Thursday, 11 December 2008

Loss of autonomy. Or bureaucratic amnesia. Or the Disturbing side of Parliamentary democracy. Dawkins.

The following is a quote from a public servant interviewed for oral history purposes regarding the Dawkins reforms, kept in the National Library (this links to the full reference).

What I found disturbing about this quote is the discussion of the need for an advisory body. Originally, of course, it was considered to be important to put an independent body between government (as source of funds) and universities to ensure the ongoing autonomy of universities. This is because it had long been felt that universities could not do their job properly unless they are autonomous, as it protects knowledge from being influenced, especially by money.

"He [Dawkins] suggested or I suggested did we need an advisory structure at all, given that he knew what he wanted and by and large he’d be hard pressed to find people who would give him advice which exactly coincided with what he wanted to do.

Could we in fact defer the whole idea of an advisory structure for a substantial period of time until he’d got in place what he wanted?

His reaction to that as I recall iwas that it wasn’t a bad idea but we’d never get away with it because, particularly the higher education sector having viewed CTEC as basically its own creature would not put up with at least the veneer of consultation, even if Dawkins was basically going to be doing what Dawkins wanted to do.



In the end I think I’d have to say that I came to the view that I think it probably would have been quite good to put off having an advisory structure for a while because the advisory structure itself was going to absorb a great deal of time and effort in putting it together and really we had bigger fish to fry at the time. But John’s judgment was that no we had to, particularly on the higher education front have something that was acceptable to the sector and give him an ongoing consultative arrangement which would if you like replace the purple circle, which caused a great deal of pain out there in the sector as a whole. It was fine for those who were in it, but for those who were outside it they felt excluded and marginalised."

No kidding.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Leisured inquiry and heroic discovery: Eric Ashby's descriptions of academic work: paper

I have distributed web links (on paper) to http://hannah-hannah-land.blogspot.com/search/label/Ashby as a way to find a draft of the written version of the paper I gave at the postgrad conference and will give at ANZHES next week. You can get to that draft at http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=dfqggshp_28f2npxpg6

Due to size restrictions in googledocs, the footnotes are here http://docs.google.com/Doc?docid=dfqggshp_32c3bwndd6&hl=en

I am still working on this paper (thus it is still a "draft"). Please feel free to email me comments.

Problems created by knowledge. Science and Applied Science in the 1930s

This is an Ashby post in disguise. But nice quotes from Flexner.

"The theoretic consequences of scientific discovery may thus be very disconcerting; for the scientist, bent perhaps merely upon the gratification of his own curiosity, periodically and episodically destroys the foundations upon which both science and society have just become used to reclining comfortably.

We listen nowadays not to one Copernicus - a voice crying in the wilderness - but to many, and their voices are magnified and transmitted through the entire social and intellectual structure.

Physics and chemistry, viewed as merely intellectual passions, will not stay "put"; they have an elusive way of slipping through the fingers of the investigator."

Abraham Flexner, Universities, American, English, German. 1930. p.18


But so much at least is clear: while pure science is revolutionizing human thought, applied science is destined to revolutionize human life.

We are at the beginning, not at an end, of an epoch. Problems therefore abound and press upon us - problems due to ignorance, problems created by knowledge.

They must be studied before intelligent action can be taken. Hand to mouth contrivance does not suffice. Who is going to study them? Who and where?

Ibid. p.19

Friday, 21 November 2008

Educational commodities: my ideas about the mechanisms

Pretty much everyone says that higher education – both teaching and research – was commodified in the 1980s. The values that underpin the shift to commodification are generally agreed upon (neoliberalism, largely) but the exact mechanisms are much harder to pin down.

My feeling has been that much of the commodifying task has been accomplished by the time of the Dawkins reforms in the late 1980s. If this were the case, it would suggest that it is more than policy that has driven educational commodification (for we know, c/- Marginson, those processes pretty well too).

From my recent research, I think that the commodification of education (that is, in this case, enrolling) occurred in a very short time span - between 1980 and 1982. Here’s how.

The newspapers show that in this period, academics had an image problem. The funniest description I found for them was “layabout dons” (which sounds like a grotesque cross between the god-professor and the student-ratbag) – lazy, leisured (now in a bad way) and irrelevant. In fact, the word “academic” had started to mean “irrelevant”.

Tenure was somewhat blamed for this, and requests for salary increases by the staff unions (not yet recognised as unions legally) probably didn’t help, though was happening everywhere. Bureaucracy had a bad name too, with the public imagining universities to be run by Humphrey Appleby types inclined to systemic inefficiency. Worse, some university administration was still in the hands of academics (seen to be important in previous eras) and academics were seen to know even less about administration than they did about anything else relevant to the “real world”.

So between layabout dons and bureaucratic administrative processes, universities were seen as large, lumbering wastes of public money. And every dollar of public money in all the OECD countries was under intense scrutiny since the oil shocks of the late 1970s.

In light of public opinion and the scarcity of public funds, it is unsurprising that in 1981 the Fraser government decided to decrease spending on higher education. Strikes by academics and students do nothing to enhance public support for them, of course. No one likes layabouts striking.

Federal and (especially) State governments start “interfering” in universities much more explicitly, all calling for more political representation on university Councils/Senates. Qld and Vic both try to pass laws that would give them control perhaps even over course content.

Universities were continually lobbying for funding and autonomy, but right-wing intellectuals and politicians started suggesting that if universities want autonomy they should diversify their income streams and not be so reliant on Commonwealth funding. A more diverse income stream would prevent external influence, they argued.

At the same time, the earlier 1970s growth in student enrolment at university had reversed for demographic and other reasons – fewer students were enrolling at university, enhancing the sense that funding should decrease.

Very importantly, since funding was attached to students in their allocation, with students suddenly scarce, for the first time universities started to compete for them. The very first advertisements appeared – starting with Sydney University, but very quickly followed by the rest.

Without making any successful policy decisions, government expressed a great deal of interest in replacing at least some of the funding of universities with fees and they were also keen on loans to students.

Claims were made publicly that some of the inefficiencies of universities are a result of their failure of client-focus by bureaucracy. Universities would be more efficient were they to see students as clients and it was asserted that fees would assist them to do this. This idea starts to gain some sympathy within universities as well, creating the condition necessary for active and deliberate marketisation of higher education.

All it took for commodification was two years. While several colliding conditions contributed to it, I can’t but feel that it was the bad reputation of academics that really enabled it.

(Note that this description only considers commodification of education as a product, not yet of teaching as an act or of research. These were coming soon.)

Monday, 17 November 2008

The start of the research commercialisation quandary - does the person who pay get to have, use and own the knowledge they pay for?

1987 OECD report on higher education.

pp. 58-62 External and industrial support for Research - that is, among OECD countries, research and industry are starting to have significant links in 1987 so that increasing numbers of universities are trying to build relationships with industry as a funding source. Some of these (p.59) are "inspired by national need a priorities" which is one way to put it.

"Science parks" are a way of having industry offices near university laboratories, especially re. silicon and DNA.

But for the reflective OECD report, this is cause for caution, if not alarm.

p.60: "The President of the German Professors' Association has warned that universities are in danger of being reduced to "useful servants", the political parties regarding them as machines "in which you put D100 and expect DM200 to come out the other end after six months"

"In Australia an important middle and long-term problem is posed by the nature if the contractual relationships into which universities enter. Quote from Australia's Country Report about universities with extensive contractual arrangements in biotechnology which give "the clients specified rights over the results" which has "raised issues concerning the role of universities and research, the ownership of research findings, and the responsibilities of university researchers to society and the traditions of independent scholarship"

Monday, 10 November 2008

Casaubon and the middle-aged scholar

Reading Middlemarch - slowly...

"He has got no good red blood in his body," said Sir James.
"No. Somebody put a drop under a magnifying glass, and it was all semicolons and parentheses," said Mrs Cadwallader.
"Why does he not bring out his book, instead of marrying?" said Sir James, with a disgust which he held warranted by the sound feeling of an English layman.
"Oh he dreams footnotes, and they run away with his brains. They say, when he was a boy, he made an abstract of 'Hop o' my Thumb,' and he has been making abstracts ever since.


