Lee Duffield

Edited by Lee Duffield
Freedom and Truth

Election to UQ Senate by Graduates

Universities are meant to support thought – I support thought.

I stand for a balanced view against Australian university policies that have made the current mess much worse.
After contesting the Senate election last time, in 2017, unsuccessfully, (fifth out of 35 candidates for three positions), I have to ask if you have had any direct contact or information about university governance, or requests for your input – particularly during the last year of crisis for the university.

I can assure you that as a Senate member I will report developments and invite you to contribute. I served four years as a staff representative on the governing body of another university, where I did not kick up conflict, but was never inveigled into being silent, complicit, complacent or weak.

What I said in 2017, and wanted to take to the UQ Senate, was a warning and balance against errors being committed on a broad scale.
It was a warning about over-expansion of UQ and Australian universities generally, too much commercialisation, getting the university too deep into real estate speculation, betting too heavily on selling places to international students, going over to abusively insecure employment of staff, neglecting staff development and through all of that, jeopardising academic standards and the standard of preparation for the professions in Australia.

Developments have unfortunately borne-out my critique, that Australian universities made an error by over-expanding in reaction to the withdrawal of government financial support, with among other responses, far too much dependence on recruiting students overseas. When a real estate scheme came up based on putting a bridge over the river I wanted to know if university budgets, and core purposes, were insulated from risk associated with that, and I could not get a satisfactory answer.

Generally, I support collegiality and I oppose over-corporatisation, which makes universities too much like profit-driven businesses that alter the universities’ focus and the goals. ‘Bench-marking’, ‘performance indicators’, revenue seeking, cost cutting become objectives of themselves, not means to an end. The in-house expertise of academics is ignored and you take pot luck whether they can even get the excellent generalist managers needed to attempt a full-on corporatisation project.

As that project is travelling to date, it is going to rapidly destroy academic standards and ruin adequate preparation for the professions in Australia. Degrees from every Australian university have hitherto been recognised in every country, and that will be jeopardised. Certainly corporatisation is no good for saving universities during the crisis brought on by COVID-19; instead the crisis has revealed the sense of concentrating on learning and knowledge instead of headlong corporate growth.

The good quality of health care being delivered in adversity this year, in Australia, shows how proper education for professionals is crucial. Imagine the disaster if our health care professionals today just had dodgy little ‘degrees’, heavily marketed, and based on no study time. If courses come down to a mish-mash of online modules, for students to ‘study’ “what they want, when they want, how they want” (an actual marketing slogan of UQ), the value of a certificate from UQ will collapse.

I will argue for preserving collegiate relations where full-time, tenured professors, lecturers and tutors carry out study and research to maintain their discipline knowledge, and are the prime influence in curriculum building, pedagogy and assessment. Such a system has worked well, with modifications over time, since its early heyday at Athens university around 2400 years ago. It works because universities sell knowledge which you cannot fake using a production line. Making knowledge requires time, concentration, empathetic contact and, most importantly, respect for thought. Remember the classic case of Australian ‘pure’ research (a despised phenomenon in some circles), into radio signals out of black holes — which ended up producing wifi. (See https://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2012/09/18/3590519.htm).

The current task in our knowledge industry is to match powerful and invaluable catalogue or ‘down-load’ knowledge made possible by digitisation, with organic knowledge – ‘wetware’ factors, human ingenuity, the brain. It all needs to enhance and develop thought; I support and will champion thought.

Incidentally I have been involved in the ‘save the Schonell’ campaign to head-off the literal razing of the ‘student zone’ on St Lucia campus, built around the forum area, for construction of a business complex. The university has now stepped back from that mal-intentioned move. The idea of our campaign was to preserve not just buildings but belief in a campus culture and learning environment where students, staff and alumni were a community. That was the original idea of the student area proclaimed by Professor Fred Schonell and Sir Henry Abel Smith at its opening in the early 1960s – enduring principles that should not be bulldozed.

It is very timely, fair and productive to have representation in the Senate for the kinds of interest I have outlined here.
The COVID crisis and its impacts are far from over at UQ or in the higher education sector nationally. The mercantilist drive, the childishly gung-ho ‘neo-liberalism’ that passed for policy over the last 20 years has failed us.

Moderating voices, like mine, were needed, and unheeded, and are still needed there now. Responses to the crisis should be governed by some maturity in approach and above all by respect for thought.

How to vote. All graduates should receive an email with details, or you can obtain registration and a vote through the UQ elections website: https://governance-risk.uq.edu.au/university-elections … It is online voting, between 11 and 25 October.

Biography. Lee Duffield obtained his primary degrees at UQ (BA in History and Politics, B.Ed.St., Dip. Journ.), MA with Merit from USyd, PhD from JCU. He was for over 20 years an ABC journalist, including time as the first news editor on the Triple Jay youth network and European Correspondent at the fall of the Berlin Wall. He was later a Senior Lecturer at QUT, where he served four years as a staff representative on the senate-equivalent, the governing Council. He has published in journals or books across a wide range, currently writing regularly for the online publication Independent Australia, see publications: https://eprints.qut.edu.au/view/person/Duffield,_https://independentaustralia.net/profile-on/lee-duffield,694