Regular readers will know that I consider promotion of the humanities and social sciences in a university systems to be of paramount importance in preserving an informed citizenry, which is a precondition for democracy. These areas of our education system have been under constant attack by the neo-liberal bean counters in government education bureaucracies and management positions within universities. While I regularly write about the impacts of poor fiscal management, in particular, in the current context – fiscal austerity – on unemployment and low income workers, one of the other casualties of neo-liberalism has been a university systems. The damage to our university systems go well beyond the squeeze of funding and a user pays mentality that I’ve written about in the past. Last night, on our national broadcaster’s prime evening current affairs programme – 7.30 – we were confronted with a classic example of how compromised our universities have become in Australia. The – 14th Dalai Lama – was banned from visiting a campus. Why? Guess!
Here is the transcript of the segment – University shuts down Dalai Lama visit. You can also watch the segment from that page and the Official Statement from the University of Sydney.
You can also read an news story about it from the ABC – Uni under fire for pulling pin on Dalai Lama event.
One of Australia’s most prestigious universities is under fire after pulling the plug on a planned speaking event by the Dalai Lama.
Students at the University of Sydney scored a major coup when the Tibetan spiritual leader agreed to speak at their campus during his upcoming short visit to Sydney in June.
But the ABC’s 7.30 has obtained emails revealing the university, which has close links to China, went to great lengths to wash its hands of the iconic monk.
The organisers were initially told in January by university bosses that “the logo of Sydney University could not be used. There could be no media. No Tibetans could be there … No marketing could be done external to the university, and no external students”.
Then on April 2, 2013, the top brass cancelled the event. The Vice-Chancellor wrote to some managerial operative that he had tasked with getting rid of the event the following:
Thank you so much for your skill in dealing with this situation so effectively and in the best interests of researchers across the University. I think that the negotiated solution meets all the concerns.
The University’s official line is that there were “logistic” problems.
A Green politician in NSW summed it up pretty well:
What the University of Sydney appears to have done is sell off not just its reputation but its internal integrity in order to maintain close financial ties with the Chinese government … People are very keen to see this man – a significant intellectual and political figure of the 21st Century.
We might start trying to understand this strange decision by a university to shun one of the great figures in the human rights struggle by focusing on just two words – Confucius Institute.
This is a world-wide Chinese government propaganda vehicle – in part, doing interesting things, such as promoting Chinese language and culture, but also serving as an agent for what has been referred to as “soft power”.
These institutes have spread like topsy around the world and have infiltrated the major universities in many nations, including the University of Sydney.
The Economist Magazine article (January 20, 2011) – China’s Confucius Institutes – Rectification of statues – says that ” an important goal” of the Confucius Institutes:
… is to give the world a “correct” understanding of China. An online Confucius Institute, also supported by the Chinese government, includes an article noting the “active” efforts of some unspecified Confucius Institutes in opposing independence for Tibet and Xinjiang, pro-democracy activism and the Falun Gong sect.
First, we can form our own “understanding” of China if we have sufficient information.
Second, there is evidence from across the world that these institutes offer cash as long as there is no mention of sticky issues such as human rights and Tibet.
Obviously, the 14th Dalai Lama has for a long-time been a major critic of the Chinese government and its illegal occupation of Tibet. Advanced nations such as Australia have been virtually silent on the issue.
Remember a few years ago when the Australia Prime Minister (Rudd) fobbed off the Dalai Lama to Midnight Oil front man, who these days masquerades as a minister in the government and they were forced to meet in secret in some back office at Tullamarine Airport in Melbourne.
Australia’s two big capital city universities – Melbourne and Sydney – have allowed the Confucius Institute onto their campuses in formal arrangements.
The Confucius Institute at the University of Melbourne tells us that it is:
… a centre of education excellence for Australian companies wishing to do business in China, the general public who has an interest in Chinese language and culture, and for Chinese companies and executives working in Australia.
The Confucius Institute at the Sydney University – says:
… is based on a partnership with Fudan University, in collaboration with the Office of The Chinese Language Council International in China (Hanban). It is managed by the Office of Deputy Vice-Chancellor (International). The first to be established in New South Wales, the Institute has attracted thousands of people to its popular Chinese language and culture programs.
The University of Sydney also has a – Institute for Democracy and Human Rights – , which tells us it welcomes “thinking outside the box”, presumably, as long as you don’t think about Tibet.
The description of their – Research Nodes – is managerial-speak par excellence.
One reference to Tibet on their site, a marketing page, outlines how one of their graduates is now working in the education sector in Tibet. She is quoted as saying:
One of the problems in the school education of Tibetan children, is not their native language, but rather, their Chinese level …. there is still a significant gap between the mainland and Tibet schools, in terms of teaching qualities, facilities, and opportunities for further study.