George Eliot, Middlemarch, p.96

But at present this caution against a too hasty judgement interests me more in relation to Mr Casaubon...does it follow that he was fairly represented...? I protest against any absolute conclusion, any prejudice derived from Mrs Cadwallader's contmpt for a neighbouring clergyman's alleged greatness of soul, of Sir James' poor opinion of his rival's legs...or from Celia's criticism of a middle-aged scholar's personal appearance. I am not sure that the greatest man of his age, if ever that solitary superlative existed, could escape these unfavourable reflections of himself in various small mirrors...

Suppose we turn from outside estimates of a man, to wonder, with keener interest, what is the report of his own consciousness about his doings or capacity: with what hindrances he is carrying on his daily labours; what fading of hopes, or what deeper fixity of self-delusion the years are marking off within him; and with what spirit he wrestles against universal pressure, which will one day be too heavy for him, and bring his heart to its final pause.

Doubtless his lot is important in his own eyes; and the chief reason that we think he asks too large a place in our consideration must be our want of room for him.


George Eliot, Middlemarch, p.110

Saturday, 25 October 2008

The effect of examination on pedagogical culture

This is from the same book just quoted, again so I can return the book. This one is from quite a nice article considering the old "scholarship" exams in Queensland.

I am concerned with the training effects of the examination on teacher and pupils where its rituals, its meticulous attention to detail and the pedagogical culture in which it operates, produce the 'docile' bodies that Foucault has described, as well as the resistant and excluded bodies which the regular school, on the authority of the examination, is able to legitimately discard. (138)

The technology of the examination was able to govern not only the primary school's curriculum, but it also produced a certain kind of teacher, one who coached, by various and often unethical means, "successful" scholarship candidates and secured good passes. This examination produced a mind-set which governed pupils' bodies in time and space, allowing for certain pedagogical practices whilst neglecting or disallowing others, and effectively dividing a student population along the lines of ability and curriculum. (147)


I think its place in a book about "Taught Bodies" is a stretch, at point, since "bodies" is the word the author seems to use for "people" and time and space really just describes existence. I have not quoted quite a nice paragraph about the physical (hot - Qld) conditions of exams in the 1950s but that part really is about bodies.

Daphne Meadmore, Testing Bodies of Knowledge in Clare O'Farrell et al, Taught Bodies, Peter Lang (New York) 2000.pp137-147

Immediacy and physicality?

There is almost a whole genre devoted to the disembodiment (is that a word?) of online education - an approach I am yet to find convincing, though it certainly presents some things to think about in it. This is one, which I am quoting so I can return the book, which is overdue. What I find interesting about this particular quote is the intersection of time with space and bodies.

The waning of interest in the immediacy of pedagogy is abetted by the imperative for "reflection," a term which is now well represented in teacher education course outlines (along with empowerment and special needs). Reflecting on a pedagogical event is more important than enacting it. As teachers we must learn about our pedagogy by looking back at past events in which we are no longer bodily present. We look back only in order to look ahead - and we look ahead to learner outcomes.

In the marriage of learner-centredness and lifelong learning, there is of course a rationale for pedagogical work which is also beneficial to teh idea of education as a privately provided user-pays endeavour. New information technologies can be harnessed, the curriculum package can be perfected, and those teachers' bodies, which are stumbling blocks to best practice can be stepped around, over or on. Teachers who have had the foresight to reinvent themselves as facilitators to the paying use are more likely to remain as a human resource in a learning environment where pedagogy is no longer enclosed by spatial, temporal boundaries.
pp.32-33

Erica McWilliam, Stuck in the Missionary Position? Pedagogy and Desire in new times, in Clare O'Farrell et al, Taught Bodies, Peter Lang (New York) 2000. pp27-37

Monday, 20 October 2008

We are satisfying a direct need of our nature in its very acquisition: Newman's knowledge

University Education...has a very tangible, real and sufficient end, though the end cannot be divided from that knowledge itself. Knowledge is capable of being its own end. Such is the constitution of the human mind, that any kind of knowledge, if it be really such, is its own reward.
...
What the worth of such an acquirement is, compared with other objects which we seek, - wealth or power or honour or the conveniences and comforts of life, I do not profess here to discuss; but I would maintain, and mean to show that it is an object, in its own nature so really and undeniably good, as to be the compensation of a great deal of thought in the compassing, and a great deal of trouble in the attaining.
...
...we are satisfying a direct need of our nature in its very acquisition...

Knowledge...is valuable for what its very presence in us does for us after the manner of a habit, even though it be turned to no further account, nor subserve any direct end.

John Henry Newman, The Idea of a University. Discourse V (1852) Knowledge its own End. 1966 Edition, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York. pp.77-8

Sunday, 19 October 2008

It acts as umpire between truth and truth. Newman's University.

What an empire is in political history, such is a University in the sphere of philosophy and research. It is, as I have said, the high protecting power of all knowledge and science, of fact and principle, of inquiry and discovery, of experiment and speculation; it maps out the territory of the intellect, and sees that the boundaries of each province are religiously respected, and that there is neither encroachment nor surrender on any side. It acts as umpire between truth and truth, and, taking into account the nature and importance of each, assigns to all their due order of precedence.
John Henry Newman, "General Knowledge Viewed as One Philosophy", 1852. Quoted in Pelikan, p57

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

The 6 virtues of scholarship

In his 1992 book The Idea of the University: a re-examination, Jaroslav Pelikan, in his fifth chapter, proposes six personal virtues of university scholarship. Simplistically put:
  1. Free inquiry
  2. Intellectual honesty
  3. Trust in rationality and its processes
  4. Moral imperative to communicate the results of research
  5. Values humanity
  6. Practices discipline
(1) Free inquiry should be unlimited, but free speech is slightly limited, in that it is not OK to maliciously yell "fire" in a lecture theatre and things. 
(2) Universities and scholars must protect academic honesty at all costs: failure to do so on a systemic level will cause the collapse of the university as an idea. 
(3) Rationality - in quite a liberal sense - is seen by Pelikan as the primary, defining characteristic of university-based knowledge. The other types of knowledge: political conviction, religious faith, experience-based wisdom, applied know-how can be a part of university-based knowledge, but rationality is core to it. 
(4) Communication of knowledge affirms a commitment to the protection and continuity of knowledge that has been the core mission of universities forever. 
(5) Valuing humanity applies not only to research ethics, but to the conception of learning and development of a whole person, of teaching as including pastoral care, of tolerance with conviction and civility in discourse as a means of managing inevitable fundamental difference. 
(6) A curious, but valuable leftover of monasticism, discipline and self-denial, Pelikan claims, is a key characteristic in the biographies of great modern scholars. He says that there is a responsibility in the recruitment and training of scholars to "stress the correlation between the fulfillment that comes out of scholarship and the ascetic discipline that goes into it" (p.55)

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Humility and distinction: doing exams

"At critical moments, when these airy-fairy balloon captains (who had descended from their remote medieaval heights to set exams based on textbooks they themselves had written) began to feel that the toothy smile of the boy facing them was just a little too light-hearted, then – just like that – Carsten could capitulate, bow his head, draw in his horns, and the appropriate beads of anxious sweat would break on the bridge of his nose, convincing the two professors that the voice they heard – his, Carsten’s – was coming to them from the dust and the depths of humility and altogether from far, far, far beneath them – and so, naturally, he was awarded a distinction."

Peter Høeg History of Danish Dreams, p.293

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Bourdieu, Homo Academicus

Bourdieu, Homo Academicus, 1984, Polity Press

Throughout this book, Bourdieu uses the phrase "in short" at the start of some of the longest, convoluted sentences I have ever seen. Definitely a close relative of Humphrey Appleby’s

I've quoted some relevant bits here. A couple I paraphrased because a single idea took two pages (but only 4 sentences) for Bourdieu to say.

