“I hear what you say, but have you considered … ?”
– Sir Zelman Cowen,
Vice-Chancellor University of Qld
during the Vietnam War
Intro: University of Queensland Vice-Chancellor Høj was unavailable for radio interview on 4ZZZ, so Paradigm Shift submitted the following written questions for his consideration and response.
Hectoria is back on the Paradigm Shift! Hectoria has another ground-breaking interview, this time with Professor Peter Høj about the significance of the University of Queensland Union complex and the Ramsay course about Western Civilisation.
HECTORIA: Can you please introduce yourself?
HØJ: My name is Professor Peter Høj and I’m the vice-chancellor of the University of Queensland.
HECTORIA: Do you support recent demonstrations by students from Hong Kong at the University of Queensland?
HØJ: The University has been consistent and clear that it is absolutely committed to freedom of speech. Bullying and intimidating behaviour, including hate speech, will not be tolerated at UQ.
HECTORIA: Why did you ask students from Hong Kong to apologise for sitting down on the walkway to the forum area at the University of Queensland Union complex?
HØJ: Today, more than 53,000 students study at UQ. Our vision is to provide a student complex that meets their needs well into the future – a bigger, more accessible and inclusive space with integrated support and services, world-class teaching and learning infrastructure, more common areas for students, theatre, and more space for the UQ Student Union and student clubs and societies.
HECTORIA: Yes, but why focus on the Hong Kong students?
HØJ: They were impeding pedestrian traffic to the refectory.
HECTORIA: Peaceful protest, I would have thought.
HØJ: Violence ensued.
HECTORIA: Not their fault … the fisticuffs came from a student supporting the Chinese government. Did you ask them to apologise?
HØJ: The university is a place of learning not of protest and day-to-day polemics.
HECTORIA: Have you read the recent submission to the Heritage Council of Queensland to have the University of Queensland Union complex heritage listed?
HØJ: No I haven’t but my spokesperson has.
HECTORIA: What does your spokesperson say?
HØJ: That the application by one of our staff members, a Mr Jeff Rickertt, says that the University of Queensland Union complex is a place for democratic change with a long history of support for progressive causes. However I know little about that, I’m from Denmark in Europe. A much older place, with Copenhagen university dating back to 1479.
HECTORIA: Bjelke-Petersen was of Danish descent (pause).
What qualifies you to head up the University of Queensland?
HØJ: Of course I’m qualified, I have a PhD in photosynthesis.
HECTORIA: Why hasn’t a woman ever held the job of Vice-Chancellor at UQ?
HØJ: In 1959, Dorothy Hill was first woman appointed to a professorial chair in Australia. We look forward to a suitably qualified woman to one day take up the job of Vice-Chancellor.
HECTORIA: Can you shed some light on why it is necessary to demolish the Queensland University Union complex and the Schonell Theatre?
HØJ: The University has been transparent about our proposal for the site, which was outlined in our Master Plan (published December 2017).
HECTORIA: You haven’t answered my question.
HØJ: I’m trying to commercialise the university, or more specifically to make tertiary institutions economically viable in a market driven world.
HECTORIA: Surely the university needs a social, political and cultural life?
HØJ: The Schonell Theatre will cost $12.57 million to upgrade, that’s a waste of money. It is our intention to spend $300 million reimagining that space as an entrance to the University and a student hub.
HECTORIA: Is UQ destined to become a cultural wasteland and a second rate university?
HØJ: As a global top 50 university, we are concerned with facts. I am hopeful that exceptional graduates, able to progress our society through respectful and informed debate, will be the key legacy of the Western Civilisation curriculum.
HECTORIA: Do you agree that the Great Court, Union College and Customs House should remain on the Heritage list?
HECTORIA: So why the inconsistency? The union complex has equal if not more heritage value than those?
HØJ: I disagree. Customs House goes back to the 19th century and the Great Court is a reflection of Oxford University architecture. The new student hub development is on hold, pending an outcome of Queensland Heritage Council’s decision.
HECTORIA: What do you know of Queensland history, the struggle for democratic rights in this state?
HØJ: I worked for a number of years in South Australia and my understanding is many people fled Queensland for South Australia because it was a backward place devoid of art and culture and because it had a repressive government.
HECTORIA: The student’s union forum area was a place of enlightenment. Wasn’t it?
HØJ: Times have changed, Bjelke-Petersen is gone … we have a social democratic government that needs to manage an economy where tertiary education is Queensland’s second largest export after coal.
HECTORIA: Does History matter?
HØJ: Of course.
HECTORIA: Why did you give the thumbs up to the Ramsay Centre?
HØJ: Under the arrangement, the Ramsay Centre would fund 10 full-time equivalent academic staff to deliver the program including a Director, supported by two new professional staff, and 150 scholarships for high-achieving students with a keen interest in the liberal arts.
HECTORIA: So it’s all about the money?
HØJ: No. The curriculum had been developed and refined by UQ academics over many months and has gone through UQ’s course and program approval process including careful deliberations and subsequent recommendation by Academic Board that this program go ahead. It will provide another perspective on Western civilization.
HECTORIA: By not being merely about Western civilisation but in favour of it?
HØJ: I am not concerned about that now. UQ researchers have filed more patents than any other university in the Asia Pacific region.
HECTORIA: I’m sure Mathias Cormann would appreciate that remark.
HØJ: Finance minister Cormann is an alumni of the famous Catholic University at Leuven near Brussels … Mathias comes from the oldest University in Belgium originating in the 15th century, even before Napoleon Bonaparte.
HECTORIA: The union complex was a hub for aboriginal people to organise against apartheid in Queensland. Back in the 1960s, Uncle Len Watson told students in the forum area that his people predate Confucius, Napoleon, Mohammed, Christ, Moses and Abraham.
HØJ: Through engaging with and debating major works of literature, art, music, politics, law, and religion, students will gain an awareness of how the categories of culture, humanity, indigeneity, gender, status, race, and power, have shaped both the contemporary world and past societies.
HECTORIA: The Department of Arts & Heritage recommend that the Schonell theatre be heritage listed and state that the UQ union complex played a key role as the centre of Queensland’s political protest movement between the 1960s and 1980s.”
HØJ: We can work with that. The union complex will still need to be demolished to make way for our gateway and student hub.
HECTORIA: Did University management try to influence Arts & Heritage to make this compromise.
HØJ: We have made our own submission direct to the Heritage Council concerning the need to cater for 54,000 students rather than the 4,000 that were enrolled when the complex was built. This is a question of facts on the ground rather than heritage values.
HECTORIA: Well, I think we should leave it there.