Wednesday, 16 December 2009

University of Adelaide: Study, Research and a fabulous library

Last week I visited the University of Adelaide archives, while I was in the area at the recent the ANZHES conference.

Adelaide wins the competition so far for the university that does not appear to be run by its marketing department. This was actually the only overt advertisement I saw. You can kind of see it through the greenery. It says something about excellent education, and it is also nice to see that they remember what the university is for.

I also liked that the library clearly remembered what it was for (note that I am not a photographer):

I liked that this library is supporting plain old study and research, nothing fancy about information services and knowledge management and client liaison. Study. Research. It is solid.

Actually, altogether the Barr Smith library is stunning. The old reading room is a monument to philanthropy - and academia:

The entrance and borrowing areas were spacious, reference librarians visible and plentiful, computers abound and, most remarkable of all, an area in the library to eat:

and lie around reading in beanbags:

I like cloisters. And there were cloisters at Adelaide too...

...only these ones belonged to the students...

...though it seems they need a sign to know what they are:

Monday, 14 December 2009

Technology and the university: two British scientists in Australia

When botanist Eric Ashby arrived in Australia in 1939, his ideas about higher education were already compelling. Ashby’s subsequent experiences in science policy during the Second World War then combined with ideas formed by scholarly networks in the pre-war Empire. These led him to consider how technology, needed for national development after the war, could be integrated into academic traditions.

The war changed everything for the universities. Old networks of scholars were complicated by new relationships with the state and industry and new public concerns. This paper discusses the contrasting networks that influenced the ideas of two British academic leaders after the Second World War. Eric Ashby, influential in higher education throughout the Commonwealth, held ideas informed by a pre-war scholarly environment. Another British scientist who travelled to Australia, John Philip Baxter, though only one year younger than Ashby, was influenced by an altogether different network.

Baxter had spent significant time in nuclear facilities in the United States and contributed to the construction of British nuclear weapons during the war. When the war was over, he was disappointed that public sentiment led his employer, Imperial Chemical Industries, to shut down its work in atomic power. Feeling that he might have more influence in Australia, in 1949 Baxter accepted an academic post in Sydney.  By 1952 he was Vice-Chancellor of the University of New South Wales.  Baxter’s goal, like Ashby’s, was the promotion of technology in the university system. However, his notion of scholarship and his ideas about the university were very different. Where Ashby promoted technology while preserving scholarly values, Baxter sought to transform scholarship to align to the values of industry.

Comparing networks of pre-war Empire with post-Empire Australia, this paper examines the emergence of a longstanding uncertainty about the focus of higher education: specific professional competencies or unique, creative intellectualism.

This is the abstract that I submitted to Scholarly Networks in the British Empire for July 2010.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Monday, 30 November 2009

Pictures of Melbourne University

Recently, I posted this picture from the University of Sydney, affectionately representing that institution's tendency to vague and confusing guidelines. The cloister is quite a pleasant place to wait for further instructions, so we forgive the vagueness.

But as far as cloisters go, I thought Melbourne's was beautiful, when I visited that university a few weeks ago, though a little over-cloistered with the chain:


I wondered whether perhaps this massively ornate carpark entrance was just a little OTT:

and whether anyone had informed the university that Professor Florey had died in 1968 and would be not be able to walk that way:

But it takes a powerful marketing department to convince the university that it is a good idea to do this:

This poster on a beautiful sandstone tower in no way makes me want to study an executive arts masters at Melbourne and that is only partly because I could not see how a woman sitting with some empty plastic chairs was going to do that. You can see the ad here, an ad I also find disturbing for "At last, a school that teaches you how to think, not what to think" - what was the Arts faculty doing before?

However, the poorly selected picture (and text) is the least of the problems with sticking marketing posters on lovely old buildings.

The problem with this is what it represents - that marketing a new masters program (a program that on the surface, I should say, sounds like a good idea) has a higher priority for the university than intellectual integrity. This might sound silly, for it is just a building, not a textbook, but symbols are important as we know and this really sends a message - and the wrong one - in my view.

I have a feeling that the recent development in attaching equivalent power to professional managers as to academic governance is a part of this problem - for example recent news about universities giving professional managers unearned professorial titles. Another example at Melbourne was this:

The problem with this is not that professional managers do unimportant work in universities, on the contrary (and I've been one myself, so I hardly want to knock them). But universities are communities of scholars and must be run by them.

