Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Academic sterility and Windschuttling hysteria

History-postgrad turned journalist Julia Baird has an interesting take on the “lost generation(s)” of academics in this SMH Op Ed piece.

Rather than just straight-out playing the GenX card (as I am wont to do, of course), Julia ups the ante, by bringing the History Wars into the game. While I can understand the acute temptation to bolster one’s legitimate, long-running grievance (the paucity of jobs in academics for GenX) by grafting it onto the issue de jour (aka the History Wars), I think that Julia has been rash and naïve in saying this:

Windschuttle and Geoffrey Blainey are right to fight what they see as a taboo on debate on university campuses - sometimes there is a stultifying climate of consensus, which can be frustrating for students who hanker for fiery debate, while observing the continued dominance of their elders.

Indeed her logic here is uncomfortably close to the economics and career structure of Islamofascist suicide bombing – viz, a virtual corporation comprising a couple of bilious and elderly figureheads, an elite behind the scenes middle-aged managerial caste, and then the legions of GenX actual workers, who are endlessly reminded how lucky they are to have the opportunity to become martyrs.

Leaving Blainey aside for now (like Malcolm Fraser, his main failing IMO is actually in not knowing when, and how, to retire*) Windschuttle is a strange, strange ally for the GenX cause. For starters, he rode into academic sinecurity on the coattails of the 1970s higher ed boom. While it is true that he has at least since vacated his post, his subsequent demagoguery and Chomsky-ist hair-splitting has done for academia what the Red Army did for western Russia as it retreated from the Nazi advance c.1940-41 – “fiery debate” and passionate positioning, indeed. A scorched-earth history (etc) department doesn’t, it is true, leave un – or otherwise- employed GenX academics from that discipline any worse off in the short term. It does, however, throw everything they stood for (and still stand for?) into the fire, too. One thing (far) worse than a history department full of ageing lefties is its replacement by Speakers Corner – where Survival of The Shrillest (= the Deepest Pockets, in reality) is the rule.

If you think my painting Windschuttle as just another semi-respectable Hansonist – on a boutique, anti-higher ed mission – is unwarranted, look at this conspiratorial posturing (published without comment as a letter to the editor in The Australian on 16/09/03 (no URL)):

They are out to get Windschuttle for blowing the whistle on 30 years of deceiving the public, by fair means or foul. They knew it, and it’s time we taxpayers who fund their universities knew it too.

Yep – so now we ALL know. Hysterical assertion is the new normal on the Op Ed pages, and retired academics living high on the hog in Australia’s most affluent enclave are the new victims, cum-torchbearers-for-the-Righteous. Whose side are you on, Julia?

* Perhaps this is a trait of the Melbourne WASP Establishment generally?

Higher Ed update

In late July, I wrote about the fighting (that is, if you call kicking students when they’re down “fighting”) words of Neville Gruzman, adjunct professor of architecture at the University of NSW.

It turns out that Neville has now parted employment with the uni, although his letter-writing inner fire has not diminished. Perhaps he’s been recently inspired by fellow Sydney eastern suburbs resident Keith Windschuttle, and is now only early on in a career of fashioning self-victimhood out of affluent retirement.

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