950s a ‘forum for the dissemination and discussion of those principles and values in which our democratic civilization is cradled’, spoke the same language as the Grand Duke of Weimar in the 19th century and John Milton in the 17th, to go no further back. In 2007 the NTEU declared that universities ‘maintain freedom of inquiry through informed and critical commentary, both within the scholarly world and in public debate.’xlvii Lord John Russell and W.E. Gladstone in mid-19th century Britain secured legislation to restore universities to their original objectives and prevent abuses such as oligarchical domination. On the other hand John Dawkins in the late 20th century presided over laws to increase the top-down management of universities and pave the way for soft qualifications. As the Aulich Report demonstrated, Dawkins showed little interest in the ‘quality of the education which students achieve’, as opposed to the structure and control of the system.xlviii
General economic rationalism is an ideology which grew to prominence in the early 19th century, faded for a number of generations, to be revived in the late 20th century. Its higher education subset has succeeded in working on popular attitudes, reinforcing some malignant stereotypes. During the Orr controversy, a student paper, as a reductio ad absurdum, declared that Professor Orr appeared to have as much security of tenure as ‘a gut-runner in an abattoir’. Today’s opinion has been trained to see nothing amiss in both professor’s and gut-runner’s subjection to immediate downsizing, often through alleged redundancy. Professor Ted Steele’s summary dismissal has attracted much less attention than that of Orr. Why, some may ask, should an academic worker today, serviced by his or her own union, demand privileges not shared by the humble gut-runner, who, if their company is bought and closed down by an overseas conglomerate, may be left without wages and entitlements? Political debate rages over whether larger or smaller employers should permit ‘unfair dismissal’. A university’s claim to exemption from economic rationalism, while the general system remains intact, is unsupportable. Karl Marx, believing state education to represent the interest of the ruling class, is of little help in laying down an academic ideal dependent on public finance. But one does not need to be a Marxist to see that university ideals can make little progress when both the major political parties adhere to economic rationalism and implicitly to Friedman’s belief that state education itself is inappropriate. Too easily we allow ourselves to be drawn into the apathetic assumption that there is no alternative (TINA).
What then is the role of the thoughtful academic in the immediate future? Economic power will not change overnight, but those concerned with academic values can return, as Sir Keith Hancock demanded, to fundamentals to discover a ‘best principle’, if not a ‘best practice’, for higher education. Although they disagree on a wide variety of issues, there is nevertheless a dynamic convergence in the views of such diverse authorities like Newman, Bentham, Veblen, Bertrand Russell, Moberley, Galbraith and their Australian counterparts, Hancock, Murdoch, Menzies, and Coombs. Such eminent thinkers agreed that university education must somehow provide interest-driven learning, free from external demands, to be truly effective. Russell puts it exceptionally well, 'What is needed is not this or that specific piece of information, but such knowledge as inspires a conception of the ends of human life as a whole'. [In Praise of Idleness, London, Unwin, 1970, p. 31.] Sometimes politicians appear more aware of these values than current academics. Thus Lynne Kosky, Victoria’s Post Compulsory Education Minister, rebuked Melbourne University Private for focussing on corporate demands instead of ‘pure and free-thinking research’ and argued ‘if all research in universities is client driven, that limits the free-thinking process incredibly because it confines the research before it even gets started’.xlix Even Dorothy Illing, a journalist who believes the market-oriented universities benefit students, admits that greater timidity in social criticism is a downside.l