Just to be clear - the problem is not confined to Melbourne University by any means.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Wrong answers to the right problem

Few things are as boring as listening to a room full of intellectuals whinging. Which is not to suggest there is nothing to whinge about: 50% of university teaching in Australia is being done by casual staff and those with better employment have utterly unenviable working hours and conditions. But whinging, as Meaghan Morris pointed out in today's ambitiously titled 'State of the Industry' conference, is like a reverse Midas' touch, turning every glimmer of gold into shit.

This is probably why our most prominent Higher Education researcher, Simon Marginson, prefers an optimistic approach, emphasising the privilege and pleasure of academic work and the reality that highly qualified intellectuals have more agency in Australian society than nearly anyone.

But I was pretty sure he noticed (I was in the front row) my growing look of horror as this optimism led, very unfortunately, to what I consider to be the wrong conclusions.

Marginson's talk focused on a division of the responsibilities we have to our paid work versus our academic work, wherein the paid work requires the performance measures, which we put up with to do the work we intrinsically wish to do. To me this was wrong conclusion #1: if we're so intrinsically motivated, why all the performance measures?

He said, too, that academics should stay out of management: universities were now so large that their management is a specialised job, best left to the specialists. If we stay out of these things that don't concern us, tick the performance boxes without question, we'll have time to focus on the creative stuff we want. While I agree we need specialist managers these days, wrong conclusion #2 is that academics should stay out of it: if academics stay out of university governance, the nature and purpose of the university will shift to align to the priorities of the accountants that run them. Very bad idea.

We then had a wonderful presentation by Genevieve Kelly, presenting the results of some excellent NTEU research on academic labour. It was during the discussion that followed that Professor Marginson made the final, most threatening wrong conclusion #3. The argument went like this:
a) the only way to improve the situation is to improve the bottom line
b) the barrier to improving the bottom line is treasury
c) all treasury understand is economics
d) we need to demonstrate that university knowledge helps the (knowledge) economy. He acknowledged the risks of utilitarian outcomes, but...

This is a strategy that has been frankly disastrous for universities for 25 years and is unlikely to succeed now. Eventually, universities become what they are funded to be and the reality is that we do not want universities to be for this (and partly they already are, since they've been trying this approach since the early 1980s - this is part of our problem and is definitely not the solution).

We need to demonstrate that knowledge underpins a safe, civil, ethical, healthy and prosperous democracy. We need to alert the public to the danger to Australia's intellectual integrity when 50% of the nation's future professionals, teachers, thinkers and researchers are being taught by substitute teachers.

We need to acknowledge that some academics have more agency than others: and senior professors from Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Queensland universities more than most. Sessional staff, PhD students, early career academics, and aging ex-CAE teachers in small universities do not all have (much) agency all of the time - and those who have more should stand up for them.

We need to show that academics love their work, are inspired to do it and don't want less time doing it - and we don't therefore need to count every minute of their time and measure every ounce of their ideas as if knowledge has a productivity measure. When we do this, we waste their time, we inhibit knowledge, we make knowledge production seem like a fight rather than a delight and we stop universities being everything they so easily could be.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Exams and exploration

It is not often I agree with this man, and I don't entirely here either, but I did think something about this observation of the old exam culture was something I think it is a pity we seem to be losing:
"Exams enable students to put off their work until the end of the year and that strikes me as an immensely valuable thing...if you [have] a system of continuous have a pretty hard life. I like for the Faculty of Arts the idea that you sit around for a long time discussing things in coffee shops and pubs and quadrangles and anywhere else that you can get some seating and, finally, towards the end of the year you've got to get some work done... That's a good way, I think, to conduct an Arts education; students educate each other in the course of this."

David Malet Armstrong, Oral History Interview, National Library of Australia

I can't think of a title that isn't rude

"I believe that our national destiny requires us to break firmly with the past."

Don Aitkin, 1987 Copland Memorial Lecture, Canberra

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Pictures of universities

You can tell from my my recent half-written blog posts, introducing topics I promise to come back to and then forget, that I am in a highly fragmented research phase right now. I am trying to fill in the gaps of research done more systematically, period-by-period in the past, so I am in lots of decades and also in lots of different university archives.

I like visiting other universities. I think even just the feel of a campus gives away something of organisational culture. It might be my imagination, but I often think I can 'feel' something of the environment that led to the historical events I am researching. I certainly felt that way at Monash: though it was probably assisted by the fact they were in the middle of a student election when I visited.

I've started taking photos with my phone on campuses and here are two from our biggest universities in Sydney.

