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QUT dispute --Brian Laver in response to Prof Cunningham of QUT

We have been tracking the dispute at QUT for some time. Here is a recent piece -- source GLW list. See here on LeftClick for background and videos. An interview with Gary McLennan should be published in the next edition of GLW.

[This is an article written by Brian Laver in response to a piece by Stuart Cunningham in last week's Courier Mail. The Courier Mail are considering publishing it.]

See also: Mocking the Afflicted? at Socialist Unity.
It was good to see Prof Cunningham emerge from the shadows of the conflict that is wracking QUT at present. However his attempt to place into context the controversy surrounding the suspension of Drs Hookham and MacLennan is deeply flawed. To begin with he perpetuates the mistake made in American films about the Vietnam War. These films generally insist that the war was something that happened to America. Just so Cunningham insists that the Laughing at the Disabled controversy is something that is happening to QUT rather than something that QUT is doing to Hookham and MacLennan and the disability community.

Thus we are told that QUT is �under the pump�. Cunningham doesn�t even consider why this should be so. The recent demonstration outside the Administrative block of QUT was supported by members of the disability community. What other Australian university has ever faced a protest from the disabled?

Why were the disabled community protesting the suspension of Hookham and MacLennan? Cunningham will not even consider why. For he steadfastly refuses to engage with the detail and the context of this controversy.

Cunningham does tell us that Hookham and MacLennan were suspended for intimidation and bullying of supervisors and a student. He makes no mention however of what they were objecting to. Hookham and MacLennan attended on the 20th March a confirmation seminar where Michael Noonan launched in public scenes from his PhD project entitled �Laughing at the Disabled: Creating Comedy that Confronts, Offends and Entertains�. It is because they went into print objecting to this project that MacLennan and Hookham have been suspended for 6 months without pay.

However Cunningham does not tell us why QUT supported a project for profit which Hookham and MacLennan believed had at its core the ridiculing and mockery of the disabled. Does Cunningham think that QUT should be spending tax-payers' dollars to support such a project? Does he support the disability community�s request to have input into this project to ensure the protection of the rights of the intellectually impaired men who are being filmed? Does he think we should laugh at the disabled?

There is total silence from the good professor on these issues. Yet he hastens to tell us that Hookham and MacLennan were found guilty by a �duly constituted review�. The general public may not be aware that this review was set up by the Vice Chancellor. He handpicked the Chair and the staff members. The VC also decided the penalty and there is no right of appeal. It is true that this process is sanctioned by an Enterprise Bargaining Agreement reached by the university and the Academic Union, but it can hardly be described as fair or just. Certainly in this instance it has led to a verdict which has been described by a distinguished academic Prof Henningham in his resignation letter from QUT as being punitive in the extreme. Now Hookham and MacLennan�s legal team has learnt that the �duly constituted review� of which Cunningham boasts has lost the vital record of its proceedings.

The truth is, if one could evoke such an old fashioned concept, that Hookham and MacLennan have been victims of �workplace mobbing�. This is the tried and true method of getting rid of one�s staff when they ostensibly have tenure. Interested readers should go to http://arts.uwaterloo.ca/~kwesthue/mobbing.htm where they will find details of the latest research on the topic. It is already clear that the case of QUT versus Hookham and MacLennan is destined to become a classic in the literature of how institutions trample on the rights of their employees.

The case is also destined to go down as one of the most severe attacks on free speech and the rights of the press ever launched from a university. Hookham and MacLennan have been fined $40,000 each for writing an article in the mainstream press. They have been punished for being whistleblowers. They told the world what was going on at QUT and the university has reacted in what can only be described in an extremely punitive manner.

It is true that as Cunningham points out they wrote another article in 2005 also critical of the manner in which the Creative Industries was being run. Does this mean that they are repeat offenders and should thus be punished severely? Is it a case of two strikes and you�re out at QUT? Cunningham assures us that he realizes that universities live and die by their reputation. He is correct and he should be very worried about QUT. One has only to go to youtube and watch what is being said about this controversy to realize that the university is destroying its own reputation. Of especial interest are the clips entitled �International students speak out against QUT�.

Cunningham concludes his article with the good news about research students etc at QUT and claims to be doing something right. He makes no mention of the ongoing budget crisis in the Creative Industries Faculty. He does not tell us of the lecturers who cannot go to overseas conferences because the university can only advance $2000 towards their expenses. He makes no mention of the recent review which told the faculty that it could only survive another two years in its current state. Nor does he remind us of how QUT which was once the Number One teaching institution in Australia has now slumped to 36th out of 37 universities in Australia.

By his own logic he and the other leading administrators at QUT must be doing something wrong. If they wish to do something right they should immediately reinstate Drs Hookham and MacLennan and apologize to the disability community for supporting a project which in the opinion of many ethicists mocked and ridiculed the most vulnerable in our society.

On a personal level I would urge Professor Cunningham as a well known cinephile to take a look again at Istvan Szabo�s 1981 film Mephisto. There he will see how compromises on such issues as compassion towards the weak and the right to free speech might well serve one�s own ambitions but can also lead to the triumph of totalitarianism.

Brian Laver
Institute For Social Ecology
Ahimsa House
West End.

Brian Laver is a long time campaigner for human rights. From the 1960s onwards he has promoted the right to free speech. He has lectured at Griffith University and the University of Queensland, and has frequently given guest lectures at QUT, a practice which he will not now repeat.

5 Com:

Anonymous | June 29, 2007

The filmmaker (an ex-News Ltd. journo) appears to be doing quite nicely from all this publicity. The ABC has purchased his film, and he will be the star attraction at the BIFF.

Perhaps some boycotts are in order?

Anonymous | June 29, 2007

I once worked at QUT and have also witnessed the bullying of "difficult" administrative staff (with tenure).

John | July 18, 2007

Some comments on "big picture" aspects of this dispute are on my web-site at A Crisis in Education at QUT?

John Craig
Centre for Policy and Development Systems

John T | July 25, 2007

It is sad and ironic that "the left" is now pushing a most conservative and repressive notion of disability - and they are trying to crucify a project that challenges imposed stereotypes - Noonan's film.

On the QUT international students youtube the speaker refers to disability as a "sickness" and people with disabilities as "patients" and he speaks with the authority of someone who has worked in a "mental hospital"

Gary and John's article in the Australian refered to the 2 men in Noonan's film as "boys" as did the youtube "disability community speaks out against QUT. These 2 men are 20 and 40 years old.

Gary and John's criticism of Noonans pub scene is not only based on an attitude that sees people with intelectual disability as asexual children but also Aboriginal women as drunken sluts.

Yet "the left" is applauding this sort of drivvel!


a more detailed critique of "Philistines no longer at the gate"

John Tracey | August 13, 2007

Here is a review I wrote of Michael Noonan's film "Unlikely Travellers" Screened in Brisbane last weekend.


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