So as a matter of human rights, the occupied have to learn the language of the occupier!
The issue is not confined to the influence of the Chinese on Australian universities. This New York Times article (March 4, 2012) – Critics Worry About Influence of Chinese Institutes on U.S. Campuses – by Don Guttenplan documents the way the Confucius Institute has tried to penetrate the US university system.
The article notes that:
Confucius Institute — a cultural outpost of the Chinese government that already has 350 branches on campuses around the world, from Paris Diderot University to Penn State University, and from Argentina to Zimbabwe.
Don Guttenplan sets up the conflict that the increasing pervasiveness of these Chinese institutions are presenting universities.
On the one hand, they provide significant funding injections to “cash-strapped” universities. The scale of the funding varies but is typically significant.
On the other hand, the dark side enters.
We read about the strings that are attached to the funding:
“There is a whole list of proscribed topics,” said June Teufel Dreyer, who teaches Chinese government and foreign policy at the University of Miami. “You’re told not to discuss the Dalai Lama — or to invite the Dalai Lama to campus. Tibet, Taiwan, China’s military buildup, factional fights inside the Chinese leadership — these are all off limits.” Ms. Dreyer said that Miami did not have a Confucius Institute but added that their rapid growth and potential influence was a frequent topic of discussion among China specialists.
The issue becomes one of “academic independence” and thus goes to the heart of the role of universities and academics that are employed by them.
One academic interviewed for the NYT piece said:
Once you have a Confucius Institute on campus, you have a second source of opinions and authority that is ultimately answerable to the Chinese Communist Party and which is not subject to scholarly review … You can’t blame the Chinese government for wanting to mold discussion. But Chinese embassies and consulates are in the business of observing Chinese students. Should we really be inviting them onto our campuses?
The reference to spying on students studying abroad is another major issue that is not addressed in any vigorous way by the host nations. They just seem to turn the other way when the topic is raised.
The article notes that the influence exercised over host universities is subtle and leads these institutions to engage in “self-censorship”. The host universities know damn well what the implicit understandings are and what the limits they can go to before the money is withdrawn.
That being said, the article cites examples where money was conditional on not discussing Tibet.
The article also says that there is very little resistance within universities, that is, from the academic staff, when a Confucius Institute is set up.
This goes to the heart of another problem – the increased pressure (implicit or otherwise) on academics to refrain from making public statements (even within their own areas of expertise) which might create controversy.
The New York Times article cites examples of staff being scared to lose their jobs (particularly those awaiting tenure review) should they “he identified as a critic”.
In this blog (November 19, 2009) – I have found an inflation threat – I discuss, in part, the managerial takeover of Australian universities.
In this blog (October 29, 2010) – I feel good knowing there are libraries full of books – I discussed the way academic staff are cowed into silence by university managers. As the New York Times article stresses, this can be a very subtle, implicit control environment.
It is clear that the university system has become very defensive as the neo-liberal dominance and values have been imposed on it. At the top, the management class is now a new breed – enjoying very high salaries and seeking to appease the bureaucrats and corporate interests alike. They have imposed what they see as the corporate model onto the institutions although one could argue if they were truly out in the “market” their tenure might be short given the performances of some of their institutions.
The problem with the corporate model, quite apart from whether it actually works in the corporate environment, and team-based cooperatives would suggest it doesn’t, is that the University is not a corporation and, crucially, is not selling a product.
Education is not a capitalist product, although the neo-liberals have endeavoured to reconstruct universities as if they are both factories and shops.
The conflict between the way the managers think (and are pressured to think by the funding agencies, that is, government) and the actual endeavour that they are managing (that is, education and research and community outreach) is stark.
Far from resisting the funding cuts imposed upon them by successive neo-liberal governments, which would have made the cuts a political issue, the universities have followed the agenda set by the governments which includes imposing this corporatist user-pays model onto their activities.
The participative system of management that we used to enjoy in universities has given way to the imposition of professional managers at every level. This has eroded the “sense of ownership” among faculty and reduced morale significantly.
The managers are increasingly supported by “bean-counters” in finance who often seem to lose track of the specific industry they are working in and see their role to reduce costs (except their own bonuses) without regard to effect. They used to support academic activity but now seek to rule over it.
The staff of the universities have also become compliant and stifled as the threat of job loss is now real. You will find very few academics these days who will publicly criticise governments or their own sector. I read somewhere a few weeks ago that many academics are scared to write blogs for fear of coming into conflict with the management of their institutions.
The assault on higher education is one of the neo-liberal battlefronts that is justified by the erroneous claim that budget austerity is important and quality education should be more market oriented. There are many areas of social policy that are under attack in this way.