Firstly, UNSW: a sign letting us know this is THE quadrangle lawn, which should be respected by not playing ball games. From the angle here you can see the postmodern cloister and it looks kind of Quad-like.

But from the other side, the angle I first saw it from, it appears that it is a patch of lawn between buildings, making 'Quad' seem especially aspirational:

Somehow, both the aspirational Quadrangle, the fact it needed a sign to signal its existence and the need to request respect for it with no ball games seemed very UNSW.

Just as crazy in a totally different way is Sydney University, which rejoices in providing over-complicated systems, cryptic instructions and vague guidelines. Like this:

I'm waiting. Now what?

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

"The most determined move for change ever in the history of higher education in Australia". Karmel on Dawkins

By 1987 when John Dawkins was made Minister for Education and Other Things, Peter Karmel, (who died in December last year) was like the godfather of higher education - in a good way.

Having been involved in higher education and educational policy since before the Murray Report, Karmel had longstanding expertise and experience as head of the government bodies responsible for higher education, as former chair of OECD committees on higher education and, in the 1980s, Vice-Chancellor at ANU.

Marginson and Considine describe the scandal of Dawkins' failure to include Karmel in his Purple Circle of advisors as evidence of Dawkins' autocratic approach to higher education policy.

In 1989, after Karmel had retired, he wrote a paper for the Australian Vice Chancellors' Committee entitled "Reflections on a Revolution". Considering how he could have felt about the Dawkins 'reforms', the paper is strikingly balanced, giving statistics and evidence for his statements, drawing on a rich understanding of the system's complex history:
"Notwithstanding perceptions to the contrary held by Ministers, government officials, businessmen and the press, the record of higher education over the past 50 years has been one of growth and diversification in response to external forces.

No institution, business or government department is perfect in its internal management and higher education has its share of imperfections, but the popular view that higher education has let Australia down is simply wrong." (p.7)

I will return with more on Peter Karmel and his response to Dawkins before too long.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Don't overload academics, it is a waste of money

It is extremely wasteful of universities to gather some of the brightest and most highly trained individuals in the country in one institution and not allow them time to think.

In evaluating university quality we should be looking for workload policies that demonstrate that academics have time to think.

Thinking is the raison d’être of academic work.Without it, universities can not have genuine research or quality teaching.

If I were to rank Australian universities (which is a stupid idea, they have different purposes and roles), I would start with a comparison of their workload policies.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Introducing Philip Baxter

Philip Baxter, Vice-Chancellor of UNSW 1955-1969 is a 'new' characterI will introduce to my next draft of the 1940s/1950s (sneaking into the 1960s) chapter, currently entitled "Give us the money and be done with it: Commonwealth Funding and the purchasability of knowledge in the 1940s and 1950s".

Baxter, I thought, would provide an interesting contrast to Ashby as Baxter was the new-fashioned academic 30 years ahead of time. Partnering with industry, high sense of accountability to and relationship with government, an emphasis on efficiency and productivity, Baxter seems to be the antithesis of Ashby's leisured inquirer.

As it turns out, contrast is too strong. They both, for instance, advocated a greater integration of technological disciplines into the academic world. I will attempt further comparisons a little further down the track, but for now I'd like to quote from Baxter a little.

