In his 1996 Boyer Lectures titled ‘The View from the Bridge,’ the eminent Australian academic Pierre Ryckmans argued the university as a bastion of learning was dead. Such was the destructive impact of cultural-left theory and the success of the left’s long march that universities were no longer committed to concepts like wisdom, truth and the pursuit of knowledge.
The recent public declaration by Professor Corinne Reid, the deputy vice-chancellor at Victoria University, proves how prescient Ryckmans was. In response to the coronavirus pandemic Reid makes the startling observation that the virus “will be one of the defining moments of our generation” and that people are “worried and frightened”.
And students are warned “the battle is not simply with the virus, but with how we engage with our planet – COVID is simply one example of how the health of the planet and the health of communities are interlocked”.
As a result of the pandemic and in line with deep green religion and worship of Gaia we are told Victoria University is resolved “to make a whole-of-university commitment to planetary health” and to ensure students are “future-ready” and able to support “local and global communities”.
Planetary health is described as “an international movement focused on addressing the intersect between the health of the planet and the health of communities”.
To prove its credentials Reid boasts of the university’s sustainability initiatives that go beyond recycling to involve “ethical investment” and “exploring biodiversity and greening options”.
Whereas universities once involved teaching the established disciplines and introducing students to “the best that has been thought and said” their role is now to promote “lifelong education, real-world education, in a university without boundaries”.
Instead of learning to master difficult and complex subject matter and to be educated in its fullest sense the purpose of a university education is defined as empowering students to “transform their lives and their communities” and to produce “future-ready graduates” prepared to be “champions of change”.
Given the fact Victoria University serves predominantly low socioeconomic status students from disadvantaged backgrounds, it shouldn’t surprise that Professor Reid sees its task as preparing such students to deal with “hostile global forces” including the coronavirus.
The task is made easier as even though students come from disadvantaged backgrounds Reid argues they have much to teach the broader community about “grit and tenacity in a crisis, about family, about community”.
In addition to drawing strength and inspiration from the disadvantaged Reid tells us Victoria University also needs to draw on Aboriginal culture. She writes “we must also seek guidance from Aboriginal custodians –- the knowledge and wisdom of our oldest living culture is key to finding sustainable, place-based, future-focussed solutions”.
As with what currently passes as university mission statements the declaration produced by Victoria University abounds with the types of clichés and vacuous language George Orwell warns of in his essay ‘Politics and the English Language’. The university is committed to “opening the doors” and “building the bridge” to the community it serves.
To stress such commitment Professor Reid writes “Our doors and our minds are open” and its staff are dedicated to developing “active problem-solving partnerships”. So much for education inculcating what Cardinal Newman describes as a particular habit of mind involving “freedom, equitableness, calmness, moderation, and wisdom; or what in a previous discourse I have ventured to call a philosophical habit”.
And it needs to be noted that Victoria University is not alone in its betrayal of the true purpose of a university education. As I note in ‘How Political Correctness is Destroying Education’ the University of Sydney proudly proclaims the purpose of education is to “unlearn”.
The university tells prospective students “not everyone has been taught how to unlearn” and exhorts them to “challenge the established, demolish social norms” in areas like same-sex marriage, indigenous land rights, peace studies, refugees and the environment.
The same university employs academics who argue a curriculum based on a liberal view of education is guilty of promoting “whiteness” – defined as a curriculum that privileges Western civilisation and that leads to “different forms of domination and marginalization – such as racism, sexism, classism, historical injustice and prejudice based on religion”.
In universities across Australia studying the literary canon has been reduced to deconstructing texts in term of power relationships involving gender, ethnicity and class, knowledge has no inherent value as it is simply a social construct designed to reinforce privilege and students are taught the history of Western civilisation is riven with inequality, oppression and violence against the ‘Other’.
Kevin Donnelly is a Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Catholic University and author of A Politically Correct Dictionary and Guide (available at kevindonnelly.com.au).
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