There’s nothing they can do to you

In a recent NY Times post examining the rise of judicial interference in university processes in American universities, Stanley Fish tells the following story:

‘When I began teaching in 1962 at the University of California in Berkeley, I asked older colleagues about the decorums and rules of the classroom. In response, I was given the Myron Brightfield rule. Brightfield was then a very senior member of the department. His rule (and I paraphrase) was, When you close the door, there’s nothing they can do to you. Those were the days, and they had their injustices as well as their advantages. Now we have justice, or at least the demand for justice, all the time and it may, Gajda suggests, be killing us’.

How times have changed! I know some of you would look back warmly on those Berkeley days….and others would find them akin to the lost ancient  civilization of Atlantis: fascinating, but also fantastical. If there is one trend in higher education  that looks to be a keeper (among the many that come and go…I am still waiting for the day when we rediscover the virtue of Departmental level admin units and dissolve Schools, Faculties, Colleges and Divisions…) will be increased measures of accountability for everything we do. That is certainly on the cards for universities in Australia over the next few years,  and especially within the University of Sydney. The Provost has suggested that  2010 might be the year of the ‘fine-toothed comb’: the university will be combing through what we all do with a very fine comb indeed. And that means we’ll need to have the processes and systems in place in order to justify the decisions (and expenditures) we make. This will be especially true with regard to our degrees and programs, but also our academic hiring, our administrative support and our (ha!) infrastructure. There is a threshold at which preparing all the reports and processes required to show you are doing what you said you would do begins to take all the time you originally had to do what you said you were going to do….are we there yet? Probably not, but it’s coming up around the bend.

As I am sure you all saw the other day, SOPHI continues its remarkable 100% success rate in promotions for the second year running: and so  many congratulations to Catherine Driscoll (GCS), Dirk Moses (History) and Stephen Robertson (History) all of whom have been promoted to Level D. Richly deserved in each and every case!


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