Firstly, Baxter made precisely the point I have been struggling to argue in the first version of the chapter. Having described the increased size and complexity of universities, needed to serve economic and technological needs, Baxter acknowledged that public funding was the only way societies would be able to get the universities they needed. He went on to say:
This dependence on public funds means that to a substantial extent the activities of universities are accountable for their use of the public funds. While academics are aware of the need for this accounting, some may feel that there is, at times, a divergence between the course necessary to meet the immediate requirements of national development and that which should be followed in the long term interests of scholarship and research (1966, p96)
But while Baxter tended far to utility, accountability and industrial innovation and productivity agendas, like Ashby, Baxter saw that the university's role would be entirely undermined were it, in the process of receiving public funding to perform its public role, to lose its academic freedom:
This is a large business [note this key difference from Ashby - business] by any standard and since the money is public money a great responsibility will rest on the governing council to see that the money is spent wisely, efficiently and economically. The university must give the community the service which it needs and to do this it must retain all those aspects of free inquiry, of unrestrained teaching and discussion and leadership in original thought, which universities have traditionally contributed....It must produce professional men and women who are educated and informed citzens... It must at the sam time be a large scale employer, spending big sums of public money in ways which will satisfy Auditors-General and Ministers for Education the taxpayer is getting value for his dollar and that nothing wasteful or extravagant is being done (1966b, p.114)
Commonwealth funding, needed he knew, was still, for Baxter (who, unlike Ashby, actually experienced this in Australia), the source of increased interference and specific, tangible examples of reduced academic freedom:
The degree of interference in internal affairs of the universities by conditions attached to financial supply is already very considerable, and it increases in every Act and every triennium (1966b, p.111)
Unlike Sydney University's Vice Chancellor in the 1940s, Baxter knew that the days of "give us the money and be done with it" were over and that painstaking accountability would be the price of academic freedom. In true Baxter-style efficiency obsessiveness, he said:
The price of academic freedom for the universities will be an impeccable level of efficiency, performance and service to the community, and an administration which can demonstrate that this is so to the point where it is fully trusted by that community and by the governments it elects (1966b, 113-114)
He even addresses the question of who, in the new structure, is responsible for maintaining academic freedom - something I've been wondering lately, since it seems to have been left to the Federal Court. Government can't do it, obviously, since they're the body the university needs protecting from. Now that academics are heavily in the pay of government, claimed Baxter, neither can they be relied upon to protect academic freedom. It is the lay (non-university) members of university governing bodies (Council or Senate) who have this responsibility, he reckoned, since it was clearly the job of the university (just no longer the academics) to do it:
In the context of academic freedom the important responsibility of the university is to be a place where all matters and questions can be examined, where research may follow any line of inquiry, where the non-conformist and the heretic may hold and express unorthodox and unpopular views, and be met with argument not suppression. This does not mean that the university normally seethes with heresy and rebellion: on the contrary, but should there be a time when our free society is in danger, if governments of the right or left seek to diminish our liberties, it should be in the universities that voices could and would be loudly raised in protest (1966b, 116)
I'd like firstly to note that this does not limit academic freedom to an area of scholarly expertise - and nor should it, for what if liberty was being diminished outside of, say, chemical engineering (which was Baxter's area of expertise). University administrators seem much more worried today about dissenting or unpopular opinion within their universities than Baxter, control freak though he was:
The vice-chancellor is of course the official spokesman [sic] for the University... but he [sic] will always try to indicate that universities, on most controversial issues, never have a single opinion, but many opinions, and that it is in their nature to be so. Universities being places where free thought and speech on all matters is encouraged, there are times when, on highly controversial issues, some sections of the public will feel outraged by views emanating from some people in the university. Action is sometimes publicly or privately demanded against such persons. This the vice-chancellor must firmly resist. (1966a, p.11)
One of the public roles for the VC, said Baxter, was to communicate this diversity of opinion to the public as an inherent characteristic of any university:
The vice-chancellor can do much to get the community to realise that universities are places where heresies are tolerated and that it is for the good of the community that this should be so. (1966b, 11-12)
As we will see as I go along, there was a lot not great about Baxter. But he certainly understood - at least at the end of his period as Vice-Chancellor - the importance of (and challenges of maintaining) academic freedom.

Friday, 9 October 2009

If the university owns knowledge, who does that mean?

I am just sitting down to investigate the candidates for Senate at the University of Sydney, relishing in a new way my right to vote in it. I had always thought of the Senate as being a bit like an expanded SRC, but actually it is representative of the university as a membership-based organisation.

In discussing my chapter on IP and the UWA v Gray case with my associate supervisor recently, he asked a rhetorical (largely) question about who the owner is, when it is the university. We think of it as being like a company owning stuff, but the traditions of the university suggest that the owners of university property might even be the Graduates.

Looking at the University of Sydney Act recently (with a brother who seems oddly familiar with university acts) the University is The Senate, The Convocation (alumni), Professors and Full time academics, students and graduates. In fact, the only people the university is not is general staff, which is why there is good reason for a general staff specific union (which I say despite belonging to its rival).

Unlikely though it is that UWA was thinking of sharing the $100M they wanted a share of with their graduates, the fact of the university being defined by its members should - but probably won't - reduce some of the power held by the chief accountants of each the universities, who have been regularly described to me as the most powerful people on each campus.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Trouble at Monash

Those (kind) people who have read the first draft of my 1960s/1970s chapter know that this chapter is about a clash over the ownership/control of knowledge between student movements and the professoriate. In it, students (and junior staff) are constructing new knowledge, exploring new ideas and ways of knowing and challenging the legitimation processes of the hierarchical university.

They will also have noticed that the first draft is - perhaps unsurprisingly - a little too Sydney-centric. In order to combat this, I recently spent some time in the Monash University archives.

