Friday, 27 February 2009

Griffithgate: what happens next

Yesterday emails have been sent to some of the staff at Griffith University informing them about the modified welcome page (95 in all).
What they make of it is anyone's guess at this stage, if indeed Griffith's server allowed them to have it at all. Their reaction would be an amalgam of several factors.
Currently Australian universities are mostly run as businesses, providing room for feedback. On the other hand they are also considered autonomous, which means hardly any third-party entity is prepared to interfere in their internal affairs, and they know it. In addition there is such a thing as group-think which tends to dampen an individual member's willingness to advocate along self-critical lines.
Beyond the institution itself Queensland features a culture of hostility when it comes to general criticism towards any system that has been found wanting. Insiders who speak out are threatened, bullied into submission, even sacked. Especially if dismissal is not possible protective walls are erected making any engagement impossible. Only pressures from official enquiries or commissions are able to breach those ramparts.
The law's adversarial system has an interesting side effect regarding the role of lawyers. On the occasion of a trial the defendant's representative is required to enter a stoush with the prosecution where the outcome depends as much if not more so on either side's dexterity rather than on the facts of the case. Pre-trial scenarios therefore occupy the shadowy space of preparing for the fight where the potential impact of this or that item gets evaluated in terms of its assumed potential later on. It is not so much about ethics or even legality but what a branding exercise under forensic conditions might achieve.
The law firm Minter Ellison has Griffith University as one of its many clients. They have been contacted in the past but decided not to respond. Instead there came a reply from one of the university's pro vice chancellors, which may or may not have been the result of mutual correspondence.
What would they make of the above-mentioned web page - brush it off altogether, create an entry in their file, or start seriously advising their client?
Given the negative effects of any publicity for Griffith in this matter, it is an interesting exercise to consider the possible aspects as they apply to its wider status measured against this issue. Add the not inconsiderable resources available to the university as well as Minter Ellison (but virtually none on my side) and the strategy may well move from the purely financial to one containing elements of a psychological, even philosophical, nature.
Let's not forget, Griffith's recent foray into seeking support from the fundamentalist regime of Saudi Arabia could, in conjunction with a certain religious ambience surrounding the evaluation of my thesis, set the scene for some interesting public discussions once the conditions are in place.
It won't matter to Minter Ellison where a client's money has priority over anything else, but their place in this world is not the world.
Under more radical jurisdictions subversive elements are put against the wall, but in Australia lawyers enjoy the luxury of living in an essentially secular democracy.
Then again, misusing such freedom starts paving the road towards exactly the opposite. There are millions on this planet who understand what that means, but slick suits aren't one of them.

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