Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Beneath this heroic history lurks a tragic loss

Professors, by their status (that functioned as a signifier of their expertise), had long been positioned to declare which knowledge was considered valid for the university. The supposed unity of knowledge was key to this. Unified knowledge could be understood as truth. This kind of knowledge provided the metanarrative of the university. But it was a self-legitimising system. Professors decided what knowledge was and they then also were required to protect that knowledge as inviolable truth. This was a position of considerable power for, as Lyotard said: “knowledge first finds legitimacy within itself, and it is knowledge that is entitled to say what the State and what Society is”. 

The student movements, in their opposition to examinations exposed the system of power that this type of expertise asserted. Defiance of disciplinary systems demonstrated their anger at the ways that power was institutionalised and deployed against them and against society. Their insistence that students and non-professorial staff be included in university governance – in decisions at all levels – rejected the assumption of the old community of scholars: that only the accepted experts could legitimise knowledge. On the contrary, 1960s and 1970s student movements cast off professorial legitimacy in favour of something new.

In some cases this new pedagogy was explicit. The Free U set out a position paper that detailed a participatory approach that rejected the authority of the teacher-expert.  When George Molnar of the Sydney philosophy department proposed to abolish its core curriculum, he also detailed a collaborative and problem-based approach to learning.  Those opposed to exams and the participants in the philosophy strike held less coherent perspectives, but what they all had in common was the delegitimisation of the god-professor and the instatement of de-centred models of knowledge. Students at Melbourne idealised inclusion and political diversity, rather than support of dominant social and political systems, as an environment in which new knowledge would flourish. This also prompted increased student control over what and how they would learn.   Rather than doctrinal, canonical and certain, knowledge would be seen as individual, socially constituted and political. The approaches to learning advocated by student movements will be familiar to educators of the present. They represent a precursor to current concerns for situated, authentic and student-centred learning – student movements could be described as proto-constructivist. 

Yet, beneath this heroic history lurks a tragic loss. Approximately 25 years after the Philosophy Strike Jean Curthoys said:
This liberal conception of the university no longer has currency…I have no time here to defend this liberal conception and so I shall simply say that my deep regrets about the strike concern the extent to which it opened the floodgates for its rejection.
It is difficult to know exactly what Curthoys meant here about the loss of the liberal university, but the story of the period to me suggests three things. Firstly, by challenging the existing order, students did not add themselves to the professoriate as a new community. Instead, they undermined it. While this may not seem like a great loss, the legitimacy of the university’s claim over truth in civil society rested in that hierarchical order. The second issue is related. By decentralising knowledge construction, a crisis of expertise and legitimacy emerged. If the experts have no legitimate authority over knowledge, “who decides what knowledge is and who knows what needs to be decided?”  And if there is no obvious need for expert knowledge, what is the use of the university at all? The first two issues thus led to a loss of standing, of reputation for the university as an idea. Thirdly, the language student movements used identified a parallel between the ways that money flows in a capitalist system and the ways that knowledge was structured in the university, as two aspects of the same problem. In addition, they described the shift of control from institution to student as requiring student choice: a type of consumer power. The intention of these was certainly not to commodify knowledge or education. But it gave a language that could be appropriated in support of such commodification: a language that already contained powerful moral imperatives.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Truth versus relevance: the ethic of (student) choice

The success of the Philosophy Strike in securing a legitimate place for new knowledge held by non-professors was not the end of the story for the troubled Sydney Philosophy department. On the suggestion of left-wing Sydney Push philosopher George Molnar  and with strong support by students, a move was made to remove a “core” of philosophy courses from the undergraduate curriculum.  Molnar opposed a classic curriculum he believed had been made artificially stable by academics, where knowledge development sought to enrich (rather than supersede) existing knowledge. 

Armstrong put his effort into opposing the idea, believing that core foundational knowledge was the basis of all new philosophical thought – a hierarchical structure to knowledge that was also reflected in his defence of the university’s hierarchy and the traditional role of professors. Armstrong insisted that any student who by-passed the core would “be getting an inferior philosophical education”.  Some members of the philosophy department, after the Knopfelmacher case, the Marxist-Leninist dispute and the philosophy strike, had enough. One responded to the need to vote on the issue with “a pox on George and a double pox on Armstrong!”

Molnar promoted a curriculum based on Althusserian philosophy, claiming that knowledge was produced, uncertain and contextual, and was always ideological.  Rather than learning to emulate academic masters and to parrot their knowledge, under Molnar’s scheme, students would be assessed in groups as they tackled complex topics collaboratively.  Many philosophers on staff supported Molnar’s proposal, agreeing that new knowledge would be best produced by those who can easily depart from tradition, on the basis of individual inquiry and personal discovery. It was in the youth movements of the period that challenges to accepted ideas were being produced and many philosophers wished to encourage the new knowledge that emerged.  Under this scheme, student choice would be the best way to determine the curriculum of each. Philosophy students, in the growing participatory atmosphere, agreed:
The proponents of compulsion commonly rest their case on various value judgements, for example that the compulsory courses are more intellectually valuable than some of the options which a student, given a greater range of choice, might make.
It was the principle of student choice that David Stove derided as a useless basis for curriculum, suggesting, “no doubt many more signatures could be got for a petition for students to determine their own results.”

Student choice was a larger theme of the student movement’s interactions with universities across Australia. Members of student movements felt that students should be able to choose what they studied as a matter of academic freedom. The requirement to study certain things was likened to the military conscription of the Vietnam War:
The university has … [an] obligation to go out and speak as honestly, persuasively and precisely as it can to prospective members, offer an invitation and not rely on educational conscription.
This ethic of choice would mean that universities competed for students, returning power to those who currently considered themselves powerless. It would be the power of a consumer then, which students would be able to assert, ensuring competing universities improve their service and offer courses attractive to students: they “must subsequently perform in accordance with the reasonable expectations [of] students." 

The language of freedom associated with many aspects of the youth movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, even among those who would never have intended it to do so, showed a capacity to slip into the language of the free market. Theodor Adorno had warned about the myth of freedom in the ethic of consumer choice, saying “the customer is not king as the culture industry would have us believe, not its subject but its object”.  But then student revolutionaries in Paris had rejected and attacked Adorno.

[footnotes removes...available on request]

The emergence of participatory knowledge: The Free U

The Free University near the University of Sydney, known as the Free U, aimed to free knowledge from the university hierarchy that guarded it jealously, and make it the possession of any who wished to inquire. Sydney’s Free U started in 1968 with 150 students and at its peak had approximately 300 participants, of which around 20 were University of Sydney staff.  The Free University movement was international, and Sydney’s participants drew on the previous experience of others in establishing it.  The Free U’s formation was heralded in Honi Soit in 1967 with invitations to students and staff to participate in its planning.  This was a participatory approach – where staff and students were ostensibly equal, where course content was not fixed, course leaders were “convenors”, not lecturers and there was no assessment. It thus sought to challenge professorial authority with alternative pedagogy, expressing some the key knowledge utopias of the 1960s and 1970s.