"As authorities, whose position in social space depends principally on the possession of cultural capital, a subordinate form of capital, university professors are situated rather on the side of the subordinate pole of the field of power and are clearly opposed in this respect to the managers of industry and business. But, as holders of an institutionalised form of cultural capital, which guarantees them a bureaucratic career and a regular income, they are opposed to writers and artists: occupying a temporally dominant position in the field of cultural production, they are distinguished by this fact, to differing degrees according to the faculties…from the less institutionalised and more heretical …as opposed to those who belong to the university." (36)

"The academic managers…produce works of a tone and style which combine the neutrality of a positivist account with the blandness of a bureaucratic report, in order to obtain the effect of respectability necessary to cloak the recommendations of the expert with the authority of science" (124)

"The wage earners of research…can no longer surround themselves with the charismatic aura which attached to the traditional writer or professor, small producers exploiting their own independent cultural capital, which tends to be seen as a divine gift. This is all the more the case since the products of the new research work often bear the mark of the conditions in which they were accomplished: these ‘reports’ and ‘accounts’, often drafted in haste to meet a deadline, according to the standardised norms of mass productions, and, because of the need to justify the funds spent, bound to sacrifice all to display the amount of work done." (125)

One unbelievably long sentence that says that the old university system was dependent on its hierarchies to reproduce those hierarchies, replaced by a new system that is: “a plurality of worlds controlled by different laws for the unified world of differences produced by one dominant hierarchical principle”. (125)

Regarding May 1968: “…the propensity of the various professors to associate defence of the teaching community with a defence of the protected market which ensures them a strictly controlled academic public varies with the degree to which the value of their products depends on the stability of the market, or, in other words, with the degree to which their competence – that is, their specific capital – depends on the statutory guarantee conferred by the institution. (126)

“At the time of the crisis of May 1968, the conflict…did not oppose generations understood in the sense of age but academic generations” (147)

“…children who have come from the dominant class and who have not managed ro reconvert their inhereited capital into academic capital … In short [which, frankly is a phrase that can never apply to Bourdieu in Homo Academicus] In short, the specific contradiction in the mode of reproduction in its educational aspects, which can only contribute to the reproduction of its class by eliminating with their consent a number of its members, takes on an increasingly critical form with the growing numbers of those who see their chances of reproduction threatened and who, refusing to accept their exclusion, find themselves falling back on a protest against the legitimacy of the instrument of their exclusion, which threatens the whole of their class by attacking one of the bases of its perpetuation." [In short] 163)

May 1968: politicisation is the process where politics dominates all other types of thought, excitements and tendencies to classify mean individuals identify in groups they did not belong to before and separates them from groups they formerly did (breaking up the disciplines and reforming groups according to politics). But Bourdieu takes a couple of pages to say it and I couldn’t find a short enough quote. (190-191)

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Draft of conclusions to "God professors and student ratbags"

Student movements in the 1960s and 1970s succeeded in engineering a revolution of sorts, certainly in relation to university-based knowledge. However, revolution, as John Burnheim suggested, is messy, and this one had some serious unintended consequences.

The revolution centred, largely, on an enacted power struggle over the control and possession of university-based knowledge, with professors on one side, students and sub-professorial staff on the other. This power struggle was based on opposing characterisations of university knowledge. One side – the professors (generally speaking) – saw university-based knowledge as a growing set of disciplinary traditions. It was the role of experts, according to this professorial characterisation of knowledge, to protect and impart these traditions – a grave responsibility for those who have taken the arduous journey of gaining mastery of knowledge. David Armstrong of the Sydney Philosophy department was an especially dramatic case, but his belief in the significant responsibility to protect knowledge is undeniable, despite other leadership and administrative flaws.

Collectively, professors constituted bodies (often called the Professorial Board or something similar) that guarded this knowledge from potential incursion by governments, religions, and others – and, specifically in this period, students. The professorial position was neither stable nor necessarily any better planned than the student revolution was. We saw in chapter one, the character of university knowledge was not certain and the shift to substantial public funding in the 1950s raised questions about the extent to which the professoriate could continue to control knowledge in a system that required democratic consent to its production and maintenance. Formerly strict barriers between university-based knowledge and all other kinds had been collapsing for more than a decade by the time students were seriously threatening it in the late 1960s, and the traditions of academic mastery were losing their meaning without the students’ help. It is perhaps because of these existing threats that some in the professoriate tended to hold onto knowledge a little tighter, in the face of student desire to possess it, than was perhaps necessary or wise.

On the other side, students (of course, not all of them but on the other hand including many academic staff, too) saw knowledge as contingent, uncertain, chaotic and potentially revolutionary. Knowledge was not truth, not certain, according to the emerging epistemology, it was political and it was power. The traditions of knowledge so jealously guarded by professors, was political in that it supported and validated a social structure that students perceived to be deeply flawed. Since knowledge was already political, students saw no harm in proposing new knowledge be included in the universities that conformed to revolutionary, rather than capitalist, politics. Utopian organizations like the Free U embodied a hope for legitimation of new knowledge and claimed ownership of knowledge for the students and sub-professorial staff that the official university was then excluding from its control.

Such knowledge was not intended to peacefully co-exist within the existing system – it ought to disrupt traditional, discipline-based knowledge and destroy the notion of a canon. For some students this disruptive power was the opposing equivalent to the types of power they perceived universities wielded as organizations and as purveyors of knowledge. Slippage from power to violence occurred on campuses like Monash and La Trobe, with students claiming the (violent) power attached to knowledge, as well as knowledge itself.

According to students’ perspective on university knowledge, there is no canon, only that which is constructed for the purposes of power. So in a students’ ideal university, with no canon to protect, the professoriate has no role. The continuation of the professoriate, in this new characterisation of knowledge, was seen to function as the ongoing protection and validation of an obsolete and morally questionable approach to knowledge. The production of new knowledge that is “relevant” to society (without justifying it) was moreover highly unlikely to emerge from professorial members of the university community. Trained as professors were in mastery of the canon, and positioned, in an almost ecclesiastical sense, to protect it, revolutionary knowledge from professors was improbable. This was one of the frustrations felt during the University of Melbourne’s 3.3.18 controversy – that the university failed to engage with politics and simply excluded it. The new knowledge students sought was the plaything of the young, who (unlike professors, who were by definition older) were capable of innovative ideas that could challenge the stability of knowledge and artificial separation of the disciplines. Jacka and Curthoy’s feminism course was a case in point: of course the Professorial Board were unqualified to evaluate this knowledge, it was entirely new – and new was not what the Professorial Board was all about. New and political knowledge had an uncomfortable place in traditional professorial cosmology and its mere existence in the university threatened the status of the professoriate. The success of the Philosophy Strike can be seen as a nail in the coffin of professorial authority.

The next step of the Sydney Philosophy department was the replacement of the core curriculum with electives. Such abolition of canonical knowledge was the final factor that broke down any further valid distinction between university knowledge and other kinds – and thus any structural need to defend it. The consequence of this was very serious. In this new schema there was no longer a need for university government that was separate, or protected from society. Interference from outside bodies would seem to have no real consequences if knowledge is political anyway. Students sought to transform university governance to no longer reflect a need to protect and maintain knowledge, but to rather reflect the same democratic systems that they also sought beyond the universities’ cloisters – systems designed for openness rather than protection. This structure would leave the universities vulnerable to incursions on academic freedom and other types of external interference.
Democratic knowledge was knowledge chosen by students. This had been the case at the Free U, where the only determinant of curriculum was student choice. Abolishing the core curriculum in undergraduate philosophy announced the death of the canon and of professorial authority in determining what knowledge is. Selection of courses by students would, in the same way as market forces in a laissez faire system, determine what knowledge is, and which knowledge is valuable. Inadvertently, market forces were to be the new authority in the determination of university knowledge. Universities could no longer proceed, in their arrogance, with telling students what to do and disciplining them if they failed to comply. Universities, students claimed, should now persuade (they did not yet say “sell”) potential students of the value of the knowledge on offer and provide the services that were a natural consequence of competition. The outrage that the service provider assessed the customer is one way of interpreting the anti-exam banner, “examine the examiners”.

Student utopias, naturally, did not intend this outcome – an outcome where knowledge functioning as capital emerged at precisely the moment the canon was finally undermined. Student goals were expressed more faithfully to their intention in the student-centred pedagogies, assessment regimes and student evaluation systems that are also the legacy of student protest. The exam resisters – the students who pulled their chairs together to complete their Marxist exam collaboratively – saw knowledge’s power and capital as something that ought to be shared. Examination was a claim to an unfair portion of the ownership of knowledge, according to the new student view, a clear assertion of the power of the knower over the student. A reconfiguration of assessment from barrier to learning support found permanent expression in universities’ assessment policies remarkably quickly. Examination of the examiners, commencing as student-led evaluation of teaching and of courses, also gradually found a permanent place in university quality assurance practices.

