The Zombification of Australian Universities: Oct meeting of the 17 Group

Next meeting of the 17 Group: Wednesday the 5th of October at 7pm in unit 6 at 20 Drury St, West End. The speaker will be Richard Hil, currently writing a book on Australian higher education.

Here is a short summary followed by some biographical notes:

Like many organizations in other sectors – schools, hospitals, community centres, clothing stores, biscuit factories, banks and breweries – universities have over recent years experienced major changes to their work practices. Australian academics are now subject to work regimes that their predecessors would scarcely recognize, even thirty years ago.

Economic rationalism, commercialization, corporate governance, productivism and other outgrowths of neo-liberal ideology have ushered in an entirely new way of thinking about what constitutes the university. The proposition that universities are for the collective good has in effect been usurped by the impulse to survive in an increasingly cut-throat globalised marketplace.

Such developments have led to much public chatter concerning the perceived death of the public university, the emergence of rote and instrumental education and the over-regulation of academics. Complaint is rife among academics who find themselves increasingly tethered to the commercial imperatives of the neo-liberal, university.

Some commentators have talked of the zombfication of the university with its tendency to reduce so-called higher education to a process of rigidified learning and vocational training suited to the interests of the current economic order rather than the collective good. Every aspect of inquiry – even critical reflection – has become commodified artifacts more suited to career portfolios than active citizenship in a vibrant democratic society.

How can academics resist zombification? What prospects are there of alternative, more democratic, socially relevant and participatory systems of higher education?

Dr Richard Hil is co-founder of the Free University of Bellingen and honorary associate at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Sydney. Richard has written extensively in the areas of criminology, peace and conflict studies, and child and family welfare. His more recent books are International Criminology (with Rob Watts and Judith Bessant), Erasing Iraq (with Mike Otterman and Paul Wilson) and Surviving Care (with Dr Elisabeth Branigan). Erasing Iraq has recently been translated into Arabic. Richard has written extensively on higher education in The Australian, Campus Review and Australian Universities Review and is currently completing a book titled: Whackademia: Inside the strange world of Australian higher education.

But Leon? Well might you ask.

“Trotsky loved mathematics, whose abstract world fascinated him with its mystery, its logic and its inexhaustible possibilities. He dreamed of studying it at Novorossiisk University, and he might have become a scientist, but the only universities he was to attend were those of the Russian prison system. His revolutionary career began when he left high school aged seventeen”. (Trotsky: Eternal Revolutionary by Dmitri Volkogonov

If he comes he’ll be bringing a few friends from the university of hard lines.

We’re expecting a big crowd already for this one, but we’ve got extra chairs ready in the garage.

3 thoughts on “The Zombification of Australian Universities: Oct meeting of the 17 Group

  1. In 1977 I was part of a collective that produced a booklet “Live to Fight – Fight to Live’ at ther University of Qld.

    We were the first generation of University students in Queensland that came from the working class, the poor, the marginalised, women.

    For example, in first year Medicine at UQ in 1969 there were only about 12 women out of 300-350 students.

    All this changed in 1972 when the Whitlam government made Unis free.

    UQ, like other Australian Unis, was flooded with ordinary people.

    Facilities were poor.

    The labor government made Unis accessible but there were not enough classes or teachers. It was not unusual to sit on the floor in a packed lecture theatre designed for 150 students with over 300 present.

    We soon gave up going to classes and spent a lot of our time at the refectory, discussing the world!

    On occasion we formalized our non-attendance into a strike i.e. when police attacked us for protesting against the apartheid. Political activists began the long march through the existing institutions…

    This period is reflected in the poem – ‘To the Victor belongs the Spoils‘ by Daniel del Solar:

    Sitting in the sun
    on Scorpius
    a very
    good year bad year
    Greek democracy died
    political assassination grew
    to national proportions
    with the victims
    the President and Lee
    Harvey Oswald
    on live tv
    in front of my eyes
    living in a house covered
    with snow and sunlight
    falling through the lace
    curtains in the tv room
    on Scorpius
    the play of weather
    on real-time screens
    batch processed
    through megabit
    disks to predict
    and there
    in the Chile streets
    to the victor
    belongs the spoils
    in Greece
    the winter stadium
    become prison
    as bare months ago
    so too the stadium
    became the prison as the
    of spring turned red
    with the blood of brothers
    ya estan matando a Chilenos
    and now they are killing Chileans
    in the Greek sports stadiums
    they are showing
    how they define
    live to fight
    fight to live

    [caption id="attachment_12651" align="alignright" width="500" caption="Live to Fight - Fight to Live - booklet produced by LeftPress collective at University of Queensland (1977) - we were so much younger then."][/caption]

    Ian Curr
    Sept 2011

  2. “University of Queensland (1977) – we were so much younger then.”
    How true!

    “With haunted hearts through the heat and cold
    We never thought we could ever get very old
    We thought we could sit forever in fun
    Our chances really was a million to one.

    As easy it was to tell black from white
    It was all that easy to tell wrong from right
    And our choices they were few and the thought never hit
    That the one road we traveled would ever shatter and split.

    How many a year has passed and gone
    Many a gamble has been lost and won
    And many a road taken by many a first friend
    And each one I’ve never seen again.

    Song Title : Bob Dylans Dream
    Artist Name : Bob Dylan
    Album Name : The Freewheelin Bob Dylan

  3. I went to Uni in 1976 and we sat out on the grass under the trees next to the old wooden tech school huts at UNSW. In those days I was naive enough to think it was because it was the first year of operation of my faculty.
    As the new faculty was chockers with lecturers from the left it changed my perspective and my whole life. Thanks Gough even if you did rendered my scholarship redundant 🙂

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