The student movement at Monash was famously active. Then Vice Chancellor, Louis Matheson, recorded at least 15 incidents (sit-ins, mostly) in his rough, hand-written chronology in 1969.

What was really irritating, though, is that it didn't conform to my previous research. My chapter thus far presented a nice story, showing students genuinely grappling with new knowledge in the face of professorial opposition, abusing hierarchical power to prevent non-canonical knowledge from emerging. At Monash, though, a liberal and progressive vice-chancellor consulted widely to assist staff in re-thinking the idea of the university, its governing structures, assessment strategies and the types of knowledge that could emerge within it - particularly since at that point Monash was brand new. Matheson, first V-C at Monash, considered the new university an opportunity to reconsider the legitimising structures of the university and instigating a major consultative review which ended in recommending most of the things students elsewhere were demanding.

Opposing this unexpectedly progressive Vice-Chancellor, was a Monash Labour Club led by a young man who, as far as I could see, selected his politics to align to his penchant for violence - Albert Langer. Langer was later famous for suggesting (and being imprisoned for suggesting) a method of voting that would not favour the major parties. More recently he has maintained a website in support of the Iraq War.

Langer and other Maoist members of the Monash Labour Club were generally quite open about the fact that their Vice-Chancellor was a pretty liberal guy who generally upheld academic and political freedom. The problem for them was the 'degree-factory' university itself and the fact of the role of Vice-Chancellor, which they saw as inherently complicit in capitalism. It would not have mattered what the Vice-Chancellor did, they would oppose him on principle.

Reading through all this, I started to squirm. I could (and can) not see how I could in good conscience present Matheson in the same light as other more authoritarian professors who worked to suppress student-sourced knowledge in the period. Nor could I see any way of presenting this young thug (a certainly intelligent one, though) as a source of new, but suppressed knowledge. It really can be annoying that history is nuanced and complex.

But perhaps the students were right: the structures were significant, not (just) the hopelessly flawed (and unexpectedly progressive) actors within them.

Langer's political activities were extensive and high profile, making him a target for those opposed to student radicalism. He was arrested for inciting riot in 1969. Three trials were commenced, two cancelled under credible suspicion of police collusion to manufacture evidence. Langer's trial and his general treatment by the police the justice system, looks like an attempt to make an example of him and discourage the movement. This treatment structurally positioned him as a political scapegoat, regardless of what his specific politics were or whether he added anything to student ways of knowing (which, as far as I can tell, he didn't). It is most likely Langer's rather egomaniacal loudness (a loudness students started to complain about at Monash and Melbourne university, where some hoped that student-controlled knowledge might encourage diversity rather than agree with Langer or be declared fascist) that made him structurally - but undeservedly - representative of the student movements in the media and as the justice system's scapegoat.

Where Monash made a mistake, in the end, was in not admitting Langer to a postgraduate degree. From the looks of things, this was the fault of the Registrar, who was thereafter supported by his colleagues. You can imagine how it happened. Finally this guy was graduating and the administration must have been anticipating it like a holiday in Fiji. Langer, obviously wanting to continue his leadership in the university that had made him famous, applied for postgraduate study in maths. His marks and feedback from his teachers made it reasonable to assume he would be admitted for 1970. He was not. The Registrar made it clear, on enquiry, that he would not be admitted to any other course either, for a variety of unconvincing reasons. Furthermore, as the year progressed, it was declared he was not to attend lectures for courses he was not enrolled in.

Students - and staff - felt that this failure to admit Langer was evidence of political bias in Monash's admissions policy, though they described it as 'exclusion' (a word that has quite a different meaning in student discipline than what happened to Langer). Langer then applied to the University of Melbourne, who also rejected him, leading to the massive 3.3.18 controversy over admissions policy there in 1971 (already described in my draft chapter). Again, whether or not they actually wanted Langer to study there, students and staff were sure they did not want a system that rejected people on the basis of their politics.

Langer then applied to Sydney University, who checked with their legal counsel and found they could reject an application from anyone they want for any reason. Students and staff at Sydney, perhaps more interested in their controversies about philosophy and political economics (and also had shown themselves to be potentially elitist themselves, especially in relation to admissions), appear - from what I have seen - not to have said a word. If anyone was there and can tell me otherwise, please do!

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Discretion in research and ownership of IP

UWA v Gray Paragraph 195-197

"The insuperable difficulty in UWA’s submissions is that Dr Gray’s employment duties did not even require him to perform tasks from which inventions might result. The subject matter and the manner of discharge of his duty to research were in his discretion. He was not employed to invent."

