Universities have long been viewed as institutions that produce knowledge for the common good.
They do this in a variety of ways: by undertaking research that leads to developments in health, culture, science and technology; by teaching skills that equip graduates to serve the community in their work as teachers, doctors, engineers and artists; by fostering citizenship and self-understanding; by sitting at the head of a universal education system; and by serving as apolitical places dedicated to disinterested scholarship and learning.
These are the reasons that, throughout the 20th century, societies have valued universities, funded them, and seen them as public institutions.
At the start of the 21st century, however, universities find themselves in turbulent times. In the UK, regulatory reforms are dramatically reshaping the ways our higher education institutions are funded and how they go about their core tasks.
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In her contribution to Scholars at War: Australasian Social Scientists, 1939–1945, Cassandra Pybus recounts the story of a late night drinking session in Melbourne in the middle of 1944. Alf Conlon, head of the ‘Directorate of Research’ reporting to the Commander of the Allied Land Forces in the South West Pacific, and Roy Douglas ‘Pansy’ Wright, the Professor of Physiology at the University of Melbourne, were speculating about what might happen if the northern hemisphere was to be really wrecked by the war. ‘Why shouldn’t Australia be ready to be the new Constantinople?’ they asked. There and then, they set about devising a plan to build a new university that would sit ‘in the front garden of the Commonwealth government’ in Canberra and be staffed by eminent Australian academic expatriates (pp. 66–7). Their proposal, drafted that night over beers and whisky, was communicated the next day to the Australian Prime Minister. In time it would come to influence the founding of the Australian National University.
The themes of masculine sociability, belief in academic expertise, optimism and opportunism, that characterise this story, echo throughout the chapters collected in Geoffrey Gray, Doug Munro and Christine Winter’s volume on the activities of a select group of Australian and New Zealand social scientists during the Second World War…
… read the rest of this review at Reviews in History
In 1931 Arthur Currie, the Principal of McGill University in Montreal, dismissed sabbatical leave as unnecessary and extravagant.
‘Seeing that our summer vacations are so long,’ he wrote, ‘the need of a sabbatical year does not arise to the same extent as in those institutions where the terms are spread more generally over the whole year. With us … a professor is given a four months’ vacation. I notice that many of them spend it teaching in summer schools – or in fishing, or enjoying themselves in some other way.’
Currie – who before his distinguished career as a General in the First World War had been a businessman in British Columbia – thought such activity profligate. ‘It would be a farce to give such men one full year’s leave of absence in every seven years’, he concluded.
Yet in 1931 Currie was increasingly alone in holding this opinion… read the rest of this post at guardian.co.uk