Sunday, 20 May 2007

When in Rome...

An accident is bad enough, but when a situation grinds on because some people are too arrogant or stupid or both to do anything about it then one's mind drifts towards the idea of action. The question is, what kind of action? If such brutishness is part of a system, the considerations go beyond the personal and concern the local culture.
Several posts dealt with the saga around Griffith University and its denial about the issue. The assessment of an honours thesis was either conducted by dilettantes or there was a higher agenda at work. I was criticised for things I had not said, criticised for leaving others out when they were not, ridiculed for my interdisciplinary approach, and held up for including a profile of Queensland society that in the years to come proved entirely true - even a state election was based on those shortcomings and their effects are still with us.
A general overview of the situation is on a page of the Otoom website, more details are on another page, and the possible role of staff from Griffith are questioned in an open letter.
Seven entities had been contacted under the naive assumption their official nature would cause them to show at least some interest. Actually, sometimes not even that was the case. Out of the seven, two noted the information for their records, one merely acknowledged receipt of the letter, and one remained silent, as noted on an update.
Since then the Federal Ombudsman's office declared the matter is not for them to deal with, the Federal Education Department won't touch an autonomous institution, and its Queensland counterpart is still looking at the issue (I assume).
Out of thirty-two heads of Griffith schools and departments only two replied with one showing more than a passing interest, and even he won't continue the conversation.
Or take the Institute for Ethics, Governance and Law, purportedly interested in researching forms of appropriate governance in wider society. One would think its director, Professor Charles Sampford, would at least have the civility to respond to someone who has something to say about how the mind works, which after all is the system underpinning human affairs.
Or Professor Geoff Dromey, from the Software Quality Institute, who commented in a Courier Mail article about the standards of language as a prerequisite to quality of communication ("Clarity of language signals success", 16 Apr 07). When I pointed out to him that such ideals are not always put into practice only silence ensued. I wonder if he sees the irony of the situation.
On the other hand, did they receive instructions not to engage with a 'renegade', are they fearful their bosses make life uncomfortable for them? It wouldn't be the first time such a pressure had been applied and Queensland is renowned for political interference dished out at will (see Parallels > Dysfunctional demographics > quoted article dated 17 May 07). As a matter of fact, the grapevine tells me that Griffith University itself is not immune to that affliction. The information comes from lawyers and academic staff, no less (and no, their names will not be disclosed).
While such reluctance is understandable, there comes a time when not speaking out carries consequences more serious than the alternative. In a wider sense a number of issues today require those in the know to be heard, notably scientists and researchers who would be able to inject a measure of reason into often emotional debates. Their silence affects society. But more to the point, the times when academics could cloister themselves within their rarified atmosphere away from the stink have well and truly gone. Easy street no more...
Meanwhile those responsible for the destruction of others fatten themselves on their status, their money, and the kudos a seemingly unassailable position gives them before the rest of the world. This includes the vice-chancellor, Professor Ian O'Connor, surely one of the more generously remunerated bureaucrats in the land. But what does a destroyed career here or there mean when the cheeks are a-blush with fine wine, when the room glitters from the presence of a well-shod elite, and mellifluous words toast each other with sweet decorum.
The university does have staff who are dedicated and care about their role and responsibility. Without them I would not have been prepared for my own research for instance; its successful closure is partly due to them. The more insidious then are the actions by an arrogant clique more interested in its own pleasures than the duties their positions require.
In a culture of civility any problems are dealt with convivially. In a barbarous one however the civilised approach becomes useless.
I wonder if I should contact the Queensland Police. Surely they would have experience with people who decided enough is enough. Maybe they can offer a range of options that have been effective here. When exiled among barbarians adapt to the local ways.

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