The Free U was a response to failures by what Terry Irving described as the “mass university”.  The mass university’s hierarchical pedagogies inhibited a “true” community of scholars. The neglect of new academic material that focused on the “real” issues of society or the “real” issues that students faced in their daily lives would emerge, they believed, in a more participatory environment.  The mass university was complicit in the goals of the “establishment”: 
Just as the university serves the nation, so the “good” teacher serves the university by instructing his students efficiently in those skills whose acquisition the nation has already made a condition of his entry to the university. Some departments and some teachers resist this atmosphere; others accept it, or encourage it by continually complicating the lives of staff and students with regulations and forms.
The mass university, Free U founders claimed, contributed to a culture that valued the seniority of the lecturer over the student, positioning the lecturer as the “knower” and the student as “doesn’t know”.  As well as perpetuating the incestuous self-legitimising knowledge of the professoriate, the disadvantage of this pedagogy for teachers, said Free U leader, Bob Connell, was that teachers only ever taught what they already knew, missing a learning opportunity themselves.  Traditional hierarchies and disciplinary boundaries designed to protect existing knowledge, inhibited the production of new knowledge. Admission to a mass university was based on decisions by administrators, not the teachers who, in a Free University, would select students for admission themselves and “teach who they want”.

The Free U was set up in a house in Chippendale, a short walk from the Sydney campus.  It assumed that students were active in the discovery process and that they produced ideas from which their teachers could also learn. Functionally, the Free U positioned learning in an immersive, experiential community that blurred the boundaries between theory and practice, thought and emotion, student and teacher (and teacher and professional practitioner), known and not known:
When you walk in the front door of the Free U, you leave outside the formal distinction between students and teachers … The group studies what the people in it decide they want to study… The way they tackle it is decided by themselves on the spot: not by someone else beforehand. The “course” is what the people in the course group make of themselves.
Founders of the Free U invoked the concept of “community of scholars” to promote a romantic notion of a renewed university, containing as it did a strong desire for authenticity, individuality and spontaneity. The Free U also repositioned the student to the centre of teaching and learning, redistributing knowledge to participants who held “a strong sense that knowledge was for sharing”.  In so doing, the Free U problematised knowledge as foundational and objective, with independent thought only possible after the foundation is acquired through careful discipline and examination. By positioning students and professionals as potential teachers it gave legitimacy to knowledge constructed as reflections on current affairs, social and professional practice. It challenged the idea that such knowledge should be the possession of professors and experts .  The Free University aimed to free knowledge from the disciplines and from the guardianship of its traditional owners. By enacting knowledge utopias, the Free U staked its own claim to the ownership of knowledge, but also showed that it could be produced and possessed by anyone.

The Free U was heavily reliant on its proximity to Sydney University.  It is noteworthy that – unlike the “Learning Exchange” students attempted in Canberra  and the Open University model, which was a topic under discussion throughout higher education  and was successfully launched in the UK in 1969  – admission to the Free U seems to have largely assumed existing university participation, creating a “community” that was really a Sydney University clique.  Its admission policy was also attached to the criterion by which a course could be offered, one of the first instances, perhaps, where student demand explicitly determined academic curriculum:
Anyone can run a course, provided he [sic] can get students
No one thought of this as market demand, rather “reform from below”.  But it nevertheless created a language that could later be appropriated to give moral force to application of market forces to university knowledge.

Terry Irving’s 1971 chapter in Counterpoints suggests that Free U founders had initially seen the Free University as an instrument of reform. Their vision narrowed after a couple of years. They came to accept themselves as just a “unique academic community”:
The Free University…is not an academy for instruction in doctrinal truth…and it is not the answer to the mass university…we now think of ourselves more as a conscience than a catalyst for the mass university.
The Free U closed in 1972 and its participants saw it as a temporary expression of important ideas rather than the cause of an educational revolution. Despite the brevity of the Free U’s existence, similar pedagogies had more permanent expression through organizations like the Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia (HERDSA), which was established in 1972 and encouraged socially situated, student-centred approaches through professional development for university teachers. 

Sunday, 23 May 2010

God-professors: delegitimising academic authority

In 1973, Sydney University PhD students Jean Curthoys and Liz Jacka proposed to teach “Philosophical aspects of Feminist thought”. The proposal was hotly debated in the Sydney Philosophy Department, deeply divided since the mid-1960s (and soon to split officially). Despite some fierce opposition, the Department approved it and it went to the next Arts Faculty meeting, where it was also controversial. One professor gave his reasons for voting against it, roughly along these lines:
I shall vote against this course. I have a feeling about it. It doesn’t smell right. 
The Faculty vote was split, with just over 50% of members voting to support delivery of the course. This was the only approval needed for an elective course, so ordinarily the story should stop here.

Perhaps using similar senses to that anonymous professor in the Arts Faculty meeting Deputy Vice Chancellor O’Neil thought something did not seem right with signing off on the Faculty’s decision. He contacted another professor, David Armstrong. We have already seen the approaches that Armstrong took to try to employ Knopfelmacher in the Sydney philosophy department. A vehement anti-communist, Armstrong was a member of James McAuley’s Peace with Freedom movement and continued in the Congress for Cultural Freedom, becoming heavily involved in conservative thinking in Sydney, including membership of the editorial board of Quadrant (a role he continues at the time of writing, at 84 years old).  Informed during a 1986 oral history interview that one of his many on-campus political “enemies” described him as the most reactionary person they had ever met, Armstrong said, “oh, no, David Stove would win easily”.  Stove was a fellow philosopher, colleague in the Congress for Cultural Freedom and personal friend.

 In 1971 Armstrong had successfully put a stop to staff proposals for a course on Marxism-Leninism – but then, he had been Head of Department. Even then the department had publicly censured him for exercising his veto in relation to the course and he had sought (and received) written reassurance from the Vice-Chancellor that he possessed the right that he had exercised.  As professor, and indeed senior professor, he felt himself to be absolutely responsible for the content on every course delivered in his department. He had taken a strong interest in the recent definitions of the roles of professors, especially in departments where there were more than one, as in Philosophy. The rotation of the Head of Department role to someone else did not make him feel any less responsible for the material taught – nor did it incline him to allow courses with political inclinations he disagreed with. His previous tactics in the department indicated that Armstrong would not hesitate to use his professorial status to stop the course, whichever way he could.