What is the motivation for all this? Answer: some would say it is a way of perpetuating class divisions. Then the accusation comes that class is dead. This is one of those claims has gathered pace in the last two decades to accompany the neo-liberal assault on government provision.
Class, in the Marxian sense of the concept, is alive and well and influences the dynamics of the economy every single day. Refer back to the previously cited blog for more detail on that argument.
You can see my other blogs on – Higher Education – if you are interested.
I would also recommend this (free) book – Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline – by Donald Meyers, who has been an academic for many years and is now dumping on the system as only an insider can.
I don’t agree with everything he says or some of his conclusions. He is remiss on the macroeconomic dimensions. But as an insider’s portrayal of the way our higher education system in general has gone under the neo-liberal era, I concur with most of it.
You will read things like:
1. “If there is a common theme underpinning the failure of the modern university it would be the devaluation of traditional expertise. It underpins the calls by Educationalists to abandon direct discipline-based instruction and replace it with a thin gruel of issues from currently topical subject areas.”
2. “The lack of respect for expertise is also evident in hiring processes that offer the candidates little scope to display their expertise or intellectual ability and unduly favours buzz-word jockeys and sycophants – in short, those who identify with the management psyche and who are long on style and short on substance.”
3. “At the institutional level, there is an overwhelming and constant focus on bureaucracy and administration. It should therefore surprise no-one that academic staff have become paper pushers first, with teaching and research relegated to a distant second. What is surprising is the appearance of a small but growing number of traditionally educated academics who have abandoned the academic mission and actively deny a similar education to today‟s university students by promoting the soft educational options that have failed our primary and secondary students so badly.”
4. “How much longer are we going to live with university management rhetoric that spruiks “quality”, “excellence”, “innovation”, “world‟s best practice” and any other number of inanities to the would- be customer, when we know that the two-dollar-shop university degree is the order of the day?”
5. “This pseudo free-market approach to funding has completely redefined the student/staff relationship, making the student the customer calling the tune for the academic staff who have become the service providers. This is the thin end of the student-driven education market wedge in which customer satisfaction and the institutional position on league tables is everything. It has had a profoundly corrupting influence on university governance and ultimately students will be the losers.”
On KPIs, I loved this E-mail Meyers cites from some manager or another:
The Office of Quality, Planning & Statistics is redeveloping its delivery of management statistics, analytical data and key performance statistics.
The Business Intelligence (BI) initiative supersedes the data warehouse proof-of-concept project and will eventually replace (and exceed) the content currently delivered by the Management Information System (MIS). The BI initiative has so far delivered improvements in compliance-based reporting for student evaluation of teaching and courses (SET and SEC), performance statistics supporting the Strategic Plan’s key performance indicators, and statistical and analytical reporting on the national Graduate Destination Survey. Soon to be delivered also are statistical and analytical reports on projections of student load compared to actual load.
I encourage you to attend the preliminary information sessions about the BI initiative. You can find out how accessing statistical and analytical information will change for you, what the plans for the future are, and why Business Intelligence isn’t an oxymoron.
Session details are:…
Yep, that’s what the system is about these days!
While I am most familiar with what happens in Australia, these trends worldwide, more or less. I would actually be interested in readers from abroad who have detailed knowledge of their own tertiary education system, to share that experience with us.
I have a long flight approaching and other things to attend to before it – so that will be it for today.
But the University of Sydney decision to ban the 14th Dalai Lama and its mealy mouth “official statement” demonstrates the way in which our universities have lost their way and have ceased to be places where people who wanted to defend the public interest could prosper.
Universities were places were academics could pass on the knowledge they gained from hours of study and research to the public so that a broad debate could be maintained.
Tibet remains a major issue in human rights abuse. Given our pretensions to being a free society, we should encourage internationally renowned defenders of human rights to visit our country and seek our support.
We should welcome the Dalai Lama to our campuses to demonstrate to oppressive regimes that we value free thinking and open discourse.
And we should refuse to accept money from such regimes, no matter what the ruse is for the funding.
And if that refusal leaves our universities short of cash, then our currency-issuing government has all the capacity it needs to ensure we have a first-class higher education sector.
The only problem is that it thinks it is still operating under a gold standard and has forgotten it issues the currency.
I should also note that the University I currently work at (Charles Darwin University) welcomes free speech and respects the role of academics to speak freely on topics that they have expertise. It is not a free for all as is appropriate.
Triple_B (aka brooklynbadboy) talk …
I liked this Daily Kos article (April 17, 2013) – Democrats, this isn’t going well. (sigh).
In brooklynbadboy vernacular:
… stop fucking around trying to balance the budget, and just start doing shit for regular people who are broke.
Do shit for regular people who are broke.
DO SHIT FOR REGULAR PEOPLE WHO ARE BROKE
That is enough for today!
(c) Copyright 2013 Bill Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.