196 UWA has sought to circumvent his Honour’s conclusion in the following way.

Though Dr Gray was entitled to determine the subject and manner of his research, if what he

chose to do required him to bring his inventive faculty to bear, then the doing of that research

should, it is said, be regarded as that which he was engaged to do and for which he was paid.

Any invention resulting from his so doing should, in consequence, attract the implied term.

197 Such a deemed, contingent duty to invent requires an untenable implication. It is

not what Dr Gray’s terms of employment required; there is no “necessity” for it being implied

by law into the employment contracts of university academic staff; and, importantly, it is

inconsistent with the researcher’s freedom to share and to publish research results.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Money and academic freedom - more on UWA v Gray

Someone in twitter this week said: "One reason UWA lost was academic freedom - court thinks that means freedom to make private $millions". I don't think this is accurate, but it should be said that Gray acted pretty shabbily in this. If you are going to make a lot of money out of your research, it is the right thing to do - either through formal profit sharing or through substantial gifts - to share that with the university. To me, this is a part of academics' membership in the university.

What worried me substantially though, amongst this week's chatter about UWA v Gray, was the patent attorney who made the following argument: The court, he said, claimed that if academics had the right to publish, they basically had the right to destroy the patentability of their work (once knowledge is in the public sphere it is no longer patentable). If they have this right, then they must own it. This is indeed one of the many nuanced arguments in the case.

The worrying thing is the construction this patent attorney put on the right to publish. He said that academics are custodians of public funding, since this is at least partly how their work is funded. I don't dispute that. He claimed that this makes them responsible to provide a financial return on investment. This is a very new idea that I traced in my recent chapter draft as emerging in the 1980s and it has substantial problems. Academics prior to the 1980s were also custodians of public funds. But more importantly they were custodians of knowledge and the intellectual integrity of the community, with a primary responsibility to protect, pursue and disseminate knowledge, not to maximise the public's financial investment. I believe the court is correct in declaring the financial return aim to be contrary to the Acts by which universities exist. And, more importantly, their purpose in society.

The patent attorney (whose name I've unfortunately forgotten, but the link is above) then said that an academic destroying the patentability of their work by publication was wasting public funds in the same way as if they had taken a sledgehammer and destroyed their own laboratory. This is the sentiment I find particularly alarming. The right to publish is central to academic freedom and if financial return is valued over this, then the purpose of the university is at risk.

Why? Because the pursuit of knowledge needs to be, as much as possible, uninfluenced by financial gain, political goals, religious taboos and other threats, otherwise knowledge becomes skewed, narrowed and sometimes false. This is the trust we put in universities. Other organisations do research. But we don't expect them to further knowledge. Take, for example, a pharmaceutical company. They benefit from general developments in pharmaceutical knowledge, but it is not their job to move that forward. Their job is to make a profit (sadly, since we'd hope their priority was to provide medicine to people who need it, but that is another story). They will fund often substantial amounts of research but it is directed at profit-making. If universities had those same priorities, the general moves forward wouldn't happen. And the general moves forward won't happen if there is no academic freedom. Academic freedom is the intangible substance that makes us believe the claims of the university more readily than the claims of a pharmaceutical. And it is why the universities exist. Without it, we might as well just have a lot of commercial and political R&D. And the consequences of that, for society, are too terrible to contemplate.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Who would've thought lawyers would care more for academic freedom than the university?

I have only read about half of the judgement of the appealed UWA v Gray case, but the findings are far more wide reaching, I think, than The Australian has given it credit for.

The judgement acknowledges the changes that have faced universities since the 1980s, making them increasingly entrepreneurial. But the finding is clear that these pressures do not excuse the university from complying with the Act that enables its existence.

That Act requires the university to pursue knowledge and disseminate it. Commercialisation that necessarily – even temporarily – requires secrecy is a contradiction to this requirement by the University’s Act. They acknowledge that universities are likely to still pursue commercial goals and that there are significant forces compelling them to. But commercial goals will never obviate their requirement to fulfil their original mission.

This is really important, because it goes to what an academic does. Academics research and teach. They may also disseminate knowledge in other ways. They could possible patent things but this is not central to their role. It can’t be central to their role because it is not a part of the role of the university, that the Act requires.

The judgement says that UWA has been reluctant to say what the role of the modern university is. This is not surprising, since the UWA’s lawyers have been allowed to betray every tradition that the university form has upheld for hundreds of years.