After his phone call with Armstrong, O’Neil declared there to be no funding for the course. Outraged members of the Philosophy department descended on his office in protest, leading the Deputy Vice Chancellor to refer the issue to more professors – the (soon to be defunct) University Professorial Board.  This was exactly the type of behaviour that was making students suspicious of professorial power and hierarchical knowledge. Professors were using whatever power was available to them – in this case funding-power – to control knowledge.
In an open letter, Jacka and Curthoys said:
Professor O’Neil has made it clear that be believes the best decisions can only be made by those with the highest rank.
They informed the Professorial Board that “In our case at least, your high rank in no way qualified you to judge the issue”, since feminist thinking was “an area which is entirely new”:
It is the nature of the case that we don’t have a long history in the subject. There are no established, recognised authorities to whom we can appeal.
This was entirely new knowledge. Furthermore, unlike other types of university knowledge, the nature of this new feminist knowledge excluded established expert judgement. The Professorial Board was by definition out of touch with this new knowledge and therefore could hold no authority to decide what knowledge is:
The kinds of things that bodies like yours usually consider, don’t apply in this case. This, of course is not to argue that whether or not we are competent is unimportant or undecidable, but rather that you aren’t the proper people to decide it.
Following this none too subtle declaration that professors were no longer the legitimate owners of knowledge, Jacka and Curthoys announced a revolution:
We feel, then, that those who are in a position to judge our competence have already done so. This week we will be asking these people to demand of Professor O’Neil that we are immediately appointed.
It could hardly have been expected that this letter to the Professorial Board, denouncing professorial authority and staking a claim to knowledge owned and approved by students and junior academics in its place, would encourage the Board to a more sympathetic position than those held by O’Neil and Armstrong, who were already suspicious of feminism and defensive of their academic authority. Department Head Keith Campbell fought very hard to convince the Board of the competence of Jacka and Curthoys and the value of the course, but was opposed by some very vocal professors. Armstrong pointed out that “a majority of professorial and associate-professorial members of the Department were opposed to or had grave reservations” about the course.  The minutes suggest that what really clinched the matter was a reading by Armstrong from an ABC radio interview with Jacka and Curthoys. The transcript of the interview was not quoted in the minutes, but a copy prepared especially for the meeting is in Armstrong’s papers in the National Library. A largely innocuous document, the only item that I could see that might have influenced the Board was that the interviewer asked if the course was “propaganda” and the women confirmed that they were not “unbiased”.  Armstrong was to use this interview as evidence at later meetings and would continually refer to it as giving a “different complexion” to the official course proposal throughout the controversy.  It obviously resonated with professorial fears. The professorial board represented the university’s system of knowledge: those deemed to be academic “masters” could decide what university knowledge was – a legitimising arrangement. That these experts were also the creators of knowledge who then validated it was a problem students and junior staff were starting to associate with the broader problems the movement had with capitalism. Just as the structure of economics promoted concentration of wealth for a few, so did the structure of the university hoard knowledge as a type of wealth amongst the professors.  That knowledge might flow like money – even when that conception is put to the purpose of reorganising it as shared wealth – forged a new conceptual connection that will become important in later chapters. But in 1973 this revolution was just starting and was fuelled as much by the generation gap as the structure of legitimacy.

The large influx of staff during the sudden period of growth afforded by the Murray report created a significant age gap between longstanding senior staff. Universities recruited a large new generation of junior staff, many of whom had quite recently been students themselves. Many junior academics were influenced by emerging ideas about student-focused pedagogies and 1960s criticisms of university hierarchy, outdated courses and an “overall conformity of the university to dominant political and social values” – and they wanted to offer their own contributions to knowledge.  While there was a lot to stand in the way of junior staff assuming some of the authority Professors had held as a matter of tradition, change was enabled by this generation gap. The generation against whom protest was directed were on their way out and a very large number of new generation academics were on their way in – with few in between to temper revolutionary change. The professoriate had reason to fear the consequences of this change and they started examining the “meaning” of being a professor and its structural and authoritative implications.

These fears were compounded by anti-feminist sentiments that some professors held passionately. Professor David Stove, even nearly twenty years later was still outraged by the inclusion of feminism in valid intellectual inquiry:
After the defeat of America by Vietnam, the attack [on the university] was renewed, amplified, and intensified, by feminists. Their attack has proved far more devastating than that of the Marxists…Of the many hundreds of courses offered to Arts undergraduates in this university, what proportion, I wonder, are now not made culturally-destructive, as well as intellectually null, by feminist malignancy and madness? One-third? I would love to believe that the figure is so high.
The result of the combination of suspicion of feminism with fears for the status of professorial authority was that, although O’Neil’s own committee had recommended appointment of Jacka and Curthoys, the Professorial Board rejected it by thirty-nine votes to seven. 

Thus commenced the highly publicised Philosophy Strike. In this, many staff and students from several departments went on strike. The Builders Labourers Federation weighed in with their support and media contacts and a Women’s Tent Embassy was constructed in the Main Quad.  A University Senate Inquiry resulted in approval for the course.  Leonie Kramer, then Professor of Australian Literature, felt the published Inquiry report failed to give an adequate picture of the Philosophy Strike and insisted that her own analysis be published alongside it. She was concerned to publicise the fact that, while a majority in the philosophy department had supported the feminist course, the majority of professors did not. Kramer thought that this would persuade the public about the intellectual invalidity of the subject. She believed the public would respect the opinions of professors over even a large number of others.  There is some evidence that she was right. One newspaper said:
How absurd to give such a course, how presumptuous of two women graduates to suggest that they could give it! That’s what you get if you allow professors to have no more than one vote among many.
But the fact that there was sustained opposition to feminism and non-professorial knowledge does not remove the importance of the change this event exemplifies: the delegitimation of professorial authority over knowledge. The strike announced that knowledge was possessed by hundreds of individual knowers – individuals who would no longer accept the authority of a group of self-proclaimed experts. They were, as Lyotard put it, “sounding the knell of the age of the Professor”. 

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Wasting academic labour

I would like to highlight this comment made in newmatilda.com

"There is no time to undertake fresh research or writing in 2010 when we are filling in forms (for the second or third time) explaining the significance of something we wrote in 2003."

Monday, 17 May 2010

universities need to explain their value on their own terms

My new article in newmatilda - Why Unis shouldn't play the economics card

Soppy sit-ins

So as you can see I am in the middle of working through student protest material, which includes long occupations of libraries, vice-chancellor offices, careers centres. But I read today that the University of Sydney Union is proposing a sit-in at Manning Bar.

Not exactly the same, is it?

