31 May 2006

Too little thought

The Higher Education supplement in The Australian could do with a bit of thought about the articles it publishes, and the wider issues that might arise from them.

Firstly, it has discovered that baby boomer academics, particularly in the humanities, will be retiring en masse in not one, but two almost identical articles by the same writer. There is much head-scratching about where our next generation of academics will come from - as though there is some magic (unnamed) realm beyond the horizon full of people who'd love to teach fluid dynamics or Deleuzeional theory in a damp room in Melbourne for $60k a year. Then there's a piece on Australian academics working overseas (no "Aussie takes on the world" angle like you'd get in the sporting pages).

There are plenty of humanities and other students doing postgrad courses - not enough perhaps, but plenty, in the face of apathy and lack of enticements, and sheer lack of understanding like the ignorant comments about "harbour views" in the articles above. This American article shows that Australian academia is not alone in this boom-and-bust cycle, a ridiculous situation where supply outstrips demand. Yes, those accepting $30 or so per hour to tutor classes and mark papers are being ripped off. There was even an article in the same section (though at the bottom, like it doesn't matter) about a post-boomer academic lamenting the absence of career paths available. The contrast with the near-inert incumbents quoted earlier could not be more stark.

If this section had an editor who thinks, it would have worked out that universities need to provide mentoring programs, gradual retirement schemes and other flexible measures to ease out the incumbents and blood the next generation of academics. The university that does this will be a well-run organisation, and nothing is more attractive than an organisation run by people who are beyond merely qualified: who know what they're doing. If the Oz can call for a jihad against indigent and (self-) abusive Aborigines, surely it can do likewise for the orderly transfer of the country's higher education sector. The academics' union gets in for its chop in these articles but what are they doing to provide career paths for future academics (and help build a constituency for their future? Bugger all, it would seem.

Finally, isn't it hilarious that people who would train you to always criticise, always question, probe the soft white underbelly of power can't cope when the boot is on the other foot? McGuinness has gone back to his Push roots in condemning any bourgeois activity not of directly utilitarian benefit to the proletariat, but boomers who had it too good too long are as stuffy, jowly and reactionary as anyone of their parents' generation who'd tried to pack them off to Vietnam.

Ten years from now I look forward to an Australian academy populated by people who've had to work long and hard to get there and stay there.

No comments:

Post a Comment