Archive for the 'Obituaries' Category

Assorted links and comments

The first poll on the flood levy finds opinion heavily polarised on partisan lines, but overall against, 53% disapproving to 39% approving.

A different question on the same poll finds that 64% of respondents believe that universities would be better run by the public sector and 20% believe universities would be better run by the private sector. This dichotomy does not include the public-private hybrid nature of Australian universities as an option.

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In the context of the fascinating events in Egypt, Tyler Cowen reminds us of an outstanding book on public opinion, Timur Kuran’s Private Truths, Public Lies. In authoritarian regimes people conceal their true political views, but new dynamics can take over in which more and more people are emboldened to express their opinions. With no real support, in these circumstances regimes can crumble quickly when they lose the will to kill.

An interesting post on the signalling dynamics of cutting communications.

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Gavin Brown, RIP

Being vice-chancellor of a sandstone university does not seem like the path to a long life. First Alan Gilbert died far too young, and now Gavin Brown. He had a heart attack and died after his Christmas lunch, aged 68.

In my time as David Kemp’s higher education adviser in the late 1990s, Brown like Gilbert stood out among the vice-chancellors. Gilbert was an entrepreneur and visionary type, and you always knew what he thought. Brown struck me as a canny character; the Scottish accent and a left eye that did not follow the right distracting you from what he was up to.

Though Brown did what VCs needed to do in the 1990s in pursuing full-fee students – including, controversially, domestic undergradates – in other respects a cigar-smoking, racetrack-going academic seems like someone from another, more leisurely and less ‘performance’ oriented era. We probably won’t see any more people like him leading the top universities.

Gavin Brown, RIP.

The no-longer-acceptable idea of a university

In this morning’s Australian my friend Simon Caterson writes about the Catholic Church’s beatification of John Henry Newman.

Outside Catholic circles (if not within them), Newman is most famous for his 1852 book The Idea of a University. It is perhaps the most cited book ever on higher education.

Ironically, an institution fulfulling Newman’s idea of university devoted to teaching and the development of character, with research and vocational training done elsewhere, would not be allowed to call itself a university in Australia. The protocols on recognition of higher education institutions agreed by all governments in Australia require a ‘university’ to conduct research.

John Henry Newman’s idea of a university, RIP.

Alan Gilbert, RIP

Professor Alan Gilbert, who was my boss for the last four of his eight years as Vice-Chancellor of Melbourne University, died yesterday in Manchester. He had recently completed a term as Vice-Chancellor of the University of Manchester.

I first met him in the late 1990s, during my time as then Education Minister David Kemp’s higher education adviser. He was very noticeable among the VCs who came through or approached our office. Most of them just wanted another cash hit to feed the sector’s great addiction to public money. Alan knew that game was up and that universities would have to do more to earn their own income.

He was an early and regular advocate of deregulating tuition charges for domestic students, but also knew that this was going to be politically difficult. So he turned to other ways of making money for the U of M – with the main strategies being international students, Melbourne University Private, and Universitas21′s commercial arm U21 Global.

The first of these was very successful; Melbourne had been a laggard in recruiting international students but this rapidly changed during the Gilbert era. But as Alan’s many critics repeatedly pointed out, the other two ventures were money losers. The problems of Melbourne University Private in particular generated much work for me in my first few years at the U of M. Read the rest of this entry »

Too many funerals for John Faulkner?

The photo below, from Monday’s funeral for Private Tim Aplin, caught my eye in one of the papers yesterday.


Source: ADF

All the politicians look affected by the moment, but it was the pain on Faulkner’s face that held my attention. I’d seen it before, as our Afghanistan casualities mount and military funerals become more frequent. Faulkner is feeling heavily the special burden all Defence ministers carry. Read the rest of this entry »

Malcolm Fraser’s Liberal Party membership, 1952-2009

The Liberal Party has a habit of disappointing its former leaders. BA Santamaria used to claim that Robert Menzies voted for the DLP in his later years. John Gorton hated Malcolm Fraser so much that he quit the Liberals and sat as an independent (though he rejoined the party in later life). While I don’t think John Hewson actually quit the party, his denunciations of John Howard were often fierce. And now comes the unsurprising news that Malcolm Fraser has resigned his party membership.

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde’s Lady Bracknell, to lose one leader may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose four looks like carelessness. Maybe my history is deficient, but I don’t think Labor has had a confirmed lost leader since Billy Hughes the best part of a century ago, though Mark Latham was certainly disillusioned with politics in general.

On conventional understandings of the Liberal Party, this is perhaps not too surprising. More than Labor, the Liberal Party has had an ideologically vague base that has allowed its leaders to shape the party in their own image. Read the rest of this entry »

Melbourne’s disappearing milk bars

Last Saturday, as I have almost every Saturday over the last decade, I went into the milk bar at the corner of Barkly St and Canning St in Carlton to buy the papers. On the verge of tears, the owner told me that this would be the last time I’d do so. Not by choice, they were closing down.

milkbar4(2)
The cnr Barkly St and Canning St milk bar on its last trading day, 20 December 2009
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William Safire, RIP

It’s turning into a bad month for conservative pundits -with first Irving Kristol and now William Safire moving from the opinion page to the obituary page.

In Safire’s case, however, he will be remembered more for his interest in other people’s words than his own words of political commentary. As the NYT obituary says

from 1979 until earlier this month, he wrote “On Language,” a New York Times Magazine column that explored written and oral trends, plumbed the origins and meanings of words and phrases, and drew a devoted following, including a stable of correspondents he called his Lexicographic Irregulars.

One of my (rather too many) nerdish interests is in the origins of phrases and sayings, and his Safire’s Political Dictionary is invaluable for the history of political terminology. Read the rest of this entry »

Irving Kristol, RIP

I first came across the work of Irving Kristol, who died yesterday, in a Carlton second-hand bookshop in 1983 or 1984. His book Two Cheers for Capitalism offered fewer cheers than I thought warranted in my youthful Friedmanite enthusiasm. But it was two more cheers than most books in Carlton second-hand bookstores offered capitalism, so I bought it.

It was the start of a long intellectual interest in neoconservatism, peaking in 1989 when it became the subject of my honours thesis. Though I remained a classical liberal, I was interested in the cultural questions raised by neoconservatives and those on fringes of neoconservatism (perhaps summed up in the title of a book by Kristol’s friend Daniel Bell, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism). I was also interested in the neoconservative as intellectuals.

Most of the neocons were product of the amazingly fertile intellectual world of mid-20th century New York Jews. Indeed, Kristol was one of an extraordinary number of them who went to City College in the 1930s, the Ivy League universities not yet being ready for very bright working and lower-middle class Jews. These include Bell, Seymour Martin Lipset, Irving Howe, Nathan Glazer, Philip Selznik, David Landes and Kenneth Arrow.
Read the rest of this entry »

Jan Palach RIP

Jan Palach

Memorial to Jan Palach and Jan Zajic, and millions of other victims of communism. Picture taken in Wenceslas Square, Prague, 12 August 2009

Palach, followed by Zajic a month later, burnt himself to death in January 1969 in protest against the 1968 Soviet invasion to crush the Prague Spring.

There is so much to see in this beautiful city that I have not done as much political history tourism as I would have liked, but I did take a photo of this memorial to two brave young men.