Plus ANU escapes embarrassment

Honouring the Leader

Universities were quick to honour the memory of Gough Whitlam yesterday with tributes and commentary starting within an hour of the announcement of his death. Monash was first, offering academics available for media comment. ACU avoided the aggrandisement, stating a celebration of Mr Whitlam’s life and achievements would be incorporated into yesterday’s end of year mass at the Strathfield campus. The University of Western Sydney, home to Mr Whitlam’s personal papers, took all day to issue a statement but it was worth waiting for. Vice Chancellor Barney Glover presented a measured assessment of Mr Whitlam’s achievement, honouring the Leader’s belief in higher education and his commitment to opportunities for all Australians, particularly in regions like western Sydney.

Other universities also issued statements praising Mr Whitlam and claiming contact – with ANU taking the prize for a connection. The Whitlams lived at University House on the university campus for six months after The Dismissal.

But for the panegyric as self-promotion it was hard to beat the University of Sydney which mentioned Mr Whitlam was one of seven prime ministers among its alumni, as well as pointing to the benefits flowing from his opening Australia to Asia. “As prime minister he could not have imagined that the university would one day host the China Studies Centre, a multi-disciplinary global centre for research and engagement on all aspects of greater China.”


Enduring legacy

Among the plentiful praise it was left to the astute Andrew Norton to point to Mr Whitlam’s enduring higher education achievement – the assumption that public funding for universities should be the norm. Creating such a powerful default belief about how the world should be shows that Whitlam’s cultural legacy will survive the man’s passing.

Peeling off from the PUP pack?

So how solid is Palmer United Party opposition to the Pyne package? Perhaps not that solid in WA, where Senator Dio Wang retweeted a video by University of Western Australia VC Paul Johnson making the case for deregulation – and no he does not run the usual “not endorsing” disclaimer. Given their outspoken opposition to deregulation it would be hard for his colleagues Jacqui Lambie and Glenn Lazarus to vote for higher student fees, but for Senator Wang perhaps not so much.

For a winner pick Chubb

The Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering has made Chief Scientist Ian Chubb a fellow. “He championed the strategic role of STEM in meeting social and economic challenges and created structures linking science to national policies, to education and to social awareness of science,” the citation states. But who says he has stopped? Professor Chubb shows every sign of continuing to serve the government’s applied science agenda. As he wrote in the Fin yesterday, critics of “picking winners” ignores the reality that when resources for research are rationed “somebody, somewhere may have to select where to invest.” I expect Professor Chubb is happy to keep helping with Industry Minister Macfarlane’s unfolding plan to encourage research-business cooperation in food production, mining equipment, minerals and energy, medical research and advanced manufacturing. As the Chief Scientist said last month,  “we need to find areas where we have a critical need or comparative advantage.”

ANU escapes

ANU student newspaper Woroni cancelled a seminar on ISIS and the state of the Middle East on Monday (CMM yesterday) when ANU academics scheduled to appear on the panel withdrew, after hearing a represent of Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahir was invited. Woroni says this occurred because ANU public affairs got involved. “Utterly absurd and wrong. How many academics do you reckon do what someone else tells them to? Especially ones expert in the field. I wouldn’t even try,” says Communications Director Jane O’Dwyer. Which makes the academics’ decision to withdraw a bit of luck for ANU. The university is still taking political heat over the decision to sell mining shares on ethical grounds. It would not have welcomed the coverage the seminar would have generated, given Hizb ut-Tahrir members have had invitations to speak at the universities of Sydney and Western Australia withdrawn

Trick or tedium

It’s time for an emerging fixture of the cultural studies calendar, commenting on Halloween. Last year Nathan Grills from Monash was all outraged by the confectioner’s conspiracy against young Australian teeth. “Australians should be aware that profit-driven corporate manipulation of our cultural choices could damage our health. Instead, we should promote healthy and family-friendly events that are consistent with our own cultural identity,” (CMM October 22 2013). But this year University of Adelaide PhD student Carly Osborn says even though it is another example of American culture seeping into Australia, Halloween helps us. “Historically, we need rituals like Halloween, termed carnivalesque ceremonies, when communal bonds are breaking down in a community and when there is an increased threat of violence. Recent tensions in Australia around immigration and hostility towards ‘others’, makes our social stability weaker … And rituals like Halloween help us re-establish stability, or at least the illusion of stability.” And the reality of candy, sorry lollies.


Back to dear old Blighty

Historian and social scientists feeling abandoned and underfunded in this era of applied research should have a look at the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council‘s guide to research on Britain and its empire (including what it describes as “Australia and Tasmania”!) during WWI. This is a guide to work of a war and society kind rather than military history but as a way of demonstrating how scholarship can connect past to present it is a cracker.