18 May, 2007

The proposed closure of the Queensland University of Technology School of Humanities and Human Services

QUT vice-chancellor Professor Peter Coaldrake -'Master of spin'
Professor Coaldrake said the school was losing between $200,000 and $400,000 a year, which was unsustainable. He said the Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Human Services had high attrition rates and poorer employment outcomes than other QUT courses.

Professor Coaldrake said QUT's strength in humanities was its Creative Industries faculty at Kelvin Grove, which was internationally competitive.

"For us, that is the new humanities," he said".


Some of my comments on the proposed closure of the School of Humanities and Human Services at the QUT Carseldine campus:

I am concerned that no strategies have been developed to ensure that the promise of “adequate” supervision of Post Graduate study. The very use of the word “adequate” suggests something less than comparable with optimum or best practise. It is like the use of the word ‘tolerant’ in a multicultural society. I am also concerned that our Vice Chancellor, Peter Coldrake, does not see the differences between Creative Industries and Humanities. They do complement one another, but the community of interest has a small overlap.

This managerial casualness in dealing with detail informs me that the consultative process is designed to fail; that the decision is regarded as irreversible, possibly necessary and ‘courageous’, and that no account is being taken of either the intrinsic value of the Humanities to the functioning of the whole university; or the interests of the students. There can be no Post Graduate students or programmes without committed Supervisors, who in turn, need to have real Undergraduate student teaching to contribute to their work load and inform their research and supervision duties.

I am concerned about the manner in which the announcement was made in the media with the appearance of an executive fait accompli achieved without consultation and in an authoritarian managerial style that denies intrinsic values and the role of ethics in public life. The model of management demonstrated by our Vice Chancellor does not appear to draw on the ethical standards; consultative process and social responsibility are at odds with what these managers would learn if they studied the Humanities. The ‘University of the Real World’ appears to ignore any engagement with the disciplines and needs of the real world that is around us.

This real world is in a state of terminal decline, with dangerous climate change, a widening gulf between privilege and poverty, leading to social turmoil, instability and deprivation. It is a world in need of sound ethical research, genuine humanistic and societal change and real committed people at the ‘coal face’ dealing with human needs. The real world is at war, with combatants returning to be ignored with their psychiatric illness and millions of refugees with nowhere to go beyond starvation and their miserable tents in the desert. The real world is much more than the temporary bubble of prosperity created by a casino economy mineral boom. Global warming will teach us not to rely on digging holes and shipping coal. We need to conduct a equitable functioning society that is informed by the Humanities that you appear to see no value in retaining. We need to be a smart society.

QUT Carseldine has a huge catchment of potential students but is poorly served by public transport and little relatedness with the adjacent community. Perhaps less drastic solutions would start by addressing these anomalies.

I am reminded of my poem from 2002:

Making Ends Meet

We declared a war on terror

And asylum seekers gladly offered

To forgo a meal each day

Waiting out their desert detention

We declared a war on terror

The mentally ill, though not consulted

Relinquished adequate treatment

We declared a war on terror

Educators readily raised their hands

Allowing deep cuts in all departments

The Humanities promised to prune

The deepest as theirs were merely

Human concerns

We declared a war on terror

Housing authorities decided that

Accommodation for the disadvantaged

Was no longer a priority

We declared a war on terror

And assistance for the long-term unemployed

Tapered away to a vanishing point of despair

We declared a war on terror

Fifteen-year-old boys thumped

Each other’s arms and threw

Screwed up balls of paper

Larked around in the classroom

Oblivious that they would join

The next wave through snow-clad minefields

Jungle creeks – weapons held aloft

We declared a war on terror

And politicians who had lied

And rorted to stay in power

Passed legislation banning groups

Opposed to war, arrested

On whim, stifled dissent

Silenced those who knew

Too much of what was true

And sold their consciences

In the service of Uncle Sam

West End, Brisbane 2002

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