Sunday, 20 June 2010

Academic Work in Australian Universities the 1940s and 1950s

I have a new article in History of Education review called Academic Work in Australian Universities the 1940s and 1950s.

It is in a special edition of HER on James Conant. Here is the abstract.

Little though he knew it, in 1951 James Conant visited a university system in the midst of great change. A debate was raging through the system – a debate lasting more than a decade – which sought on one side increased engagement of universities and academic work with industry and the community, as Conant did, but on the other felt that traditional academic values underpinned a humane civil society and should therefore be protected. This long debate, as this paper discusses, culminated in the 1957 Murray report, which irrevocably transformed the Australian system. The lens through which the changing nature of universities and academic work in Australia is discussed in this paper, is the work of Lord Ashby, a British scientist and academic leader who was influential in changes in higher education in Australia and internationally. Eric Ashby’s promotion of particular types of academic work, this paper argues, was designed to attract public funding, but resist public control. Ashby, as we shall see, optimistically promoted change, identifying it as a part of the continuity of the university tradition – so he had less fear of the impact of change than many of his colleagues. The implications and resilience of Ashby’s quite heroic images of traditional academic work in a changing environment relate to principles of academic freedom as universities moved into a new relationship with government and society. The struggle for survival of the figure of the traditional academic in this new environment suggests it to be a moment where the control and ownership of knowledge started to be transferred out of academics’ hands – though Ashby, in his optimism, did not notice it.

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