Politicised knowledge and the lie of objectivity

During the Second World War, knowledge had been applied to war and the only vocalised objection was from one ratbag philosopher. The war, to almost all, was an objective good and it was the duty of the universities, as for all citizens, to support the nation. By the 1960s the whole apparatus that had made this possible was collapsing. Students had noticed that university knowledge was not as objective as disinterested inquiry implied. In fact, they identified several overt cases where university knowledge was plainly put to political purposes. We have already seen that students at Adelaide University were angry to find university equipment was being used for designing weapons that might be used in the Vietnam War. For student movements the logic seemed clear. If university knowledge was political – which it clearly was, supporting “the establishment” – then it could be redirected to political ends. In this spirit, at La Trobe University, students took over the Careers and Appointments office that had been used for military recruitment and redirected its resources to “the revolution”.

This logic was not entirely new. As the federated staff association grew in influence throughout the Cold War, the prospect of politicised knowledge was increasingly obvious and the staff association attempted, in less melodramatic ways, to redirect knowledge to political aims of its members. Although there is little evidence that political tests were being frequently applied to the appointment of staff, the staff association’s activities highlighted the risk. And when Monash University’s Albert Langer had difficulty enrolling for a postgraduate degree at the University of Melbourne, staff as well as students were alarmed at the implications of a political test applied to student admission.

Albert 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 of the movement as a whole. He was a reasonable choice, if such a scapegoat were required. There is reason to think that he joined the Monash Labor Club in 1966 already secretly planning on shifting it in a Maoist direction.  Langer was an advocate of violent insurrection and contributed to that side of the debate over the role of violence, which dominated the Labor Club in 1968.  But by 1970, some students at both Monash and nearby Melbourne University were complaining about his egomaniacal loudness, the “bully boys” he inserted into protests intended to be non-violent, and the fact that he declared anyone who disagreed with him a fascist.  So while Langer made a useful scapegoat, he does not necessarily function as a typical representative of student politics from the period. And yet, despite his shortcomings, when both Monash and the University of Melbourne declined to admit him to candidature, students and staff rallied to his support.

For the Monash administration, Langer’s graduation must have been much anticipated. 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 was refused admission, not excluded, despite the fact that he had been “found guilty of misconduct in obstructing a meeting of the Council of the University and in failing to leave an office when directed to do so” – a finding that was confirmed by a State Supreme Court injunction that restrained Langer and his wife from entering the Administrative building of Monash University. 

At Melbourne the rejection of Langer’s application was achieved under regulation 3.3.18 – the first application of this regulation in a decade.  Students occupied a Professorial Board meeting at Melbourne University in 1970 to protest the exclusion of Langer on non-academic grounds  and the Professorial Board then formed an “unofficial subcommittee” to review 3.3.18.  An unofficial draft of a revised regulation was leaked from this unofficial subcommittee and, since it still contained ways that potential students could be excluded on political grounds, a student general meeting was organised.

On 6th May 1971, 1000 students agreed to march from their mass meeting to the administration building to protest against the political test implied in the admissions clause.  They locked in the Vice-Chancellor and around 200 staff for five and a half hours by bricking up the entrance to the building and creating other types of barricades.  Staff attempting to leave were repelled with streams of water from fire hoses and one angry staff member threw a brick at students.  Victorian Premier Henry Bolte was so appalled at the event that he planned on attempting to ensure protesting students lost their scholarships to attend university, saying “I am getting sick and tired of the taxpayer carrying a lot of no-hopers”.

For students, 3.3.18 was a symptom of a university that was protecting old knowledge under the pretence that it was unified and objective rather than embracing political diversity in ways that would produce new:
Rather than face the challenges of new ideas and dissent, Melbourne University has decided that one of the ways to keep the dull old place ticking over is to empower itself to exclude “outside agitators”. 
This politicisation of knowledge was associated with a shift in pedagogy that would make students active knowers, rather than passive recipients of truth:
We are asking that the university experience cease being one of passive knowledge gaining and that staff and students can be creative and responsible for decided what should be learnt and how it will be learnt, free from the present stultifying nature of this university.
Students were not alone in feeling that the university’s structure prevented them from being active and creative within it. 3.3.18 prompted university staff as well to take an increasingly active role in university government. Melbourne University News was established soon after the 3.3.18 lock-in, by staff who were frustrated that only the Vice-Chancellor had the ability to broadcast news. The trigger for the News was when the Vice-Chancellor used his monopoly on information to ask staff to assist in preventing student protests – non-professorial staff who were ordinarily excluded from university governance were irritated to nevertheless be asked to participate in its reinforcement.  The News was a means of claiming knowledge and the associated right to communicate it. This was just one of the ways that the internal structure of the university was changing to reflect a diversified and contingent system of individual knowledge rather than a collective duty to the protection of a centralised truth. While all this activity succeeding in changing Melbourne university and contributed to a changing sense of the character of university knowledge, it did not succeed in securing the admission of Albert Langer. Langer then applied to Sydney University, who with no fuss at all rejected his application. 

The growing sense among both staff and students that knowledge was individual and political, rather than unified and objective had two consequences. One is that staff wanted assurance that political tests would not be applied lessening central control and creating political diversity and openness. The other is that if politics could be applied to support the establishment, so could knowledge be applied to support the revolution. University knowledge as objective, disinterested truth was exposed as a method of naturalising a dominant political system. It is ironic that, after the decades of building a structure by which university knowledge could be directed to support the nation, the character of that knowledge changed. It changed in a way gave it a new construction: instead of national, truthful, civil and purposeful, knowledge could be subversive, individual, creative and contingent. Through these characteristics, claimed students and non-professorial staff, new kinds of knowledge would be enabled. The key obstacle was that group charged with the job of defending the old kind: the god-professors.

[footnotes have been removed for the purposes of this posting. please contact me if you would like to see them]

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Power, knowledge and the anti-exam movement

On 8th November 1973 more than 300 students at the University of New England in the regional NSW town of Armidale held a “Peasants’ Revolt” against exams:
Students were in the role of peasants, there were lords and peasants…and professors would expropriate people’s work and use it in a very feudal way.
Upon marching to the administrative building where they intended to make their case against exams, they found locked doors. Undeterred, and after a violent struggle, students occupied the administrative building for 24 hours. 