This was a revolution in the ownership of knowledge. It was not painless or even, sadly, bloodless but it was remarkably quick – especially given the size and requirement for consensus from university bureaucracies. This speed was enabled by the generation gap between junior academic staff and senior professors, which facilitated rapid change. Students clearly won this struggle, which transferred the ownership of knowledge from a privileged few to students in an open, participatory model. In this, contingent knowledge would be continually produced and negotiated, owned by all. But while they stripped the professoriate of their monopoly on knowledge, professors did not necessarily see it as a transfer in ownership – for in the traditional professorial view, knowledge did not really have an owner. It was an elite system, certainly, but belonging to it was a privilege professors not only felt they had earned, but also to be a responsibility to the preservation of knowledge and of truths that went beyond them as individuals. The new epistemology stripped universality from university-based knowledge and thus any remaining separation of knowledge from the knower – ensuring that from here on, knowledge must have an owner.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Assumptions about assessment: annoyed

I do not have time to post a rant so this is just a mini rant. An ant or a rnt, maybe.

This article also quoted here is talking about the invention of grade scales and says:

Getting to know his students, one may suppose, was too much trouble for Farish [who invented grades]. It meant work, interacting and participating daily with each child.

I am getting quite sick of this (alert: ranting). A while ago I posted about the esteemed Reigeluth on assessment only to find out that the reasons he gave for the forms of assessment he opposed were plain incorrect.

In most disciplines we need to investigate and reference the claims we make and it is not normally considered good academic practice to make up reasons for the beliefs and activities of those we disagree with just to prove ourselves right.

Exams, grading, academic transcripts may be poor means of assessing and reflect an educational philosophy we disagree with. But we should not be allowed to make up what their inventors thought just to prove how right we are.

The probability that this fellow who invented grading (and considering how widespread grading is, he can't be entirely to blame for our systems) did so to avoid getting to know his students is preposterous.



[The probably-real reasons are far less important, but are also complex and relate to wider developments, like how everything needed to be documented, a file on everything, "objective" means of comparing developed - especially means of comparing that would eliminate comparison on the basis of class. Grading can be seen in so many different ways. Imagine a society that for whatever reason, say, recruitment for public service positions, sees the need to rank people. In their "bad old days" it had been the person from the family with the best connections, the most money, the marriageable daughter or whatever. Lets say we want to rank people according to how good they are ... etc etc 
Oh dear, maybe these things won't support the criterion referenced assessment workshop I'm giving tomorrow.....]

On the Free University, Terry Irving in 1971

“What the Martin Report means by saying that everybody recognised the human values associated with education was that it did not know how to protect them successfully in the inevitable marriage of the university and the acquisitive society.” (p. 21)

Just as the university serves the nation, so the “good” teacher serves th 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. (p.21)

On the mechanisation and bureaucratisation of the university: “The trouble is that, as the university grows, those who administer its physical existence become more identified with the “capital equipment” that with its users. The Librarian comes to regard the books as more important than the students an staff…the administration becomes the “real” university because it is responsible for the buildings and equipment.” (pp. 22-23)

“the Free University is an experiment in freely-developing education, a “counter-community” providing a conscience for the mass university rather than a way to reform it. (p23)

The desire to combine learning with co-operative living. The demand for student control of the learning situation, and the intellectual needs of the new student radicalism, have contributed to more than forty free universities….p.24

…most courses eventuated only when a group of students had shown interest and when a “convenor” (often an undergraduate) could demonstrate [HF: to who?] that the skills at the group’s command (including those of visiting ‘experts’) made study of their subject feasible. (p.25)

despite attempting to produce useable social research in groups: “…for most members of the Free U, discovery is primarily a personal matter, and only secondarily of social importance” (p.26)

The Free University…is not an academy for instruction in doctrinal truth…and it is not the answer to the mass university. (p.27)

Though it did have “reformist origins”, the Free U in 1971 had settled to accept itself for what it was:
“The Free University is a unique academic community in Australia, and we now think of ourselves more as a conscience than a catalyst for the mass university” (p.27)

Notes from Irving, Terry. "The Mass University and the Free University as Utopia." In Counterpoints: Critical Writings on Australian Education, edited by S D'Urso. (Sydney: John Wiley & Sons Australasia, 1971).

Monday, 22 September 2008

A pox on George and a double pox on Armstrong

This is a small screengrab from a letter from Graham Nerlich to Keith Campbell, who was acting as Head of the Philosophy department at Sydney University in 1973 while Nerlich was away - and while half the Department went on strike over the Feminism course. This particular letter is Nerlich's vote on whether the core curriculum should be abolished in favour of students choosing from a range of options. This had been suggested by George Molnar and naturally opposed by Armstrong, leading Nerlich to say "A pox on George and a double pox on Armstrong!!" 
This is interesting for me as it enacts the two important perspectives on knowledge that determined the conflict over who should own it. One is that a core of knowledge is foundational to all new knowledge and discovery is bent on enriching it - requiring academic Masters to protect and impart it. The other that all knowledge is contingent, ideological and political and new knowledge will be produced by those who can depart from it on the basis of individual inquiry and personal discovery. 

Nerlich, Graham. "Letter from Nerlich to Keith Campbell 12/3/1973." In John Burnheim Papers. Sydney: In the possession of Alison Bashford, 1973 (I also have digitised copies)

Sunday, 21 September 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DMA Series 6, folder 16

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

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

Monday, 8 September 2008

John Burnheim: The Death of Student Politics?

I read the 1968 special edition of Vestes (The Australian Universities Review, Vol XI, No. 2) today, while I ate lunch, which focused - perhaps a little prematurely, in Australia, on student activism.

Other items worthy of comment were included in the edition but I wanted to quote from J.Burnheim (listed as Rector of St John's College, but I assume it is the same John Burnheim in the philosophy department at Sydney).

"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."

God Professors and Student Ratbags - structure

I often think the most funnest part of writing is structuring the thing at the start (though I often undo it again as I go). This one is especially fun: a draft (which will undoubtedly be entirely rewritten) of Chapter 2: God Professors and Student Ratbags: power and the ownership of knowledge in the 1960s and 1970s. The following are the headings throughout, at the moment. Intro and conclusions at both ends of course.

1. Treating students like morons: library fines (of all things - 'of all things' is not in it though...)
2. Violence/Knowledge: rethinking education
3. Freeing knowledge: the Free U
4. Student participation in knowledge: the Victoria Lee Case
5. Regulation 3.3.18: accessing knowledge
6. Communists, conspiracies and Professorial authority
7. New knowledge, new authority: the Philosophy Strike
8. Power/Assessment: Exam Resisters’ Manifesto


I think maybe #6 is not right: not all professors were paranoid about communist conspiracies.

Look like fun? This is my life for the next 3 weeks. Call me nerdy, but I think it looks like fun.



Sunday, 7 September 2008

Masters and Scholars - Eric Ashby on funding and freedom

It has been at least a couple of weeks since I have quoted Eric Ashby. I am currently writing a paper on him for the ANZHES conference in December.

"The English language is, as you know, a treasury of equivocations. We call our private schools public, and we contrast our public sector of higher education (which really is public) with what we call our autonomous system of universities. But it is a fragile autonomy, because something like 85 per cent of he cost of running our autonomous universities comes from public funds. Alarmists in the British academic world fear government control and cry: 'Hands off the universities!' I do not share this alarm, for universities have always depended upon patrons to finance them, and over a stretch of seven centuries they have learnt how to dissuade their patrons - princes, bishops, tycoons, alumni - from meddling in their affairs."


"The German university of the nineteenth century gave two precious legacies to the academic world: Lehrfreiheit, which is the liberty of the professor to teach according to his convictions and his conscience, and Lernfreiheit, which is then liberty of the student to learn, according to his preferences, from the professors in whose classes he chooses to enrol. It was the combination of these two liberties which constituted academic freedom. But when these ideas crossed the English Channel and the Atlantic Ocean they were changed. On the one hand Lehrfreiheit has been enlarged into a concept of academic freedom which gives a professor immunities not enjoyed by other professionals and not directly relevant to his academic work. A civil servant cannot directly preach anarchy. A doctor cannot advertise hi virtues on television. University professors can do both - and some of them do - and would regard it as a monstrous infringement of academic freedom if anyone questioned their right to do so."


