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Willy Back: QUT's marketing and spin

Dear Dave and friends

I tried to post this to the Courier Mail site in response to the Stuart Cunningham article, 'Taking arts into digital era', 22 June 2007. I apparently got there too late. Please consider it for Ratbag Radio and or the GLW:

  • Background posts here.
  • GLW interview with Gary MacLennan here.

I would like to endorse the [comment from “Nanks”] view that “QUT is very good at marketing and spin”. Professor Stuart Cunningham, who is director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation at QUT, has a debating position that matches his role at QUT. He is ‘on message’ even if that means making assumptions based on a flawed neo liberal ideology. It is his job to match research to the demands of industry. So his skills may not be well suited to an appreciation of intrinsic as opposed to marketable values.

Stuart Cunningham correctly states, “nothing less than the reputation of the institution is at stake”. The problem for QUT is that it is the authoritarian management style of our Vice Chancellor and those around him who are damaging the reputation of QUT. Their severe punishment of Drs.Hookham and MacLennan has only reinforced this now widely held public perception. Stuart Cunningham should not be so surprised that people who work in the Humanities are unhappy with the convenient conflation of Humanities into the Creative Industries. Yet he seems surprised to discover that there is even a debate about this: “Some of the debate has also focused on whether QUT's creative industries is part of the humanities at all”.

Stuart Cunningham quotes from QUT's code of conduct, which states, "academic staff members have the right to express unpopular or controversial views, but this does not mean they have the right to vilify, defame or intimidate". But he fails to mention that the way in which the decision to close the School of Humanities has been made some time ago (in spite of David Gardener ’s denials) and that the facts have been dribbled out in a thoroughly deceitful way. There is a suspicion of a hidden agenda that will unfold in time, regarding the rush to complete air conditioning work in buildings that will soon be emptied of their present occupants.

Stuart Cunningham says, “The proposal to close Humanities and Human Services has been portrayed as a worrying part of a trend toward further "marketisation" of higher education”. He may try explaining in clear English, and without the ‘managerialist’ jargon what else this closure, justified on “costs” could possibly be, when we examine the reasons given for this radical amputation.

Stuart Cunningham further explains, “The pure humanities must be part and parcel of any higher education system. (Note here the word “pure” smuggled in order to infer that the Humanities have no practical application). The values of independence of mind, critical thought and curiosity about the world, and the disciplines that teach them, must not be eroded by managerial fiat or postmodern relativism”. How could we disagree with this proposition?

Except that he then goes on to deliver the rest of the insidious neo liberal message that never seems to be challenged: “But there still must be a market for such "non-market" disciplines in any given university. That is to say, there must be sufficient students of sufficiently high entry score to justify offering such courses. This has not been the case at QUT for some time”.

“Universities must increasingly "choose their poison". (This is also termed elsewhere by the Vice Chancellor and his messengers as “playing to QUT’s strengths). They must concentrate on their strengths and seek to complement each other in an overall higher education system. The old days of a small number of elite institutions offering all disciplines have long gone”. (Note
the word “elite” was smuggled in here to denote uselessness and indulgence).

“QUT's philosophy is to embed pure disciplinary inputs into professional applications. The success of this approach in the Creative Industries Faculty is seen by the surge in demand when we first opened the faculty to new students in 2002 and it has remained high since”. (Note the use of “embed” and “surge” – military jargon from the illegal war against the people of Iraq).

So, there it is! The corporate line diligently expounded, as though it came from the Vice Chancellor’s media advisor (as it probably did). Where do we go to hear a critique on the poor management skills and neglect that may have contributed to the (possibly strategic) running down of the School of Humanities? No wonder some commentators say, “QUT is very good at marketing
and spin”.

Willy Bach

Willy Bach is a founding member of the Qld Greens and a long time activist and poet.He is a post graduate student at QUT.

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