Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Notes on Eric Ashby

Professor Eric Ashby – listed as a Baron in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB) (and I thought Barons only existed in Georgette Heyer novels) was a British man who was professor of Botany at the University of Sydney from 1938 maybe to around 1946 with a few other jobs in the middle. These other jobs included chairing the Australian National Research Council, advising the Chifley government on the allocation of intellectual resources for the war, some sort of consular-advisory kind of role in Moscow and a “peripheral” involvement in the planning of the Australian National University (ANU). The ODNB lists a range of incomprehensible achievements in Botany amongst his work at Sydney, later at Manchester and then his work as an educational administrator as Vice-Chancellor at Belfast and some other leadership role in one of the Colleges at Cambridge.

According to the ODNB it was at Belfast (1950-1959) that Ashby realised he was “more interested in problems about people than problems about plants” and in “teaching and educational issues”. It was in this period that he wrote the book Technology and the Academics. If Ashby only just realised this then, this is somewhat surprising. The role with the Chifley government should be enough to demonstrate that Ashby’s strength from the 1940s was in thinking about the universities, but so should the large number of pamphlets, radio broadcasts, journal articles and the book entitled Challenge to Education, compiling a range of these in 1946.

Ashby seems to have been one of those people who can capture an audience with their charisma and clever words - and his writing is seriously charming. Now we must remember that universities in the 1940s and 1950s were, as they are today, looking for funding, and constantly in a position of needing to justify to the public why they ought to be supported at all and why they need more support than they currently have.

You would expect, during and just after the Second World War, universities had really obvious reasons to exist and be publicly (well) funded. And indeed eventually (delayed by constitutional issues as much as anything else) the Commonwealth government did inject really significant funding after implementing the Murray Report of 1957 (of course it was still not enough money, despite being really quite a lot). The war had shown that new research – especially in science and technology – gave enormous strategic and economic advantage to the nation that could possess it. As well, the war had raised concerns in the public consciousness over issues of morality and national ethics, leading to a rise in research in the social sciences as well.

Despite all these circumstances and incentives Ashby avoided what must have been an obvious argument to make – that Australia - economically, politically and morally - could not afford to not fund universities adequately. Ashby did say that Australia couldn’t afford to not fund universities, but for quite different reasons. And I suspect he went to great pains to deliberately avoid the obvious ones. I’ll try to explain why.

To see the full text, go to http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=dfqggshp_19hjf5dtdt

Monday, 12 May 2008

Four dynamics, three discourses of knowledge. Maybe.

I went today to see my associate supervisor and I was keen to ensure I jot down two of his comments especially:

A. What are the dynamics at work in the lead up to the crisis over IP (since WWII)? From my work so far, these dynamics seem to be:
1. The Nation-State
2. Universities as institutions
3. Academic staff
4. Students

This is important because it seems the behaviour of and relationships between these 4 dynamics are key to understanding causalities.

B. Discourses of knowledge that seem to change over time, which might be something like
1. Knowledge transfer (up to WWII)
2. Knowledge production (after WWII)
3. Knowledge exchange (since 1980s)

Some other points included:
- probably need to look at research & rise of ARC in the 1970s rather than free education (though reintroduction of fees in 1980s is imp)
- Hypothesis, just for noting at this stage: Dawkins (1980s) expected universities to hold the same relationship to the nation's economic interests that they had done (or owed in exchange for public funding) for the national interest in the past (such as during the war). This mistake is b/c governments couldn't figure out where universities fit in the new global restructure of labour/capital and possibly knowledge. Universities world-wide were adapting to this change and maybe Dawkins leaped into the decision of universities replicating previous patterns of relationships when universities had thought they were in a time of transition: producing shock and tension.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Public/private and other binary opposites in knowledge ownership: notes on McSherry

From notes on McSherry, Corynne (2001) Who owns academic work? Harvard University Press

McSherry frequently points out that private property is dependent on the existence of a commons – a public opposite against which private space can exist. This is important – it is not just a commons, but also a growing dichotomy between public space and private space that is significant in the development of property and intellectual property ownership.