The University of New England was not alone in this – examinations were a focus of student movements across Australian universities. Melbourne University formed an “SRC Exam Reform Group” and published articles entitled “Abolish Exams”.  They distributed protest stickers that students could put in their exam booklets:
I consider this exam to serve no educational purpose as all. I sit it under duress, because no creative alternative has been offered.
Students at the Australian National University in Canberra were also unhappy about exams in 1973, having campaigned unsuccessfully for four years to reduce the quantity of assessment assigned to examination.  By 1973 some students were boycotting exams, which was portrayed as analogous to Vietnam War draft resistance, and they publicised an “Exam Resister’s Manifesto”.  By 1974 Australian National University students occupied university buildings to protest against exams, as did students in the History Department at Flinders University in South Australia. 

“The examination”, according to Foucault, “opened up two correlative possibilities”:
Firstly, the constitution of the individual as a describable, analysable object…in order to maintain him in his individual features … under the gaze of a permanent corpus of knowledge; and, secondly, the constitution of a comparative system that made possible the measure of overall phenomena … the calculation of gaps between individuals, their distribution in a given ‘population’
Through exams, students were either monitored for their individual achievement against a canon of knowledge, or they were measured against one another in order to rank and sort them. Examinations assert power and deny students ownership of the knowledge that is both the measure and the measured, of their success (or failure).

“Most students do not feel that they are able to control their own destiny”, read the Educational Policy of the Australian Union of Students, in which exams were described as “repressive” instruments.  In rejecting examination as a means of assessment, students felt that they also shed the shackles of an educational system that “indoctrinated” rather than “educated”.  Resisting exams was, for them, one means of claiming a knowledge that was their own and which in turn provided a sense of self-determination of both knowledge and life. At the University of New England, the importance reclaiming their knowledge emerges in Rod Noble’s description of the Peasant’s Revolt occupation:
It was an incredible, creative time with people writing poetry. For the first time students had control of something that was ours. Actually it is incredible what creativity comes out of people when they’re in control of even a small part of their destiny.
The anti-exam protests continued beyond the occupation in various ways, including treating the main exam centre carpet with foul-smelling chemicals so the room could not be used.  For the Classical Marxism II exam, students “in the true spirit of Marxism” drew their chairs together to complete the exam collaboratively. The exam supervisor, understandably, did not know what to do and fetched the Dean of the Arts Faculty, who alerted the Vice-Chancellor. The Armidale police were called:
Three detectives and eight uniformed police with paddy wagons were ready. Interestingly, they were prepared to use the armed forces of the state to uphold the examination system. 
While not arrested, some students then spent the remainder of the exam period – around 3 weeks – dodging officials trying to serve them with injunctions while they also supported increased student resistance against exams.

Especially sinister, according to students, was the perceived impact of exams on learning. Preparation for exams substitutes for learning in an exam-dominating educational system , screamed the student publications, determining the knowledge selected for learning and enhancing the power of those who select it:
Learning has developed into a one way traffic from powerful to powerless. Students have been conditioned all their lives to believe the god teachers and be good receivers of knowledge. Students’ self-confidence is constantly undermined by teachers until they reach the stage where they will not challenge the teachers.
The Exam Resisters Collective at the Australian National University felt that abolishing exams would enable a “reinvigoration” of teaching and learning, by removing the driver that (falsely) determined what knowledge was. Students hoped that removal of exams as a teleological agent would enable more diverse and personal forms of assessment, under an assumption that knowledge is individual rather than absolute:
To speak of the calculation, quantification and measurement of one’s personal development or fulfilment is nonsense.
Evidence of the failure of exams to fulfil their role in the educating mission, was their negative impact on students, according to anti-exam activists. Higher stress levels were attached to a single exam as the only means of assessment, resulting in unfortunate suicides.  Moreover, students questioned the validity of exams as assessment of knowledge given the types of preparation for exams – examination only evaluated memorisation, they claimed. Assessment, it was increasingly felt, should support learning by individuals, rather than sorting and categorising them. It was hoped that, if any assessment was used at all (and only a minority felt that there should be none), then it would support individual empowerment rather than function as an instrument of power. 

“God is an exam”, read one student article, an indication of the power students identified in the examination system. Exams were the tool by which the university exercised its power over students. Exams enabled the university to compare and map the landscape of knowers in the guise of an objective chart of student achievement. This measurement of student success both exercised and legitimised a stable body of knowledge. Students claimed that the stress of exams was evidence of its violent power – it moulded students’ intellectual selves according to an established canon. Rather than inspiring learning, exams killed it, requiring instead a habit of cramming to memorise dead knowledge. Sydney’s professor of philosophy, David Armstrong, saw it differently:
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 assessment...you 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.
We will come back to Armstrong, who personified the god-professor in the late 1960s and early 1970s, for despite the flexibility advocated in this interview Armstrong was also determined to claim the power of recognised expertise. For, as well as asserting power over students, exams proclaimed the authority of the university over knowledge of the world – the authority of the knower over that which was to be known.

[footnotes have been removed. please contact me if you are interested in them]

Student ratbags: opposition to university discipline

In one of his two largely sympathetic books on student participation in university governance, Eric Ashby expressed puzzlement at the 1960s student movement’s approach to university discipline. That students defied the authority of the university was (often) admirable, when done for reasons of conscience. He could not understand why then, they would not submit to the discipline that resulted. If students were genuine reformers, he argued, they would accept the consequences of their actions – true believers would be willing martyrs. Since they did not, the new student movements of the late 1960s could be seen as little more than a frivolous veneer of reform – what many Australians referred to as a bunch of ratbags.  Ashby had a perspective on the university that prevented him from understanding that university discipline was a part of the apparatus of power that student movements wished to collapse.

At Monash as we have seen, Albert Langer’s destroyed transcript of his disciplinary hearing functioned as a signifier of university authority. Disciplinary proceedings after a sit-in had led Monash students to invade Matheson’s lunch with Clark Kerr. Students were open about their opposition to the fact of university discipline. When used against them in response to political activities, university discipline appeared to be an instrument of political repression. It went still further than this. At Sydney University, opposition to university discipline was a key organising concept for student protest for a couple of years. Disciplinary proceeding following the Max Humphreys and Victoria Lee cases had led at Sydney to widespread discussion about the role and structure of the university and the knowledge it wielded as a controlling structure. 

Many more students had mobilised in support of Max Humphreys than had participated in the library sit-ins that had prompted the university to discipline him. This opposition to the university’s disciplinary practices was reinforced shortly afterwards, during the disciplinary hearings of those whose named as leaders of the student occupation of administrative offices during the Victoria Lee case. Student action against university discipline at Sydney was especially vehement as there had been ill ease amongst students for some time about the aggressive behaviour of the university’s security staff, leading many to question the right of University guards to carry guns (for although guards had been heard to say they wouldn’t waste bullets on students, this was little comfort). 