The UWA stressed, apparently, in their appeal, that the only consideration of import was Gray’s obligation as an employee. The Federal Court, however, guided by the University’s Act, has nevertheless insisted on considering (a) the role of the university as explicated by the Act and (b) the role of the academic in fulfilling the university’s mission – this role being one of membership, not subjugation. The fact that UWA stressed Gray’s employee status over his membership is a betrayal to the university tradition and to academic freedom that shocked me: it suggests that the UWA values the income potentially derived from Gray’s inventions more than the special position the iuniversity holds in society. This special position – a position that, not incidentally, gives the university the right to declare authoritatively over a wide range of issues, since the separation of commercial values from knowledge production gives it this authority – is central to the university’s traditional mission.

The Federal Court obviously was not amused either and showed that the Act made the university different to other commercial employers – a difference that, thankfully, the court appreciated, even if the university did not.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

UWA not that appealing

The Australian Higher Education Supplement has seemed a little short on news lately. But today they reported that the judgement of the appeal by UWA v Gray has been released.

The HES said:
"In a joint judgment, the court refused to read an implied duty to invent into Dr Gray's contract, stressing the distinct public role of universities, the fact that academics were not only employees but members of their university, and the freedom of researchers to choose the direction of their projects as well as to share and disseminate their results."
Like many others, I'll read it before commenting further. Unlike the HES, I have that privilege.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Privatisation and public universities: the decade that commodified knowledge

I don't think I have posted this yet: This abstract was just accepted for presentation at anzhes - my actually being there will depend somewhat on the outcome of my application for postgraduate assistance.

One of several 1980s attempts to offer fully private higher education in Australia, Tasman University was intended to have a presence in New Zealand as well. The brainchild of Michael Porter at the Centre for Policy Studies, a hub of neo-liberalism during the decade renowned for the commodification of higher education, Tasman University collapsed even before it opened. It was not alone. Tasman and other private universities – most famously Bond University in Australia – struggled, despite the faith their founders expressed in the improvements to be found in a user-pays higher education system. Few survived at all, and none became the immensely profitable Australian version of Harvard University that Don Watts, the first Vice-Chancellor at Bond University, anticipated.

The trials and failures of private universities, however, do not reflect a failure in the privatisation project. Scholars of higher education in Australia consistently affirm the 1980s as the decade when universities became commodified and deregulated – where privatisation flourished.

For Australian academics recalling the 1980s, the Dawkins reforms, commencing with the instatement of John Dawkins as Minister for Education 1987, stand out as the shock, precipitating a massive move towards a commodified system. Despite the uncontested significance of those reforms, the moves to privatisation were stirring from the earliest parts of the 1980s – and they were not all the result of government policy. Tasman University failed due to competition – explicit, marketised competition – from fee-paying private courses in a public university led by a vocal opponent of Dawkins: David Penington’s University of Melbourne.

Why did the public universities show such complicity in the commodification process, despite their vocal opposition to privatisation? This paper, a part of a postgraduate work in progress entitled “The ownership of knowledge in higher education in Australia” considers the roles public and private universities had in the causes and processes of the commodification of higher education in Australia in the 1980s.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

My thesis in 24 words

This is an edit of my posting last week "my thesis in 23 words". I forgot a word, so it is now My thesis in 24 words. Obviously.

Knowledge is:

  1. Purchasable
  2. Delegitimised
  3. Commodified
  4. Controlled
  5. Privatised
  6. Tradeable

This changes the role and nature of the university.

The end.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Tradeable knowledge: the development of intellectual property policies in the 1980s and 1990s

Knowledge is not intellectual property. Nevertheless, once the language of intellectual property was widely deployed in Australian universities, the ownership of knowledge was explicitly accomplished. This occurred in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when for reasons explored in this chapter, universities were compelled to develop policies on the allocation of intellectual property. An uneven and disorderly process, policy development took place both specifically – within the narrow confines of legal definitions of intellectual property – and symbolically, entering discourses around the purpose of the university form and the value of the labour within it. That is what this chapter is about. This chapter considers the forces that obliged the universities to transform earlier patent policies into broader policies encompassing the full breadth of intellectual property – and beyond, as we will see.

Click here to read the rest of this first draft chapter.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Appealing invention

I know everyone has been wondering: what has happened to UWA v Gray? This is the case where it was found that invention did not fall within an academic's duties of employment and thus the university did not own that intellectual property. Even if the university had an intellectual property policy claiming it this was insufficient. Universities can't just go around claiming their staffs' property. Naturally, UWA lodged an appeal, almost as soon as the judgement was handed down. What will they say? This is where it is at, according to the nice people at the Perth registry:
"Matter number WAD 93 of 2008 was heard by the Full Court of the Federal Court between 10 to 14 November 2008. Judgment has been reserved. When a date for handing down judgment is known the parties will be advised and the judgment available on the internet. The record will then be amended to show that the matter has been finalised.