It is also linked with the development of the author as hero and individual as liberal subject.

McSherry describes universities, as they emerge in he modern period (different to their medieval form, though inheriting some characteristics of course) use their distinction as public (from private and commercial) to emphasise their disinterested-scientific approach: this lack of private interest and academic freedom (freedom from state interference as well as from commercial interest) is what gives the modern university its authority and legitimacy.

Where McSherry takes a step slightly too far, in my view, is the irony of what this sense of public space achieves – for McSherry argues that in carving out public space, universities also therefore also carve out the opposite – private space. Often, in cultural development, one type of event does also confirm its opposite, but this need not imply causality or, intentionality – even an ironic intentionality. So, while universities assert and sustain the myth of disinterested and impartial pursuit of knowledge for its own sake in order to sustain a moral superiority that gives academic work its authority, this does not mean that this was even necessarily a primary cause of the development of private ownership of knowledge. Indeed, temporality might suggest the reverse to be the case, in that the emerging modern universities were asserting impartiality in contrast to the increasing patent-wars characteristic of inventors and universities’ real competition, scientific societies. But she is certainly right in pointing out both as establishing sets of dichotomous relations (public/private especially, but also monopoly/freedom, pure/applied etc) that are sustained throughout time and inform current discourse and debate about intellectual property and copyright.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Where I fit in the literature, possibly

Notes made in preparation for seminar I could not attend today. Comments are seriously welcome... am quite unsure about things.

At this early stage:

Which literatures do you think will best help you to address your question?

(Today) I'm thinking basically of my question as "How can understanding what led to the current crisis in knowledge ownership in Australian universities help us understand clarify the sources of its contradictions and controversies? Can this be done without inventing a romanticised version of the pre-commodified university?" Literature that will help me includes educational, economic, policy, sociology and (yikes) legal.

How do you anticipate that you might categorise your secondary sources?

1. Histories of universities/education in Australia
2. Educational theory (and some accounts of practice)
3. Philosophy, cultural studies and sociology of knowledge, research, higher education and probably also the internet
4. Economics and higher education studies
5. Law and critical legal studies

How might you periodise works that pursue similar inquiries?

The themes from all 5 converge nicely in different periods, from what I've seen, aligning broadly to government policy and primary sources, which is convenient. So:
1940s and 1950s thinking about new ways of running universities (without losing tradition) to benefit wider demographics and more diverse social, scientific and technological challenges. 1960s and 1970s: concern with academic freedom and the relationships of government to this and the role of universities in society, consequences of fragmentation of disciplines and development of an economy of knowledge. 1980s and 1990s economic performance, quality, efficiency, commodfication, technology and the internet. 1990s intellectual property, technology transfer, research commercialisation.

What’s fresh about YOUR contribution to the literature?

- Looking at a longer period that most commentators on educational capitalism can (since they are not normally history)
- Thinking about knowledge ownership more broadly than legal ownership, allowing me to explore connections between knowledge possession, acquisition, construction - and between policy, educational theory & practice and epistemology, really - so more interdisciplinary and more cultural meanings-based
- Australian allowing some comparison of different historical developments (esp compared to US) as well as different policy environments

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Update on my project

This week my brain has hurt a little bit with trying to keep the whole potential of my barely-started project in it all at once. Here is a draft of my project update, which is a 3,000 word thing the department wanted:

It includes my current chapter headings, which are:

1: Purchasing a National University System: universities, the state and the ownership of knowledge in the 1950s
2: God Professors and Student Ratbags: control and freedom of university knowledge and power in the 1960s and 1970s
3: Who owns free knowledge? Free education, the knowledge economy and the multiversity in Australia
4: From Gift Culture to Fees for Degrees: deregulation, ownership and commodification in learning & teaching
5: Knowledge in the Age of Digital Reproduction: universities, knowledge and the Internet
6: Property, Possession and the Protection of Knowledge: research commercialisation in Australian universities