It was the combination of the character of university discipline as well as the fact of it that highlighted aspects of the university that many students and a growing number of staff found questionable. Students accused of breaching university regulations were not presumed innocent when they faced professorial judges, whose disciplinary traditions resembled paternalistic school discipline more than the democratic legal system students felt should provide their model. Those judging discipline cases – the university proctorial board – were professors whose sense of authority was most likely smarting. After the Victoria Lee case, one member of the Proctorial Board, Deputy Vice Chancellor Professor O’Neil was required to evaluate the cases of accused students, including Chris O’Connell, with whom he had been fighting in a bitter war of words in their respective publications, Honi Soit (O’Connell was an editor) and the University of Sydney News. He could not be considered to be impartial.  Students angrily pointed this out, but the university could not suddenly change its by-laws to arrange for student disciplinary hearings to be conducted by “a random selection of peers in an open forum” – but they did agree to include student representatives on the proctorial board.  Despite the best efforts of O’Neil to prevent it, Chris O’Connell and his brother Gregory (who was also a vocal opponent of university discipline) were promptly elected as student proctors – something the Student Representative Council found perversely funny.  Chris O’Connell took the opportunity to call a Proctorial Board meeting on his own authority, against the wishes of the chair (who was then Professor Taylor, Chair of the Professorial Board). All the student proctors formed quorum, though they were “forced”, according to O’Connell, to eject the (only) Professor who was acting as the Board’s secretary for “offensive interruption of student proctors”.  The objective of this coup sounds relatively innocuous, for all its drama – they instated a joint Student Representative Council and Staff Association Standing Committee on Discipline.  But it functioned to remove discipline from the members of the professorial board acting as proctors and handing control to a combination of students and the staff union – decentralising power and authority.

Students wanted to control the world that impacted them, but this was not just a reflection of youthful wilfulness. It was not, as Donald Horne argued, that the traditional authoritative structure of the university grated with emerging ideas about liberation and freedom of expression.  The student movements identified the university as a structure that exercised power. By influencing the inner intellectual lives of students and by manipulating their patterns of behaviour, universities were a formidable structure for social control. When Ashby was disappointed that students who sought reform were not willing to submit to the discipline of the university he demonstrated that he did not really understand the extent to which reform was not only about improved pedagogies and a renewal of the roles of students in an unchangeable conception of a community of scholars. Rather, it was a direct challenge to the position the university held as a technology of power. 

[footnotes have been removed. please contact me if interested in them]

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Controlling the production of knowledge: student participation

Overdue library books – a topic at least as banal as the Monash car park – was the issue at the University of Sydney in April 1967, the consequences of which were still felt more than a year later. Over this issue, students held mass meetings, more than a thousand signed a petition, and up to 250 people conducted several sit-ins of the University of Sydney’s Fisher library, undoubtedly having a fabulous time camping there overnight.  According to then University Librarian Harrison Bryan, some of the students participating in the sit-ins were confused about what the protest was about, a number of them believing they were seeking increased opening hours. One student apparently declared that Fisher library “even sans air-conditioning or light, was so much more comfortable than his lodgings that he would be back any time any old protest was on”.  The Sydney University student newspaper Honi Soit gave a number of reasons for students to support the 1967 protest against increased library fines, the most convincing of which was that wealthier students would get a better education than poorer ones, since they would be able to afford to keep books for longer. Students’ real anger seems to emerge with statements like this:
The chief librarian and his nebulous associates … have treated students as morons – not worthy of consultation or consideration in what is essentially their own problem. We as students will rebel against these insults.
The University librarian felt angry too, he confessed, after students protested over his increased library fines – largely because he felt hurt that, in identifying this one failure to consult students, they did not acknowledge all his effort to provide high quality library services. In a heartening display of humility, he also confessed that his anger was “partly I suppose because my authority was disputed (which was perhaps a little ignoble of me)”.  The University Librarian named the student he believed to be the ringleader in the original protest (he was very sorry he did later) leading many more students to mobilise in support of that student, Max Humphreys, escalating the conflict and the sense of division between students and the university’s administration.  The incidents attached to increased library fines at the University of Sydney did not in fact do much to knowledge or its ownership, except to suggest to students that they needed increased representation in university government. This idea, emerging with the feeling of being treated as “morons” by the university, was confirmed in the Victoria Lee case.

Victoria Lee was given some bad advice when she was at school, when her careers advisor told her that studying maths for her high school matriculation was unnecessary, since she wanted to study anthropology and archaeology. Upon application to the University of Sydney in 1969, however, she found that, although she had the required grades, she did not have the required maths. Victoria Lee then enrolled at Macquarie University and took the anthropology and archaeology she needed at Sydney, having them credited to her Macquarie degree. She did this on the understanding that Sydney accepted students who had successfully completed a year at another NSW university. After her year in exile, she reapplied to Sydney in 1970, only to find that the Professorial Board had changed the rules and students from other universities were no longer eligible for admission. Victoria Lee’s polite letter to the University’s Senate explaining all this was reprinted in Honi Soit – for students were deeply concerned about the fact that the Professorial Board, as they explained to the distressed Victoria Lee, had decided to change admission requirements but had forgotten to publish the change in the University Calendar or anywhere else. Victoria Lee felt that her only chance was to appeal to the University Senate to ask them to make an exception in her case. 
What Victoria Lee probably didn’t expect was that a thousand or more students would support her. The worrying precedent of the Professorial Board implementing unpublished decisions made students and the Student Representative Council realise that they really needed representation on the Professorial Board as a means of ensuring students interests were heard and that decisions could be communicated back to them, in the event the Professorial Board forgot. Student Representative Council president, Percy Allen, wrote a very polite (but unsuccessful) letter in which “the Student Representative Council humbly submits that the Professorial Board recommend and the Senate accept two or more students on the Professorial Board”.

In analysing the case for Honi Soit, student John Maddocks was generally supportive of the Professorial Board’s policy, which was obviously designed to “keep out inferior students”:
…to ensure that there is not a flood of applicants to enter Sydney University from people who have completed first year at NSW and Macquarie. The resolution was not passed to exclude a student like Victoria Lee who had easily made the quota for this university.
Students could be as capable of elitism as professors – but were also supportive of a student who they perceived to be one of their own. The same issue of Honi Soit reports that 1000 students had protested within the previous week over the Victoria Lee case. These 1000 students had voted to support student representation on the Professorial Board, publication of the agendas of the Professorial Board and Senate well beforehand, opening the meetings of the Professorial Board with decisions displayed around campus, and that no major decisions be made during students’ exams or vacations.  These resolutions all say the same thing: students wanted increased participation in university decision making and demanded communication from the decision makers. Feeling silenced, overlooked and frustrated, Maddocks, concluded, “it appears that direct action by the student body is the only way to confront the administration”.  One week later, on 25 March 1970, the front page of Honi Soit reported a 3-day student occupation of the administrative offices in Sydney’s Main Quadrangle in support of Victoria Lee and increased participation in University government. Many university staff wrote to support both Lee and student participation in university governance, often expressing a similar level of irritation as students at the university’s lack of consultation with sub-professorial staff.  Before the end of the year, the Professorial Board changed the rules to enable students like Victoria Lee entry to the university and had commenced detailed discussions on a new Academic Board to replace the Professorial one, restructured to include non-professorial academics and students. 

