Monday, 28 April 2008

The price of (academic) freedom

It hasn't been a good week for Griffith University vice-chancellor Professor Ian O'Connor. He accepted a piddling $100,000 from the Saudi government and I'm betting he now wishes he hadn't. Of course, he's clearly hoping for a less piddly $1 point something Million but I bet he's starting to wonder if that would be worthwhile, too.

The Australian HES has been hot on his heels with this story, which has real implications for academic freedom - though some of the commentary seems to suggest that it is the nature of the religious politics and human rights record that is a problem (would it therefore be OK to exchange academic freedom for a potentially-interfering political system that has a good human rights record?)

In his undoubted rush to get the paper off his back, poor Professor O'Connor authorised an article that plagiarised wikipedia, of all things. Naturally, this text was supplied by "senior staff" (I think this blame thing must be what senior staff are for). Worse, the lifted text replaced one word with another, which made no sense at all and therefore managed to insult a whole new bunch of people.

While this is clearly not OK from a university VC, I can understand how it comes about and do feel some sympathy for the poor (though obviously a little silly) man. It also says something about the state of university finances, that academic freedom can be sold at such a low price - for even 1 point something Million is a bargain for academic freedom - or political credibility.

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