Since assuming the office of Sydney University Vice-Chancellor, Dr Michael Spence has demonstrated what has struck many observers as a decidedly fickle consistency. Consider, Professor Barry Spurr was banished almost immediately from campus for having expressed un-PC thoughts and expressions in private emails, yet Associate Professor Jake Lynch suffered no great consequence for having made a public spectacle of himself and his employer while leading the rowdy invasion, complete with bullhorn, shoving and anti-Israel chants, of a lecture by a respected visiting scholar.
But give Dr Spence some credit: when it comes to obsessing about race, gender and class he has become utterly and absolutely predictable. Reacting to a ‘confronting’ survey of academic staff, Dr Spence told the Australian, ‘We want to move this from a place of heritage to one that is hungry.’
What does this mean? Is he planning to close the refectory, perhaps with the same speed that saw the banishment of Professor Spurr? No, nothing quite so simple: The problem, as he sees it, is that his university is a ‘white bread institution’, which hardly seems a fair metaphor for the extraordinary range of scholarship available. Does a work of literature or a scientific theory share the gender, class, or race (white or otherwise) of its author or discoverer?
It’s always sensible to ask if a curriculum can be expanded. What matters, however, is whether the proposed broadening will enrich or dilute it. And, more to the point, what will disappear in order to make room for something new? If we need to diversify the student diet, what should we add and what should we sacrifice? Dr Spence Spence opines
Sydney isn’t so much a multicultural city as a city of parallel monocultures. It’s not a city of villages but a city of ghettos, not just based on ethnicity but by sexuality and money and status. We want to mix it up. That doesn’t mean by homogenising our culture but it does mean giving our students and staff and students the tools to listen to each other.
There is an important insight here: the university is one place, above all, where the conversation of mankind takes place — across not merely different “ghettoes” but different disciplines. The principal means of such communication will inevitably be language. A common language need not be stark and impoverished; it can and should draw on other cultures and languages. But it must remain enough of itself to function as a language and not as a Babel. Moreover, its accompanying literature must provide all the groups in the conversation with the means of mutual understanding and memory of deeper kinds.
That has been decently achieved at Sydney University. When I studied English literature there, the Australian Literature department was careful to draw on Aussie writers such as David Malouf, Christina Stead and Patrick White — a trio representing those of migrant heritage, XX chromosomes and an affection for other men. All are fine writers and worthy of their places in any Australian curriculum on the strength of literary merit alone. But if background is so important, and given that it is hard to see that trio disappearing from the curriculum, who else is to be cut? Will Dr Spence take the axe to Banjo Patterson, A.D. Hope, and Les Murray?
All the writers latterly mentioned are sorely neglected in favour of counterparts assigned extra-literary virtues under the race-gender-sexuality rubric. And literature is the most obvious field where ethnic, gender, and sexual diversity can be readily “in”. Gaia only knows what Dr Spence has in mind for the social and natural sciences.
His words suggest that this diversification will entail moving away from an ‘old, white, and male’ leadership model. With the strongest will in the world, how one can anyone perceive this as other than a nakedly racial criterion. The university must be intending either to cull old white men from senior academic and administrative posts or prevent them from attaining those ranks in order to make room for other people as well as other ideas and sensibilities. This comes along with a reflection that
we have 16 deans but 200 or more deputy deans, associate deans, pro-deans and sub-deans. We have schools and departments and institutes. With between 600 and 700 people involved in academic leadership there is a great deal of confusion about who’s job is what. We need a simplification of our structure.
When people hear this kind of bureaucratic bafflegab, they smile sadly and consult their contracts. Every old white man employed by the University (except, presumably, Dr Spence) now has ample reason to fear for his job security. Not only does the Vice-Chancellor aim to slash academic and administrative jobs, one gathers he intends to see that those remaining positions go to women and people of colour. If that were the result of fair competition in a colour-blind context, no one would have grounds for complaint; when the results are pre-determined (and achieved by manipulation), they represent discrimination impure and simple.
How could an ‘old white man’ who isn’t given a job or, indeed, whose contract isn’t renewed, fail to wonder if he was discriminated against on account of his age, race, or gender?
Dr Spence isn’t the first white male to succumb to the anti-white, anti-male vitriol of academia’s far left, nor will he be the last. But he is a particularly painful example. An Anglican minister who spent his first years as Vice-Chancellor being abused by cultural Marxists, could it be that he has been worn down to the point where he has acquiesced in the fashionable notion that the real mission of a university is to indoctrinate bright young mind in the manifestos of radical feminism and multiculturalism?
If that is the case, then surely, deep down, Dr Spence knows better than that.
Michael Warren Davis, a native of Boston, Massachusetts, studied English at the University of Sydney.