In the normal course, the Court aims to hand down judgment in most matters within approximately three months of the hearing. However, in some complex and longer matters, more time may be required. As this matter was complex and was heard over five days, this probably falls into that category.

Judgment writing is a time consuming process. In writing Full Court judgments, the judges, if they are in agreement as to the outcome, may elect to appoint a judge to write the main judgment and the other judges may publish short reasons in relation to areas where they differ as to reasoning in coming to particular conclusions. If a Judge differs from the majority, he or she would publish their own reasons for dissenting. In judgment writing it is not unusual for there to be several drafts, the final draft would need citations and footnotes to be thoroughly checked and thoroughly proof-read in preparation for uploading to the internet."

Monday, 20 July 2009

What Universities claimed in the first IP policies

IP Policies 1986-96


Policy Year



to Report



Collaborator or
Grant body

Australian National University


University claimed all IP, but not traditional scholarly output[1]




Not specified

Adelaide University


University claimed all IP[2]

Unclear from the policy[3]


Claims substantial ownership[4]

1993 policy on research contracts shows University would negotiate[5]

Macquarie University


University claimed all IP but waived traditional scholarship[6]



Not specified

University claimed all[9]

University of New England


University claimed some IP[10]



Not specified

Not specified



University claimed all IP[13]

No, but financial incentives in place


Not specified

Not specified



University claimed all IP[15]

Yes, but no mechanism[16]


Not specified[18]

Not specified[19]

[1] The Australian National University was especially broad in this: “the whole of the professional time of an academic staff member…”

[2] University of Adelaide claimed all IP produced within the university and a proportion of staff IP produced when on study leave or secondment at another institution. It did not claim IP of part-time staff for work done outside of university duties. (Adelaide 1989) and not less than one half of IP of honorary or unpaid staff, all surviving the termination of employment

[3] The University of Adelaide 1989 policy pointed out that

[4] University of Adelaide claimed one quarter of IP of visitors from research conducted while visiting Adelaide on leave from another university (Adelaide 1989)

[5] Adelaide University amended, in 1993, its policy on Outside research grants, contracts and consultancies, which included items that other universities included in their IP policy.

[6] Macquarie University normally waived all right to traditional scholarly output (MQ 1990)

[7] Macquarie policy requires immediate reporting for potentially patentable research (MQ 1990)

[8] Macquarie university made student assignment of IP rights to the university a condition of their enrolment (MQ 1990) In 1991 it was pointed out that this “may be at variance with what is considered to be the individual’s rights at law” (MQ Minutes Council Meeting 23 August 1991). However, the policy remained until a much later policy was approved (post-2000)

[9] Macquarie university policy was to not normally sign research contracts unless all IP assigned to it. (MQ 1990)

[10] The University of New England claimed staff IP when it had made a specific financial or resource contribution; if it was patented; if it was course material; if software etc. All other IP belonged to the originator who was required to grant the university a royalty-free licence to use it. (UNE 1995)

[11] (UNE 1995) Required to report patentable or comercialisable research

[12] (UNE) Except in working with “a particular” supervisor who may require the student to assign IP.

[13] Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology defined IP more broadly than other universities, as “any confidential information or any rights resulting from intellectual activity”. RMIT also specified that it would own copyright only when net income from copyright exceeds $15,000 in any calendar year. (RMIT 1995)

[14] The RMIT 1995 policy did make provision for owning work using considerable quantities of the university’s pre-exiting IP or working in collaboration with staff.

[15] The University of Western Australia did not claim ownership over copyright, except for computer programs. This is the equivalent of not claiming traditional scholarly output. (UWA v Gray, 2008, pp46-47). The UWA v Gray judgment found in 2008 that the University of Western Australia had no right to claim all IP of a staff member and that this (1996) policy was invalid in that respect.

[16] UWA v Gray (page?)s

[17] The segments of the 1996 policy reproduced in the UWA v Gray judgement suggest the policy did not differentiate between student and staff originators (see pp. 45-48)

[18] Not specified in the segments replicated in UWA v Gray. Specification in original policy unknown.

[19] Not specified in the segments replicated in UWA v Gray. Specification in original policy unknown.