Masters and Scholars: Reflections on the Rights and Responsibilities of Students, 1970, pp.10-11

Monday, 1 September 2008

Distance education in the wild

I am very glad to have just submitted this paper (draft here http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=dfqggshp_27g4rbxscb) on the experiences of distance education staff in environments where distance is not considered to be a strategic priority.

This can be a little tough to see from where I am sitting now (that is, my PT job as an online ed designer at the centre of a university) makes it look like it wouldn't be that hard, especially beacause the technology is in place and we use it for on-campus students as well. But my experience - and from talking and surveying others - it is really challenging. This is because it takes a whole lot of different types of (not always visible) work to make sure students you never see have what they need and know what they need to do. People who teach or support students that they can see on campus are often surprised when they see what this actually takes. What it means in an institution where distance is marginal is that the invisibility of your work - since no one sees your students they also don't see the struggles of staff (who are also trying to hide their struggles from students, who they want to give a good experience too) can treat distance staff as quite wasteful. Nearly all distance education staff we spoke to reported their biggest challenge to be a sense of cultural and strategic isolation from the rest of their Faculties and the university.

And yet, as the fabulous Ruth Laxton keeps reminding me, nearly all universities now offer distance education, so it is something all universities now need to address.

Very important, I think, is giving a voice to the staff who feel they are working very, very hard to only face regular criticism or misunderstanding. This is why I called the paper "Distance Running" as the experience is a bit of an endurance exercise. I must admit to some relief at not be doing it at the moment. But I'd like to acknowledge the many who are. And also co-authors Jenny Pizzica, Ruth Laxton and Mary Jane Mahony, as well as the friendship of Sue Atkinson in the process.

Friday, 22 August 2008

From the authority of the professor to the authority of the market

The tricky part in considering student protests, even when (as I am) confining myself to protests directly related to knowledge - (eg. admission, as in who deserves access to knowledge; curriculum (is feminism philosophy?), as in who decides what knowledge is; teaching, as in who is the knower; assessment, as in do exams function as an apparatus of power; knowledge and society generally, and concerns about power and violence) - is pulling apart all the nuances, slippages and debates. For of course each university had its on local issues and student culture and concerns, students very inconveniently disagreed with one another quite a lot and, worst of all, ideas slip into new ideas. For example, the idea of draft resistance (Vietnam), the idea of academic freedom as individual autonomy and the unsatisfactory outcomes of exams as adequate assessment tools all contribute to an Exam Resistor's Manifesto. Some students felt that all assessment should be abolished, as education is an individual and unique process while others just thought exams poor ways to evaluate the possession of knowledge.

Academic freedom for some translated into participatory democracy and equal say for students on all aspects of university governance. While for others student representation enables the university to justify decisions, by making it look like students were in on it and preventing any organised collective resistance. The "violence" of knowing, in that knowledge is imposed on reality rather than reflecting it, for some can become physical violence as a justifiable means of resisting authoritarian power.

Not quite universally, but remarkably commonly, pone thing emerges. The authority than once belonged to the professor is transferred to students. But this of course is no longer a singular authority. So how is curriculum organised? Through market forces - or things that sound extraordinarily like market forces (though I am certain this was not the intention).

Intention, sadly, is not the same as cause: and commodification is probably the unfortunate outcome of this transference of authority.

The loss of privilege

Following from the last post, we now know that the professors against whom protest was directed were not always being obtuse, or malevolent in their responses to student demands for increased say in their own education (though some certainly were and these are worth noting). But, even when some spitefulness is evident, this is not all that is going on. Professors in possession of a hierarchical schema of knowledge simply could not understand student expectations of participation in the university at the same level as the professor, nor could they justify or see any way of abdicating their professorial responsibility and authority: for they felt the weight of the responsibility to protect knowledge, both ancient and new and saw themselves as guardians of an important heritage. This guardianship doesn’t fit with the new schema of knowledge, which is less hierarchical – and it becomes, I suspect, tougher for the next generation of academics to argue for its importance in later years. For when professorial authority was undermined, so was the university’s privileged position as guardian of society’s knowledge.

These conclusions come out of historical stories that I’ll have to tell when I draft my next chapter. I’ll tell these stories later. They’re fun.

Knowledge in the sixties

The pre-1960s model of knowledge was hierarchical. And therefore so was the university. In this schema, it is universal truth that knowledge has a foundation, a core on which other knowledge is built. A novice must start with the core.

Knowledge, according to this system, builds from there to increase in complexity, is applied across other areas and also becomes increasingly specialised. The university structure, according to the 1960s and 70s generation, makes this the case – it does not reflect reality, it forms it.

For some, this makes the act of knowing an act of violence. For others, it makes it complicit in imperialism, capitalism and even war. For most, the act of knowing is a part of a regime of power: this is the point at which Foucault says the power apparatuses he had been exploring finally had a political phenomenon to give it substance and purpose.

In the old schema, knowledge underpins things in a hierarchical world. It underpins really important things, like a civilised society, a humane system of beliefs, a strong economy and an ethical world. After the Second World War, academics in all Australian institutions (except for one) were concerned about the increase in the percentage of intellectuals who would, in the future (as was then already increasingly the case) be devoted to science and technology. This was not (just – for there was some of this in there) because science and technology were grubby, applied, commercial disciplines that did not conform to aristocratic ideals of academia. The fact that Ian Clunies Ross was worried about this tells us that. The genuine concern was for the loss of humanity (due to a lower proportion of intellectuals in the humanities) in a world underpinned by knowledge.

It is no wonder that they (see my earlier Ashby quotes as an example) could not understand why students and junior staff were concerned about this. Yes, knowledge underpinned society, that is why universities sought to protect it. But the next generation were to see this as the problem with knowledge, not its justification. The next generation saw knowledge as justifying an inhumane society, as a falsely underpinning oppressive structures, as a tool for authoritarian power.

The structure of the university, curricula, and assessment schemes confirmed it. All power lay with the professor who was responsible for the protection and transfer of knowledge and who could (and sometimes would) veto any “unauthorised” knowledge going on. Curricula consisted of a core, protecting a canon that served to prevent social change.

The student and junior staff (often one would become the other, of course) movements served, as I’ve said before, to revolutionise university pedagogy and to shift universities from examining bodies to training ones. They did more than this – more, I suspect than they intended – which I’ll discuss later. The fact that a revolution in the purpose and character of university education could be effected in what realy was a remarkably short time was not due to the effectiveness of protest or “something about the period”, however. It was just because there was a generation gap: few new academics had been employed for some time and then quite a lot were, after the Murray review at the end of the 1950s. This meant that the generation against whom protest was directed were on the way out anyway and a very large number of new generation academics were on the way in. The probability of repeating a similar change in higher education to that of the 60s and 70s is very low, for we normally have a relatively steady flow of new academics entering the system.

All this is just the backdrop for new – and largely unplanned, I believe – consequences for the ownership of knowledge.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Another fragment

This is like somewhere between microblogging and actual blogging: maybe it is frogging? Fragment Blogging.

Here is another fragment of current work (quote, that is).

When I was studying during the early 1950s, one of the great problems that arose was that of the political status of science and the ideological functions which it could serve. ... What I myself tried to do in this domain was met with a great silence among the French intellectual Left. And it was only around 1968, and in spite of the Marxist tradition and the PCF, that all these questions came to assume their political significance, with a sharpness I had never envisaged, showing how timid and hesitant those early books of mine had still been. Without the political opening created during those years, I would surely never have had the courage to take up these problems again and pursue my research...


Foucault, of course, Truth and Power in Power/Knowledge.

Those familiar with my long-held feelings about F may be surprised by this. But in this current work I am doing - knowledge, power, student protest, professorial authority, legitimacy of knowledge types and sources, violence, universities in the 1960s and 1970s... could I really avoid him? Exactly what I'm going to do with him is another question....

Technology, humanity, public good and - power?

My fear is that as science and technology draw from an increasingly large proportion of those best endowed intellectually, we will have fewer and fewer men [sic] capable of contemplating in any adequate way the problems of national or international society.
Sir Ian Clunies Ross, 1956

This was in a letter to Eric Ashby - I was privileged today to read ICR and Ashby's correspondence 1949-1959 - and was Clunies Ross' comment disagreeing with Ashby's optimism for a "technological humanism".

The new rise and rise of technology in universities was perturbing to many and hopeful to some, after the Second World War. There were deep concerns that a reduction in the proportion of people studying the humanities might gradually reduce the "humanity" of society.