All other universities experienced the same change. At the Australian National University, a sit-in of the university administrative offices sought increased student participation, a change made successfully by the early 1970s.  Student radicals at the University of New England set aside divisions between student groups and the university to work together on restructuring academic governance to include students.  At Melbourne, a formal Planning Group was established to investigate university governance, on which representatives of all types of staff and student served, with students elected by the student body. Simon Marginson, then Arts II (Hons), in his policy speech seeking election (successfully) for a position in the Planning Group, said that the planning should contribute to a restructuring of the university that follows a change in priorities – priorities that should reflect a re-orientation of courses and enhance the capacity for the individual to have increased control over their learning and their learning environment.

The Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee took a detailed interest in this trend. In 1968 they did a detailed survey of student participation in all Australian universities, noting the number of representatives at all levels, from Council and Academic Board to departmental staff-student liaison groups. A draft of the summary report was circulated privately to all university Registrars in December 1968: “as the subject could be a controversial one an opportunity is being given for University Administrations to have a look at the document before it is finalised”.  Having a look, in this instance, means giving the universities an opportunity to collude on desirable levels of student participation. Even Matheson, who supported student participation, was not keen on having too much of it. Earlier in the year at a meeting with the other Victorian universities:
Dr Matheson said that student exchange of ideas was such that if one university put 20 students on its Council, all universities would be under pressure to do the same. In these circumstances, exchange of information and experience between universities was vital.
Matheson researched the issue well before embarking on his student participation project. He practiced first, involving students in focused issues that impacted them and required them to contribute with purpose. His file shows he read this advice from Canada, where student participation in university governance had grown dramatically:
Their contributions were critical without being constructive, often being related to the issues of society at large over which universities have no control.
Matheson hoped to direct student energy constructively to the business of the university. Contributing under leadership was acceptable to some students. The more radical believed that the university should be absolutely democratic and that a majority – majority of students that is, since they necessarily outnumbered staff – should rule.  

[footnotes have been removed from this posting. Please contact me if interested in them]

Change the university, change the world

Monash University in the late 1960s was reputed to be a hotbed of student radicalism, hosting the most famous of student protesters, Albert Langer.  For many Monash students, particularly members of the Maoist-dominated Labor Club, the drivers for change at Monash were related to the changes they wished to see in the wider community. The Labor Club distributed a roneoed newsletter – known as a “broadsheet” – called Print at uneven, but frequent intervals. The Vice-Chancellor Louis Matheson kept a file of them, along with other broadsheets and handwritten chronologies of what he thought might be important events. These show substantial attendance by Monash students at anti-Vietnam War protests from 1965, culminating in a violent protest (that is, protesters claimed to be subject to police violence) during the visit of US President Lyndon Johnson in 1966.  This opposition to the war and the character of street protests shaped the ways that students negotiated their place in the university. Matheson recorded “sit-ins” in nearly every building of the university – the library, the administrative offices, the bookshop, the careers office and more – from 1966 onwards. But it was after disciplinary proceedings were brought against Albert Langer for a sit-in in 1967 that the focus of students’ attention shifted (not entirely, of course) to the university itself. On appeal, the university dismissed the disciplinary charges made against Langer. Langer wanted a transcript of his appeal, presumably to use in the wider antagonism between university administration and the student Labor Club. Thinking its publication might result in action against the university, Matheson refused. Langer told the university that if he could not have the transcript, it should be destroyed – which, by early 1968 it was, provoking students to protest, burning an effigy of the Vice-Chancellor. This prompted students to identify Matheson as Vice-Chancellor with other authorities they decried: the police during the anti-Vietnam protest marches, the government that instigated conscription and the hierarchical society that systematically channelled wealth to the few. With Matheson now the enemy, Monash students staged countless successive protests at the university from 1968 to 1972 – a period that coincided with Albert Langer ‘s remaining enrolment.

As if to demonstrate the banal level on which student politics could play out, one of the primary issues that concerned Monash students was a long-running and bitter dispute over the car park. The university had started charging students for parking on campus and to facilitate this separated student parking from staff. Students protested not only against the imposition of fees, but against the structure of the car park as a reflection of the university’s hierarchy – and society’s class distinctions. Red, green and yellow signage designated different spaces and students temporarily painted all the signs red in protest. Students found any hierarchical organisation unacceptable and used the university to express their dissatisfaction with a hierarchical society. “No longer is the issue simply one of car parking,” claimed one issue of Print, “the issue is the place of students in the university”. 

Through Print and other broadsheets, Monash students expressed anger at the wrongs they observed in the world and frustration that the small space in which they felt they should have some influence – the university – was not as active as they were in “trying to change the rotten society we live in”.  This frustration, at Monash, was directed against the Vice-Chancellor:
A Vice-Chancellor who genuinely believed our academic freedom was threatened…would not tell students to protect their academic freedom by not exercising it. On the contrary he would resist government intimidation. He would stand up for students’ right to dissent (and not waffle in about ‘the conscience of society’ when he means the degree factory of society). He would not fit in with government plans.

