Public universities defence group launched
By Jonathan Singer
MELBOURNE — Carlton's Readings Bookshop featured a forum on academic freedom on June 16, when about 120 people gathered to launch the Association for the Public University. The association hopes to involve all those interested in preserving universities as bodies funded by, accessible to and responsible to the public.
A forum speaker, Jennifer Strauss, an honorary researcher at Monash University's English department, told Green Left Weekly: "The association's convening panel chose not a university campus but another public space for the launch because we wanted to emphasise our belief that concern about the ways in which universities as public institutions are being changed by corporatisation and managerialism is not the exclusive preserve of academics."
A broad range of academics spoke at the forum: Sophie Bibrowska (psychology, RMIT), Raymond Gaita (philosophy, Catholic University), Paul James (politics, Monash), Robert Manne (politics, La Trobe University), Allen Patience (politics, Victorian University of Technology), Allan Roberts (honorary research, physics, Monash) and Strauss.
The speakers explained the special threat to academic freedom emerging as changes reduce universities to instruments of a "market-fundamentalist" culture.
Strauss said afterwards that the association believes "We are approaching, at best, a limited form of vocational training and, at worst, a sales counter for titles. Corporate managerial concepts are being applied to turn universities into business enterprises and vice-chancellors into 'chief executive officers'.
"The elevation of the need for quick, profit-making results — 'productivity' — is corrupting the relationship of staff to research. In the name of productivity and efficiency, students become units of output.
"There is also an imperative to be a docile, productive, performing employee, in the name of corporate loyalty. Academics are being asked to recognise they no longer have the right — let alone the duty — to speak out in public about perceived shortcomings of their own institutions. This is the new area where academic freedom no longer runs."
The Association for the Public University can be contacted at PO Box 1374, Carlton, Victoria, 3053, or by e-mail at <FPU@arc.net.au>.