But what really stood out for me in the Ashby-ICR letters was the almost clerical calling Ahsby and Clunies Ross felt to the protection of knowledge and for the good of society. They felt that knowledge gave them a responsibility to steer society in good ways, to contribute what their intellectual abilities enabled them to, with gentleness and generosity.

It is no wonder Ashby could not understand that some people saw knowledge as a sort of violent power. H has no framework in which that particular analysis of knowledge or power made sense.

I think that is the wrong attitude

Sir Robert Wallace (Vice-Chancellor of Sydney University): They [the "Federal People", he calls them. I think he means the Commonwealth] don't understand the problem. There should be no difficulty at all. Sydney has put in for nothing it has not absolutely needed....if you can get us some freedom from this long round about way, and expensive and stupid way of doing things, we can get ahead. What has the State to do with it?

Chairman (Professor RC Mills, Chair of the Universities Commission -UC): I don't think the universities have been held up because of any requirements.

Sir Wallace: Could you use your influence with the State government?

UC Secretary, Mr Hook: Are you in a position to tell us what you want the Premier to agree to?

Wallace: To leave us alone.

Chairman: The delay at the moment is that you must have some plans and you won't tell us about them...We have to certify for the Prime Minister that it is essential..."

Wallace: What I am asking is that you give us the money and be done with it.

Chairman: It is a large sum of money and when the Government says "we gave this subsidy, did the universities find it all right?" we must be able to say something more than just "Trust the Universities".

Wallace: I think that is the wrong attitude.


(Conversation at the Conference of the Universities Commission with Vice Chancellors of Australia held at 119 Phillips Street Sydney 4-6 September 1946. Minutes accidentally filed in the National Archives with the Minutes of the Conference with the National Union of Australian University Students -NUAUS - in 1946)

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Ashby on the (legitimate) student estate and illegitimate protest movement

In order to direct my mind somewhere towards my two upcoming writing tasks (draft chapter two on students in the 60/70s and prepare a paper on Eric Ashby) I’ve been reading Eric Ashby & Mary Anderson’s 1970 book “The Rise of the Student Estate in Britain”. The train trip from Sydney to Canberra today gave me plenty of opportunity to read it.

By the period of student unrest (say) 1968-1975, Ashby was Vice Chancellor at Cambridge (I’m pretty sure, though he may have held another senior academic admin position in that period too).

All the obituaries of Ashby (copies held in the Sydney archives in Ashby’s bio file) talk about how well he handled the student uprisings: with respect both for students and for university traditions.

Without making too much comment at this stage, I’d like to record some quotes from “The Student Estate”.

“At the centre of the turbulence, in practically every university, there is a small group of dedicated students. They have one thing in common: they hate the consumer society. Their dedication has one aim: to destroy it … sociologists call these groups alienated and there are shelves of books analysing their origins (upper-middle class from permissive homes is a common description); their subconscious disorders (the Oedipal Rebellion against all father-figures is one hypothesis); their contempt of constraint (Clothes are a constraint, razors are a constraint; courses and examinations are constraints; …refined language is a constraint”); their rejection of the cumulative and consecutive structure of universities in favour of spontaneous emotional surges of self-realisation; their resemblance…to some early fanatical Christian sect…” p.123

“[According to militant students}… the universities have to be ‘restructured’ through non-stop seminars…about what the university is for, run by students on the unexamined assumption that the participants will always remain students. The one positive article of faith which students in his group seem to share is that now, in an age of plenty, utopias need to longer be dreams in books: they can become realities; though how this will be done if expertise in the universities is liquidated, they do not presume to know.” P.124

“…we are not discussing legitimate protests (hf note – legitimate according to who?)…What we are discussing is deliberate disruption for disruption’s sake or to secure by the short cut of ultimatum concessions which could be secured by legitimate means.”

“[There is] no evidence … of sinister foreign conspiracies”

“There is the singular logic of anarchy…violence is not smashing gates or assaulting members of parliament or battering at the police: it is the violence done by a repressive curriculum in capitalist economies and the ‘intolerable assault on the mind’ of the examination system; for these constrain personal development. (Curricula and examinations do need reform, but not by this sort of csnt).”

“If the university is wise, free speech flourishes, there is no sign of police, no one is victimised…if the university is unwise, the spiral…reaches its second phase; 50 occupiers become 500.”

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Random novel quote

I would like not to forget this passage from the novel I am reading right now, by Peter Høeg:

"That summer, for the first time, he saw his own age, objectively, in the eyes of these people; a sight which led him to doubt whether he had ever been young. He was seized by the uncertainty that strikes us all sooner or later, and particularly those of us involved in recounting unlikely extracts of the truth. He was no longer sure that once he had, in fact, roamed these parts with his own circus and presented the wonders of the seven seas and wild beasts from far-flung continents and the world's most beautiful women to these yokels whom he now endeavoured to delight by imitating the roars of his long-lost lions and by telling them of the circus princesses - all now dead - whose radiant beauty had once had their yokel forebears' tongues hanging out. Now they did not so much as flicker an eyelid, so sure were they that they had, in newspapers and books and at the great exhibitions, seen all - or at least, almost all - there was to see."

Reigeluth on assessment, labour organisation and instructional design

Continuing to think about a shift in assessment, not just as a change in thinking about the "best" way to identify student progress, but as a shift in the purpose and philosophy of higher education as an idea and institution.

Of course the staff and students of the 60s and 70s defined the educational philosophies that we've been drawing on in teaching and educational design for some time now.

Take this quote from Instructional Design guru, Charles M Reigeluth, in 1999, Instructional-Design Theories and Models Volume II A New Paradigm of instructional Theory p.18

"When you consider that student assessment has typically been norm based and that teachers sometimes withhold information from students to see who the really bright ones are, it becomes clear that at least part of the reason for standardized instruction has been to sort learners in K-12 schooling, higher education, and corporate training. Standardized instruction allows valid comparisons of students with each other, which was an important need in the industrial age: separating the laborers from the managers. After all, you couldn't afford to - and didn't want to - educate the common laborers too much, or they wouldn't be content to do boring, repetitive tasks, not to do what they were told without questions. So our current paradigm of training and education was never designed for learning; it was designed for sorting."

This suggests that there is a connection between contemporary pedagogy and post-fordist labour organisation. And more.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Sydney in the 1960s/1970s Part 2: The Victoria Lee case and the discipline of students

1970

A student named Victoria Lee got some bad advice from her school careers advisor and didn’t study maths for her HSC. She had been told she didn’t need maths to do the kind of archaeology that was only offered at Sydney - but this was incorrect at that time. She had the marks, just not the maths. So she enrolled at Macquarie (that apparently didn’t mind a lack of maths) and took the courses at Sydney she needed (they were being credited to her MQ degree) with the intention of transferring to Sydney after a year. The rules were that Sydney would accept students from other Australian universities, so this was a reasonable plan. However, when it got to the next year, the Professorial Board had changed the rules so that students from other universities couldn’t just transfer like that. They had forgotten to put this new rule in the University calendar so understandably Ms Lee was quite shocked to find she couldn’t continue her study in the area she wished.

Students rallied in support of Victoria Lee’s cause to a remarkable degree. While angry that she had been summarily dismissed they were incensed that the Professorial Board could make a decision, not publicise and then use it against students. At this point, the SRC realised they needed representation not just on the Senate and the Proctorial Board but also on the Professorial Board. This was a tougher ask, as most staff didn’t even have access to the Professorial Board (only professors – and it was all of them).

Interestingly, student feeling about Ms Lee’s right to admission was quite elitist in itself: they could understand that the Professorial Board would want to limit transfer of sub-par students from UNSW and Macquarie (their words, definitely not mine!) but Victoria Lee was different – she had qualified for Sydney (except for the maths).

Students, wanting to actually do something about it, forced their way into the administrative offices in the Main Quad and for three days occupied the Registrar’s office. A whole lot of contradictory details of the occupation can be gleaned from the reports the Proctorial Board made to the Professorial Board – the proctorial board of course called in to discipline a handful of the students afterwards. Incidentally, the proctorial reports are funny, definitely worth a read. The secretary taking the minutes seemed to be quite supportive of the students under discipline.

