Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Knowledge Nation” has no Knowledge Capital …

… Just a queue of pandering supplicants

In its 2002 submission to the Nelson Review, the Australian National University made a case for special status – a sort of pre-emptive piece of stake-pegging, so as to be positioned at the heart of the first-tier Oz uni league, even before the rush had officially commenced. A nice tactic (suitably shameless to match the prevailing political climate), and with page after page impeccable rhetoric making a “manifest destiny” kind of case. A first class honours submission, ANU, so go straight to …

… the doghouse. As it turns out, ANU badly misread the political winds (and/or that these winds would creak more to the right over the last year). By making an a priori case for sheer excellence (but making the pitch excellent as well, just in case), ANU
left itself with little, or no fallback position. Which is pretty standard behaviour for H1 students, of course – but on no account should such students be confused with “golden boys” and “golden girls”. The trick here is that the two were, more or less, the same thing until recently – where they diverged is that “golden children” are as politically pure as the driven wedge. Objectively excellent, then – too bad; ANU was sent straight to the back of the class as soon as Vice-Chancellor Ian Chubb voiced opposition to the increase of uni fees in June 2002.

Which explains this curious, tail-between-the-legs recent Op Ed piece by Ian Chubb. I’ve read and re-read it; and I still can’t get a single semblance of actual opinion out of it. It does contain a poignant misspelling by ANU founder and Minister for Post-War Reconstruction and Defence, John Dedman – but pathos, Professor Chubb, will get you nowhere. All in all, then, the government’s subduing of a leading (if mild) critical voice has been another stunning victory. In a nutshell, it has proved that when you put academics in the doghouse, they don’t bark – they miaow.

This piece, BTW, is dedicated to Bettina Arndt. It was only her disclosure (apropos of these 740 words of howling ignorance in today’s SMH) to being on the Australian National University’s Council, that made me look up the previous opinions of VC Ian Chubb. I was intending to write a rather more prurient piece about what ANU Council meetings must be like, given the presence of the shock jock Ms Arndt in their midst. Then this line of inquiry soon became all too academic – just the same old story about the attack dog, and its (reluctant at first) pack of followers.

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