Sunday, 21 September 2008

They seem to want to substitute the God-Department for the out-worn God-Professor. I am against there being any Gods in a university. DMA in the 1970s

In Canberra last month I spent a day and a half (of my 6 days of research) going through several boxes of DM Armstrong’s files. They were incredibly well organised and he had quite clearly gone through them before delivering them to the National Library, occasionally writing a note clarifying something - such as “not sent” on controversial letters, or “delivered approximately as written”, that sort of thing, which is very convenient for the researchers he must have envisaged would work through his extensive files.

I’m going to just comment and quote on the files here, which are quite astonishing. This is to help me with one part of my current chapter draft entitled “God Professors and Student Ratbags”. In this section I am looking at the responsibility felt by professors like Armstrong. Numbers in brackets are just the reference number in my research notes and only make sense to me.

DMA Files Series 6 Folder 2 (Box 22) contains stacks of letters in what can only be called a conspiracy to try to ensure Knopfelmacher  was appointed to the University of Sydney, including not appointing people for some time, so that he could “honestly” say that the University had no competent logicians and they needed K. (413)

Series 6 Folder 4 - mostly about the Marxist-Leninist course dispute in the Philosophy Dept in1971, including press clippings. (415)

The Australian 17/6/1971 “We have made concession after concession but Professor Armstrong has not moved one millimetre, Dr Suchting said” (415)

SMH 12/6/71 “A meeting of 300 students at the University of Sydney on Thursday passed a resolution censuring Professor David Armstrong … for vetoing a proposed course on Marxism” (415)

The Australian 11/6/71 “The other professor in the philosophy department, Professor C Martin, described Professor Armstrong’s behaviour as authoritarian” (415)

Philosophy Staff Meeting Summary of Proceedings 24/5/71 “DMA made a statement of intention that … he himself would vote against the Departmnt’s recpommendation if there was evidence that a candidate was not prepared to work within the institutional framework of the University eg if he was associated with sit-ins…he saw this not as punitive action but as a matter of protecting the institution against known dangers. (415)

When staff and students were angry about him vetoing the Marxism course, he wrote to the Vice-Chancellor, Bruce Williams, who confirmed that he was indeed “overall responsible” for what was taught in the department. (416)

Series 6 Folder 10 (Box 23) Letter to the Editor, National Review, from DMA 31/8/1971 “They seem to want to substitute the God-Department for the out-worn God-Professor. I am against there being any Gods in a university” (418)

“…it has been my opinion, and that of most of the members of the Philosophy Department, that Professor Armstrong’s actions on several academic matters in recent months have been egocentric, unjust and politically motivated” Statement by Michael Devitt, 1972 (419)

DMA Series 6, folder 16

Armstrong’s Statement to the Professorial Board, 18/6/1971, giving reasons (and apologies) he forgot to mention before why a course in Philosophical Aspects of Feminist Thought (all of his former objections had been addressed) went on to read a transcript of an interview on ABC radio conducted by Jacka and Curthoys. The interviewer had asked Jacka dn Curthoys whether their course was “propaganda” – they had replied that it was certainly not unbiased. They had also said that Armstrong had been opposed to the course all along. In his statement prepared for the Professorial Board, DMA said:
“ I will omit from my reading the portion of the interview devoted to attacking me. That might unduly distress members of the Board”. (437)

To the ABC interviewer he wrote: “Please be assured that I have no intention whatsoever to take any legal proceedings. In fact I am a critic of libel and slander legislation…” (437)

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