A second incident in the year was much smaller incident where the Governor, visiting the university on (of all days) May 1st, was hit by one and a part of one tomatoes (the exact number given by the DVC). This incident for students highlighted the potential brutality of campus security (still gun carrying I believe) but was a minor incident to the Deputy Vice Chancellor, since <1.5 tomatoes was only slightly embarrassing.

Honi Soit, during 1970 was under control of some left students who, while a little better than the 1973 Honi editors that seemed constantly drunk, persisted in including really, really long articles giving every detail of who in which part of which left organization said what on what day and so on. One of the things that is obvious from both Honi Soit and the Professorial Board minutes (when those two match up you’re probably really onto something) is a particular and even personal antagonism between one of the Honi writers, Chris O’Connell and the Deputy Vice Chancellor, Professor O’Neill. They wrote responses to one another in Honi Soit all year long.

The character of the proctorial board was under real scrutiny throughout the year. In an open letter students charged over the Victoria Lee occupation, students complain that justice is traditionally understood to be served by a jury of peers – but not in the university:
“We neither accept these regulations, which have been set up to protect those who hold power in this university from challenge…In our case we will be tried by persons whose impartiality is questionable to say the least…Nor in our case is an open hearing or presumption of innocence to be allowed”

Their argument must have been compelling for, by the end of the year, the university allowed six student representatives on the Proctorial board – more than a token number in this case. Of the students voted to represent them, the O'Connell brothers were included. The Professorial Board initially rejected these, angering the SRC and the students who voted for them of course. Deliberately provocative, one feels, is the response to the SRC letter requesting reasons the two students were rejected as proctors, was the Professor who wrote to them that “the Board did not say” – when (from the minutes) they clearly did.

I have not yet found the reason why (the Professorial Board minutes can be a little evasive and fragmented) but despite the very strong opposition by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the DVC’s arch-enemy Chris O’Donnell was elected proctor. O’Connell promptly called a Proctorial Board meeting against the wishes of the Chair (Professor Taylor) in which a majority of students present formed quorum. They got rid of the Professor present who was acting as secretary “due to [his] offensive interruption of student proctors” and formed a SRC and Staff Association joint standing committee on Discipline: that is, a committee more likely than representatives of the Professorial Board (current proctors) to be sympathetic to the student cause.

Amongst many of the protests about exams and assessment was a persistent (though, by the 1975 report to the Academic board, seen as marginal) claim that it was unfair for teachers to assess students and that instead students should be assessing teachers. There is more to this that needs exploration in a future post I hope. But there was enough reason in the argument for the SRC to set up a Teaching Ability Survey, a precursor to the current ubiquitous evaluation schemes.

Finally: the Professorial Board changed the rules again, under which Victoria Lee would qualify for entry. The Professorial Board told Honi Soit something along the lines of “she is invited to re-apply” – but students were still a little miffed that the Board did not admit that they were wrong to have refused her admission in the first place.

(For this posting I have drawn on several editions of Honi Soit, Professorial Board minutes in 1970 and reports of the Proctorial Committees assigned to discipline students).

Friday, 25 July 2008

Revolution in knowledge and its ownership - thinking about the 1960s and 1970s

I have been struck by two things in the last two days.

One: yesterday (Friday 25 July) I was reading a speech by Kim Edward Beazley (Sr) in 1972 to the Melbourne convocation, where he was talking about student protest and other “problems” (despite the ways that university staff and politicians might sympathise with student opinions, it still constituted a problem requiring some sort of response). The university Beazley Sr described was barely recognisable to me. It was a placid, civilised, quiet place - a detached location for contemplative knowledge. Furthermore, it is obvious, in his speech, that Beazley Sr believed that protesting students would come and go but the university (the university form, its idea, that is) would remain the same. The fact I could not recognise the obviousness of his ideal university’s qualities, suggests that it did not.

Two: On Thursday I went to a workshop on assessment (Noel Myers presenting at ACU) where it was clear that our assumption is now that we should assess students constructively as a part of their learning to equip them for knowledge and work that does not yet exist. This contrasts to some of the ideas around traditional examination, which were never for students at all. They were for society to know that all its graduates in (say) medicine had achieved a minimum standard. This changes the place of the (idea of the) university in society from a bureau of standards, an examining organisation, to a training one. It shifts the university’s claims in relation to knowledge, since examination presupposes the existence of a stable canon, to contingent, shifting and multi-located knowledge – including knowledge located in the future.

The university seems so permanent, so stable. It seems so bureaucratic, slow to change, cautious (some, more than others). The university has a conservative position in society, though it may not have (many) conservative members. (Consider the double-meaning – I think intended – in the Bradley discussion paper “[Higher Education plays] a key role in the development and maintenance of the nation’s culture and social structures” (p.2).

So the fact that lasting change was made in the university idea in as little as 7 years – maybe as long as 10 – says (as do some other things) the student movement of approx 1968-1975 in Australia was a revolution of knowledge – and a revolution in who owns it.

And I was all prepared for finding that it was all a lot to be passionate about at the time, but fizzled out after a while. Hmm.

Library Fines and a Free University:Sydney in the 60s/70s (Part 1)

I am going to summarise events 1967-1975 (as they relate to owning knowledge) as I see them at the University of Sydney. It is my hope that I can manage to be less Sydney-centric, so if anyone has suggested or remembered events at other universities – especially ones that relate to curriculum, knowledge, assessment – please let me know. This posting only covers '67 and '68.

In 1967 the University of Sydney librarian decided to raise the fine for overdue books. Students felt very strongly about this, though of course library fines is a difficult thing to be morally superior about and their arguments were things like richer students would keep the books ad get a better education. The main issue, repeated over and over again in Honi Soit, was that the university librarian had not consulted students and was therefore treating them like “morons”. Students held two fairly mild sit-ins in the library, until after it closed. University security officers (as they are now called – then Guards. Who also carried guns, incidentally) came but, on the second attempt, around 50 students undoubtedly had a fabulous time staying the night in Fisher library, after which one student was disciplined (and his cause was then carried on, of course). The disciplining of a student protest leader on an issue that directly impacted students (or at least those who returned their books late, I suppose) suggested to the SRC that it should have representation on the university Senate and the disciplinary body, the Proctorial board.

The brand spanking new Macquarie university appointed a student senator who would sit on its proctorial board during that year, and students expressed shame that the new university was ahead of Sydney (HS40(18)200767).

In 1968 some staff and students from Sydney set up the Free University (known as the Free U) in a house in Calder St Darlington (just around the corner from Sydney), based on similar organizations in the United States. The Free U was an experiment in pedagogy, largely, allowing course convenors and students to have a say in how a loosely planned course would. It was a movement against the traditional assumptions of university teaching, where teachers know and students don’t, meaning courses are based on what teachers already know. At the Free U, courses could be based on what no one knows and they could try to figure it out together. It also meant they could freely explore issues such as Marxism and democracy in education, which were less readily explorable on campus at that time. At its peak the Free U had around 300 members, though it closed in 1972.

David Stove was, alongside the (even) more vocal Armstrong , was especially concerned about student protest. In fact, many professors and university administrators were after Berkeley and would become after Paris’ Mai 68.

At the start of 1968 Stove wrote an article for Honi Soit that seems to have no point except to be insulting and suggest that more was to come. Here’s an excerpt of Stove’s article:

“Not all the campus radicals are so disoriented by the thoughts of Mao-Tse-Tung or other hallucinogenic drugs as to be incapable of action. Some of them found enough energy, for example to inaugurate the Free University (though admittedly this involves no more than the assembly of an article which is imported from America all ready-cut, complete with instruction-manual of assorted meaningless sayings about alienation, etc.).”

David Stove">Stove and – more so, really – Armstrong, over the next 5 years, would come to represent the attitude of ‘god professors’. Indeed, Armstrong’s real success, we might think, was in embodying the image of the type of professor students were so angry about – helping to create a focus and reality for the rebellion and transformations to come.

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Assessment, authority and the ownership of knowledge

Over the past week or so I have been researching 1970s student politics, especially around the ownership of knowledge (of course, since that is my topic). Naturally I have barely scraped the surface but I have been thinking about something.

Themes, as well as the ones we know well (Vietnam war, apartheid, aboriginal land rights, feminism, gay rights etc etc) included examination, assessment, professorial authority and democracy in education.

