Not so long ago my colleague, Dr Bella d’Abrera, wrote:
Australian universities are more focused on their business model than engaging in free intellectual inquiry.
Since then, two things have happened. First, Dr Peter Ridd fought back against his dismissal by James Cook University (JCU), his case reaching all the way to the High Court. Second, much of the business model of universities has unravelled before our eyes. That model was a somewhat circular process in which international students provided spare cash to fund academics to publish research in journals, so the universities could be ranked highly in international comparisons, in order to attract … international students. If that research could invent more problems in order to gain yet more funding for research into how to ‘solve’ them, then so much the better.
Morgan Begg was in Canberra for Peter’s hearing, and on page 48 places the determination of JCU and marine science organisations to peddle a doomsday story about the Great Barrier Reef in the context of what Niall Ferguson calls—in a new book—“The Politics of Catastrophe”.
Now, as the stream of international students has dried up, universities face a reckoning for which many were unprepared. Parts of the sector are in denial. Matthew Lesh on page 16 revisits the impact of his ground-breaking Free Speech on Campus Audits produced at the IPA. Those audits set the agenda which led to the French Inquiry, yet Lesh finds academics still refuse to admit there is even an issue.
Abbott demonstrates the best of conservative thinking.
Professor Sinclair Davidson provides a different and unique viewpoint on page 32. An Adjunct Fellow at the IPA, his longstanding commitment to the cause of freedom and the role of markets in society is known to many readers. (His 2018 book, Against Public Broadcasting: Why And How We Should Privatise The ABC, is a classic.)
I do not agree with everything he says in the article, but it is an important and insightful analysis. From his perspective within academia he sees much good in the changes wrought within universities over recent years, as well as the bad. He admits he was slow to see how much Australians were losing faith in the sector, but from this vantage clearly sees how out of touch the university sector remains. He argues their day of reckoning has come, and makes a persuasive case for the Coalition to initiate thoroughgoing reform. We can only hope.
‘Out of touch’ also can be applied to the rule of the Australia Football League’s Commission over the sport beloved of so many Australians. On page 54 former top-level footballer, Allan Hird, wholeheartedly endorses the challenging critique of the AFL provided by journalist Michael Warner in The Boy’s Club: Power, Politics and the AFL. With mainstream media enmeshed in the big business that is AFL, you will not read much about this book elsewhere, and nowhere other than in the pages of the IPA Review will you be reminded of the AFL’s socialist approach to management and how it could benefit from Montesquieu’s advice regarding a separation of powers.
What has been lost with the ascent of the AFL is the connection with the community from which it sprang. On page eight you will also read former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, reflecting on how COVID has affected the Australian community and its relationship to those who rule. Appropriately, his thoughts first appeared earlier this year in a book on the pervasiveness of cancel culture. Abbott applies the best of conservative thinking, demonstrating that to move forward we need to reconnect with what made us who we are:
… with a renewed emphasis on the active virtues and the robust attitudes that have made Australia a country to be proud of: where sympathy for the weak, encouragement for the underdog and openness to the wider world jostle with scepticism about orthodoxies …
Australians who want this country to survive and prosper in the manner envisaged by Tony Abbott are very alert also to the threat of toxic ideas bred in the USA, that tend to then make their way here in some kind of mutated form. (Is there a Delta variant of Critical Race Theory?)
For this reason, Kurt Wallace on page 60 identifies issues with the infiltration of Critical Race Theory into the mainline Protestant churches of the USA, and Bradley Bowden on page 41 takes time to dig deep into The 1619 Project, The New York Times investigation of America’s past that took the darker aspects of that country’s history and stretched them to shroud its entire legacy as worthy only of guilt and shame. To restore balance, one need not engage in ‘culture wars’—one simply needs to examine and reflect the historical record of slavery in the West and across the globe, which Bradley does.
My own contribution on page 22 builds on Tony Abbott’s observations of Australia, and what is special about its culture and the character of its people. I am concerned that universities, with their aforementioned business models, are limiting their attention on Australian themes, and when they do it is only to provide the interminable ‘critique’ from the perspective of race, gender, and class (also imported from America). I spend some time on that, but also spend some time celebrating the heritage we do share, and our capacity to pass it on the next generation. What’s great about Australia will endure, with or without attention from academics (but certainly with the support of the IPA).
This is the editorial from the Winter 2021 edition of the IPA Review by Editor of the IPA Review, Scott Hargreaves. A Table of Contents can viewed here. IPA Members receive a print edition and online versions of articles are progressively released in the months following publication. To join/subscribe see here.