Academic quality control

I’ve had a lot on over the last week and didn’t get to read the report of the Senate inquiry into academic bias until last night.

I was rather surprised to find that my post on the subject, along with comments from Conrad, Leopold, and Andrew Elder in the comments thread, appears to have influenced the majority (ie, Labor) report. They describe my argument that this issue is about the professionalism of staff, and not the academic freedom of students, as a ‘fair summing up of the issue’.

Alas, the minority report from Coalition Senators suggests that the Nelson-Bishop micromanaging mindset is alive and well in the Opposition, recommending that a Charter of Academic Freedoms for students be imposed on universities as a condition of funding. Even if we take all the Liberal student and Young Liberal allegations at face value, we will only have a small number of cases, and as the majority report noted, there is no sign that they have pursued existing avenues of complaint. I can’t see that yet another layer of bureaucracy is needed.

And clearly Coalition Senators have not have learnt their lesson on political donations, proposing that universities now be caught in the disclosure net, with universities required to reveal donations over an unspecified level. This seems to be in response to a complaint from Jewish organisations about Arab funding of research centres. But I can think of at least one instance in which this rule would have stood in the way of an 8-figure sum being donated for medical research.

The lack of external quality control of courses and teaching at universities is an issue, but it needs to be approached carefully and systematically, rather than creating yet more ad hoc rules which cause more problems than they solve.

5 thoughts on “Academic quality control

  1. It’s a little bit odd that we’ve all become students with apparently conservative views! They should come to my entirely biased lecture on gender :).

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  2. Sadly the Coalition tends to be an idea-free zone and the very last thing that is required to revitalise higher education is more bureaucratic interference. One of the essential elements that is required is imaginative criticism, and scholars need to follow the ramifications of their problems across the artificial boundaries between subjects. Further, in the language of economics, the mind industry must be deregulated from the constraints imposed by so-called authorities, by over-specialisation and the tyranny of fashion. It needs to be re-regulated by the internal controls of genuine scholarship which cannot be imposed from above.

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  3. As an aside, the Liberal party is in desperate need of adult supervision.

    I bet you the ratio of teachers to administration has change in the last 30 years, that the teachers are expected to do more and the administrators less, that the best pay is not found in the lecture room and I bet you for all the control the percentage of poor lecturers has not changed.

    And no doubt, the most interesting lectures are still delivered by someone who understands the topic, believes in it and has an opinion. And if it happens to be a lecture on Marx, listen and learn, you don’t have to conclude the ideas are right, you are allowed your own opinion, to generate you own ideas. Perhaps that is the problem with the young Libs today, they are not capable of independent thought.

    Close minded twits ( boy an I grumpy tonight).

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  4. I don’t have a problem with Marxist, postmodernist or any other kind of lecturer – so long as they don’t expect their students to regurgitate their views and so long as they encourage and reward independent and well-argued positions.
    I have had some very good lecturers like that – Jim George at ANU is famous for his encouragement of students with differing (including, god forbid, conservative) views.
    It’s the lecturers that aren’t like that (and the faculties which support them) who are the problem.
    The other issue is that lack of courses available on classical liberal or conservative thought (in philosophy, politics etc). I am convinced that people would enrol in these courses if they were offered but there are few lecturers who want to teach them, few lecturers who want to supervise honours and PhD students in these areas and it ends up being a vicious circle.

    I agree Young Libs can be a bit over the top but there are some genuine issues that need addressing. I’ve yet to see a university who wants to do so.

    Does anyone know of any?

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  5. Good points Sally!
    As an aside, I wonder how a lecturer who is prepared to encourage people to be independent and take arguments seriously could describe themselves as a Marxist.
    On the availability of courses that treat classical liberalism etc, that is a very interesting question which I explored circa 1989 when there were only 21 unis and I found very few such courses in the schools of philosophy, sociology and politics. I suspect that the situation has not improved very much.
    Anyway, this was my take on the Liberal Studedents beef
    http://www.the-rathouse.com/2008/Campus-Bias.html
    In a nutshell, we need to look at course contents for a start.
    It is amusing to see people harking back to long-dead theorists (Marx and Mill) to grapply with current problems, as though there has been no progress in political economy in the 20th century!
    http://clubtroppo.com.au/2008/12/07/what-about-classical-liberalism/

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