UNE had a peasant’s revolt against exams and students completed the exam on Marxism collectively, to the horror of the poor exam supervisor. Eliminating exams was on placards along with other political statements and an idea that students should “assess the teachers” (instead of being assessed as students) seemed quite reasonable to students. And to some staff, mind you.

Sydney university largely went on strike in 1973 over the professorial board failing to approve a course on feminism in the philosophy department – which was one of several departments experimenting with allowing all students to vote at departmental meetings. Students at Sydney conducted a 3-day hostile occupation of the Registrar’s office over failure by the university to grant advanced standing to one of its students.

Universities responded surprisingly positively to student wishes, despite the bluster of a number of Sydney professors and concerted efforts by the Sydney professorial board in 1970 to piss students off with particularly paternalistic approaches. There was a little war (of letters, mostly) for a while.

A free university was set up at Sydney, and at UNE and probably other places too.

For even by 1975, professorial boards were being replaced by academic boards changing the role of professors and giving expanded say to junior staff and students. Faculties and departments were now required to have student representation and universities tended to encourage continuous assessment, take-home exams and discourage single-exam-only forms of assessment.

UNSW addressed the period’s whimsy, if nothing else, by officially appointing a Wizard as a part of the university’s organisational structure.

But there was still a minority that felt assessment should be eliminated all together and I think this is interesting. I find it difficult- probably due to lack of research so far – to really understand how this could be. But I am sure it is related to authority and the ownership of knowledge. Looking closely at the philosopher’s strike at Sydney uni, the course proponents felt that the professorial board was unqualified to judge the value of this new knowledge – knowledge which students could explore and access, which undermined the traditional authority of professors. Given that the new – and important – knowledge was something young people possessed and professors didn’t, professors should have no role in assessing them. Also, professors clearly care about a range of things that have no importance in comparison to the new knowledge possessed by students and the legitimacy of their authority in the university should be questioned.


References I've used in think and scribbling this are:

Bashford, Alison. "The Return of the Rpressed: Feminism in the Quad." Australian Feminist Studies 13, no. 27 (1998): 47-53.

Beer, Don (ed.). A Serious Attempt to Change Society: The Socialist Action Movement and Student Radicalism at the University of New England, 1969-75. Transcripts of Interviews. (Armidale: Kardoorair Press, 1998).

Jacka, E.M. and Curthoys, J, Open letter to members of the Committee appointed by the Professorial Board to to consider the qualifications of two persons recommended for appointment as Part-Time Lecturers in Philosophy (1973)

Several Sydney Professorial Board Minutes and some Academic Board minutes between 1970 and 1976.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Academic freedom - or freedom from academics?

I have just noticed this article in The Australian HES - http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,,23916884-12332,00.html

This article includes a very interesting definition of academic freedom - libs that are concerned about "academic bias" are looking for academia to be "free" of politics.

Normally, academic freedom means things like:

- academics need to be able to pursue the scholarship they consider to be important without interference from politicians or churches. We could possibly extend this to industries, businesses, unions or anyone else.

- academics need to be able to state publicly their scholarly findings without fear of physical or financial penalty (verbal penalty is to expected though) and thus probably need to be quite secure in their job (ie tenure)

It does NOT normally mean:

- academics are not able to hold or express a public political or religious opinion that may or may not be based on hard evidence (would these libs have a problem with academics declaring a belief in God?)

Politics, as well as being a democratic/media/entertainment/career/wayoflife/whatever, is also an area of scholarly study (or an issue in several areas). Academic freedom really is at risk if politicians wish to ensure that scholars never express a political opinion.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Notes on (and beyond) Charland 2003 The incommensurability thesis and the status of knowledge

I still don't get delegitimation. Rough notes here only, with next questions.

Lyotard borrows from Wittgenstein’s language games, which approximately equal Kuhn’s paradigms.

Paradigms (Kuhn) are incommensurable with one another. Within paradigms, the world is represented acc/- the rules of paradigm but on the basis of empiricism – a representational mirror. Rhetoric is non-scientific ie. Non-empirical but must be deployed in scientific revolution to establish a new paradigm, because paradigms are non-scientific ie based on a priori assumptions, not empirical observations.

But this undoes itself (perhaps - Gross) because the scientific community is continually (not periodically) deploying rhetoric to test the paradigm…meaning incommensurable rhetoric is deployed within a paradigm, making the paradigm unstable (and science unscientific).

Charland (2003) seems to use Lyotard as the Third Way in this essay. Language games approximately equal paradigms, but do not draw on an analogy with representation and also does not care about empiricism or the mirror to reality. That is, paradigms are a game, where every move is a response to previous ones, ether commensurable or incommensurable, doesn’t matter.

Here is where it all gets relevant to me:

The thing with the game is that is assumes the equal status of its participants – that is, each move in the game is directed towards another participant in the game who must be qualified to understand and respond to it (for it to be valid?).

This “scientific” knowledge is different to “narrative” knowledge, which assumes the inequality of the speaker to the audience – that is, while commensurability doesn’t matter within science, science is incommensurable to, say, politics (which is narrative knowledge).

Next questions will be….

How is the language game legitimised?

How does the need for legitimacy delegitimise it?

Does scientific knowledge belong beyond science to other university-based knowledges?

Is narrative knowledge equal to non-university knowledge - or is it also scholarly humanities?

Experts, please speak up!

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Knowledge, power, money and ownership: conclusions from the 1940s and 1950s

Here is the conclusion from my first draft of the 1950s chapter.

Full text is available. Part 1 Part 2 Bibliography

I would definitely welcome any comments and criticisms anyone has. If you're more comfortable emailing me, please do.

Knowledge, power, money and ownership: conclusions from the 1940s and 1950s

This chapter has come to the same conclusions from two directions. Part one considered, largely, the perspective of academics within Australian universities as higher education gained a high profile as a result of the Second World War. Part two broadly (though not exclusively) considered the government side of the events of these two decades, highlighting the difficulty in a democratic system of maintaining both academic freedom and accountability for public funding. What emerged was a new kind of university that had a responsibility to be responsive to the public in its production of knowledge – and where the ownership of (new kinds of) knowledge was slipping through the fingers of the academics that produced it.

The massive changes to higher education that occurred throughout the 1940s and 1950s were felt, by the academics who engaged with these issues, as potential challenges to academic ownership of knowledge – understood in the tradition of academic freedom. The potential for interference by government increased with every funding allocation. Changes to the demographic of enrolling students, as well as an increasing public expectation, functioned to add a new instrumentalism to university knowledge, embodied in the name of the NSW University of Technology. The construction of the ideal academic in heroic terms, emphasising that you can’t buy academics that do not care about money, operates as an attempt to assure the ownership of knowledge stays with the academic. However, this character did not possess the resilience that academics like Eric Ashby would have hoped.

In the Murray committee’s report to government, this same academic hero was present – but so was the requirement that universities efficiently fulfil (public) needs in exchange for (public) funding – a requirement that required some central (government) control and coordination. The structural consequence was, as Patrridge demonstrated, the positioning of universities as “public instrumentalities…[with] public functions”, which also contributed to a tendency to increased instrumentalism of the knowledge produced. At the same time, the Commonwealth established its own “pet university” in Canberra, with a mandate to expand the boundaries of knowledge with a focus on research – or knowledge production.
Knowledge production (in research) is the predominant perception of knowledge by the end of the 1950s, which is a change from the previous period that saw knowledge transmission (in teaching) as the principle role for universities. This is a symptom of the process Lyotard defines as delegitimation, in which knowledge as absolute and encyclopaedic is delegitimised, replaced by contingent and ever-expanding knowledge. It is clear that this shift in the perceived character of knowledge also commences the displacement of the heroic academic as autonomous expert, repositioning them as dutiful employee – starting to remove from them the control, validation and ownership of knowledge.

It might seem ironic that in this period of knowledge delegitimation, knowledge was also gaining greater value. But delegitimation is a process internal to universities – a process that questions the academic monopoly over university-based knowledge – and it disperses the possession and control of knowledge more widely. With the increased economic and moral value of knowledge came a widening desire to possess it. The democratisation of higher education in this period is one sign of this, as a widening group of students – including more women – seek to possess it. However, while the education explosion of the 1950s identified the agency of academics, universities and government, it assumed passivity in its students, possessing a right to access, but not control knowledge – despite increasingly identifying student individuality, as Brown showed. But the control of knowledge is power – and students, as we will see, were soon to want it too.