Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Gary Sauer-Thompson’s blog on University reform (April 15, 2003) misses the mark almost totally. Everyone knows that taxpayer money, for tertiary education as a public good, dried up long ago (1987, to be precise). That this has far-reaching, negative consequences is also axiomatic, in my opinion – I therefore have no idea what Gary is thinking about when he links to a conference paper on teaching “civic education” in schools, to illustrate the conjoined erosion of the academic humanities, and public life and discourse more generally.

Teaching civics in schools – quite apart from the obvious risk of a content hijack by truculent conservatives – is dishonest quackery, making fast-food morsels out of a clinically-dead constitution: not just in the sense of the formal document, but in the utter absence of a disinterested politico-legal human sphere.

That is just one minor, tragic side of the State’s looting of the academy over the last two decades – even areas where boring boilerplate meets lofty ideals, such as constitutional law, have been effectively killed-off by the setting up of “Key Centres”, and the like. Every “Key Centre” – initially welcomed, innocently enough, as a handy alternative source of university funding in these straitened times – ends up corroding the academy as a whole by the special pleading that drives it, a force that oozes from its mission statement and out through every pore of its entire staff in their light-filled, neo-Corbusier offices.

Special pleading has mall-ified Australian universities. From the former cafeteria, now a quick-turnover yuppie food court, to the glistening shopfronts of dozens of newly gaudy, schticked-up academic tenants, the disinterested intellectual commons has gone.

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