A former Labor Premier of Victoria, John Cain, and co-author John Hewitt fully agreed in Off Course, a trenchant criticism of Melbourne University Private. Most eminent thinkers emphasise the balance between speculative autonomy and the practical necessities of life. In Australia and several other countries that balance appears to have been lost in the 21st century. If the destruction of press freedom by a government is clearly a threat to democracy, so too is the emasculation of universities when external demands obliterate their independent opinion. As the New Statesman pointed out in England, ‘suspicion now permeates academia.’ A ‘cure’ for dyslexia comes from a professor well remunerated for sitting on the board of the company that makes it. In the United States the failed energy giant Enron provided millions of dollars to Harvard departments whose research supported ‘deregulation of energy markets.’li Australian intellectual independence is also suffering from emphasis on intellectual property rights, which, as George Soros points out for the United States, ‘have turned thought into property. Research is conducted with a view to generating wealth rather than pure knowledge and academia is losing its sense of identity as an end in itself. The chase after intellectual property rights inhibits the pursuit of truth.’lii Soros sees this problem in the context of the ‘war on terror’. The Australian Sedition Law of 2005, placed restrictions on permissible reading which may deter academics from tackling politically sensitive issues.liii
How can the reasonable balance in higher education between the instrumental requirements of the community and the need for self-motivated scholarship be regained in the cultural climate of the 21st century? Some maintain that it must be achieved outside the academy. The Victorian savant, Thomas Carlyle, writing when Oxbridge was at low ebb, questioned the value of institutionalised learning. ‘Shall we say, for example, that Science and Art are indebted primarily to the founders of Schools and Universities?’ Citing Kepler, Newton, Roger Bacon, Watt, Homer, Shakespeare and others he concluded: ‘No; Science and Art have, from first to last, been the free gift of Nature; an unsolicited, unexpected gift; often even a fatal one. These things rose up, as it were, by spontaneous growth, in the free soil and sunshine of Nature.’ The 17th century philosopher, Pierre Bayle, who lost his own chair at Rotterdam through disputes with Protestant ministers, when the existing universities were ‘servile instruments of state policy’, talked of the ‘invisible college’ of real scholars.liv More recently Russell Jacoby’s The Lost Intellectuals regretted that during the Ronald Reagan period timid, jargon-ridden dons, ignored by society, had replaced the American non-academic intellectual.
The celebrated critic of Orientalism, Edward Said, however, denied that the true intellectual, whose duty is to advance human freedom and knowledge, ‘speaking the truth to power’, cannot be a member of a university. Accepting the disappearance of a consensus on objectivity, Said, contrary to some postmodernists, denies that we are ‘completely adrift in self-indulgent subjectivity.’ George Soros, who has made a huge fortune anticipating the stock-market, agrees that ‘there is a reality beyond our will, and we must respect it if we want to succeed. So there is a connection between the pursuit of truth and the pursuit of success after all, but it is not as direct as it is in natural science.’lv
The great threat, according to Said, is the nine-to-five professionalism which maintains marketability by accepting conventional limits and an objectivity that avoids rocking the boat. Instead Said extols amateurism, ‘the desire to be moved not by profit or reward but by love for and unquenchable interest in the larger picture, in making connections across lines and barriers, in refusing to be tied down to a speciality, in caring for ideas and values despite the restrictions of a profession.’lvi In the same vein, shortly after the Dawkins changes, Australian historian Hugh Stretton advised: ‘though we must live under that government we should not resign ourselves to it. We should continue to criticise its principles, and its behaviour, as often as it deserves it.’lvii Earlier, Thorstein Veblen was confident that, inside or outside the system and regardless of the dictates of all-powerful managers, individuals will always defeat instrumentalism through the urgings of personal enthusiasm.lviii
Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) Essayist and Historian
Bayle’s ‘invisible college’ and Said’s amateurs, inside and outside the formal institutions, are needed to realise Bertrand Russell’s ideal of scholarly motivation: ‘All great art and all great science springs from the passionate desire to embody what was at first an unsubstantial phantom, a beckoning beauty luring men away from safety and ease to a glorious torment.’lix The poet A.E. Housman agreed that the pursuit of Truth may be ‘injurious to happiness, because it compels us to take leave of delusions which were pleasant while they lasted.’lx If politicians are mistaken in the assumption that money spent on Universities would automatically raise the gross national product, scholars are equally wrong to regard state institutions as the sole patrons of great art and great science. In another context Keith Hancock complained that ‘the historical amnesia of our federal politicians is a disease deliberately cultivated.’lxi It is the duty of the public to jog their memories, especially when the lack of balance in higher education has reached critical proportions.