It is the irony of Monash that compared to other university leaders at this time Matheson was relatively close to being on the students’ side. Actually quite a liberal Vice-Chancellor, Matheson worked to establish Monash differently to the much more hierarchical Melbourne University on which it had originally been modelled, instigating a model that included students and junior staff in decisions much earlier than other institutions.  He stood firm in insisting to government that the university administration should not assist the conscription of students to military service by making university student records available.  But the Maoist students in Monash’s Labor Club could accept no hierarchy, so the enmity with the position of Vice-Chancellor had to continue even if he had been able to implement every change they demanded.  If he did all the things a true believer in academic freedom would, according to the authors of Print, “then he wouldn’t be the Vice-Chancellor”.  Another edition somewhat guiltily justified their opposition to the Vice-Chancellor by saying, “the university is a component part of the capitalist social system” – so Matheson was structurally “still caught in the logic of it”, even if he was personally closer to their own position than many in authority.
The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), as might be expected, were watching the growth of the student movement. One of the files, created at a desk in Canberra (not in the field), contains a press clipping from The Australian newspaper entitled “Reform in the Ivory Towers”. ASIO staff have marked parts of the clipping, with especial emphasis on the following passage:
Self-management of universities goes hand in hand with a general movement to extend the principle of self-management throughout society.
ASIO was concerned about participatory democracy, of which we will see more later. But in ways that included, but went beyond participatory democracy, reform of universities was intended to precipitate reform of society. This meant that the place of universities in the structure of Australian government and culture was under scrutiny from those wishing to reform it and those hoping to keep the university as it was. Participants in student movements expressed the feeling that the role of universities should be to question society’s structures and values and provoke change. Revolution was needed, since universities currently did the opposite, affirming the status quo. In Adelaide, Grass Roots, the newsletter of the Students for Democratic Action (SDA) made the following declaration:
SDA unequivocally states that it stands for the destruction of this university, as it stands for the destruction of the social system to which the university is a willing bootlicker.
These Adelaide students were especially angry, for some university equipment was being used to pursue weapons research.  What had been a virtue in the Second World War was certainly not during the conflict in Vietnam. Their anger pushed this statement a little beyond their normal stand, which was that the university should be transformed. This transformation both depended on and was a prerequisite to social change, since:
Education (in the true sense) and criticism are hostile to the interests of capitalism and such a change in the University is a threat to the continuance of the privileged and powerful elite which constitutes the ruling class.
In Adelaide. the SDA sought to secure staff-student control of the university. Control was important, they said, as the current hierarchical control meant that the university was run for the maintenance of the system, perverting education to affirm social and economic inequalities.  The first step of this was a key transformation looked to in every university: the formalisation of student participation in university governance.

[Footnotes have been removed from this posting. PLease contact me if you would like them]

Monday, 10 May 2010

Introducing Revolutionary Knowledge

In July 1969, Louis Matheson, the Vice-Chancellor at Monash university, had an important international visitor. After their meeting, they adjourned to the staff club for lunch. Before they could finish eating, hundreds of students invaded their lunch party, outraged about disciplinary action against students who had conducted a sit-in of the university’s Council meeting recently – one of five major on-campus student protests that had already occurred that year.  For Matheson’s guest, Clark Kerr, it must have all seemed very familiar. Clark Kerr had been President of the University of California at Berkeley, where student uprisings in 1965 had alerted the western world’s universities – both students and administrators – that something new was happening on their campuses. In the United States and Australia, opposition to the Vietnam War fuelled a youth movement that challenged accepted ideas, especially on campus.  A large portion of this youth movement consisted of university students, whose numbers had grown to levels that made them formidable.  Their educational backgrounds changed the nature of Left politics, integrating intellectual problems into the concerns of what became known as the New Left.  The barricade uprising of May 1968 in Paris had shown that campus politics reflected a more widespread shift that focused on the rights of members of society who, by the structures of internalised moral schemes and externalised systems of discipline, held less power.  Gender, sex, class, race, peace and the environment were issues that captured the attention of a youth-based counter-culture that thrived in the universities and whose rhetoric spread across the world. 

Buried in this well-known history are important questions about knowledge. Exasperated, the normally sympathetic Eric Ashby described students in this period – his were fairly quiet ones, at Cambridge – as running “non-stop seminars” on “what the university is for”.  The student movements’ discussions and the events within the universities during the 1960s and 1970s led not only to a disruption of ideas about morality, gender roles and inequality but also to the widely perceived nature of university knowledge, its place in society and politics and the role of students themselves in its construction. This exposed the university to questions about the instruments of power used by institutions: examination, disciplinary rules and governance structures that reflected a particular, and potentially objectionable, structure to university knowledge. The ways that university traditions exercised control over students paralleled ways that knowledge exercised control over that which was to be known – and a battle for the control of knowledge ensued.

In this period the ownership of knowledge is about its control, for the controllers of knowledge were now identified by all involved in the universities as able to determine which knowledge was considered valid – which knowledge had the esteem attached to universities – and how it was deployed. It made it possible to ask who would determine what truth is – or indeed if such doctrinal knowledge was even possible, or permissible? The role of those figures who came to be known as god-professors in legitimising a canon of acceptable university knowledge was pitted against a de-centred configuration for the control university knowledge promoted by student movements. With these battle lines drawn up, events in the universities in the 1960s and 1970s have substantial importance for what university knowledge would become.

Most of the literature on this period in Australian history focuses on the influence of campus-based student movements on society broadly or on the New Left in particular.  The perspective of this chapter is the other way around: the impact of student movements on the campuses themselves. This doesn’t make the questions at stake insular or parochial, however for they go to fundamental questions about what is known, how it is known and who benefits from knowing it. Accounts of student revolutionary activities on Australian campuses tend, understandably, to be nostalgically heroic – demonstrating the struggles experienced by students as they sought to change universities and the society beyond them. This chapter does not try to give an account of student protest in this way, since my subject is knowledge, not students. Instead, I look at the influence of wider issues on the university and then at issues over which the control of knowledge was fought: student participation, university discipline, deployment of knowledge to support what students called the ‘establishment’. I consider examinations and assessment, the structure of the professoriate, experiments with participatory democracy on campus and student choice in subjects of study. John Burnheim, in a 1968 article prematurely entitled “the Death of student Politics”, said:
All revolutions are confused, and most carry within them the seeds of their own undoing. It is futile to appraise them as if they were calmly thought-out plans for reform. Their significance lies in the vital impulses behind them rather than their explicit proposals or demands.
The student movements in Australia were not coherent and whole. Their plans and activities were not all thought out, calmly or otherwise. Their “impulses”, as Burnheim said, are important in this chapter but so too are the consequences of their ideas and actions. These are not always the same thing – for this revolution had some unintended consequences.

[Note: Footnotes have been removed for the purposes of this posting. Please email me for details if you would like them]

Sunday, 9 May 2010

It is only quantity that can be measured

"All this seems insubstantial. Quality always does; it is only quantity that can be measured. But this is the intellectual health at the heart of all living: all other things derive from this. Universities are concerned with thought..." Eric Ashby, 1946, pp. 99-100

Knowledge and Revolution: draft structure

I am thinking about structuring my third chapter in this way. Look all right?

Chapter 3 Knowledge and Revolution 1967-1975


First the University, then the world (or vice-versa): universities in a time of change

University governance and professorial authority: the movement for student participation

Student ratbags: opposition to university discipline

The lie of objectivity: universities, the establishment and the purpose of knowledge

An exam resister’s manifesto: examination as apparatus of power

God-professors: the professoriate as defender of the canon

Participatory knowledge: de-centred, innovative…and not doctrinal

Core curriculum and student choice: the showdown between truth and relevance