Whackademia: An Insider's Account of the Troubled University

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NewSouth Publishing, 2012 - Education - 239 pages
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Australian universities are not happy places. Despite the shiny rhetoric of excellence, quality, innovation and creativity, universities face a barrage of criticism over claims of declining standards, decreased funding, compromised assessment, increased vocationalism, overburdened academics and never-ending reviews and restructures. In a scathing insider expose, Dr. Richard Hil lifts the lid on a higher education system that's corporatised beyond recognition, steeped in bureaucracy and dominated by marketing and PR imperatives rather than intellectual pursuit. Fearless, ferocious and often funny, Whackademia exposes a world that stands in stark contrast to the slogans and mottos joyously promoted by our universities. Raising bold questions that go to the heart of Australian higher education, Whackademia is an unsentimental call for a re-enlightened higher education sector that's not only about revenue, efficiencies and corporate profile.

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A Refutation of Richard Hil’s “Whackademia”
1) Complaint 1-Universities are autonomous institutions and therefore should not be subject to government interventions to take more students in for STEM
subjects. Truth-universities are not autonomous institutions. Public universities, at least, are funded by the national government using people’s taxes, which is an economic activity. Thus universities do have an obligation to create, and enlarge courses suited to the well-being of the national economy if the government wills it to. Universities are not only places of study, but also have economic obligations unless they are privately funded.
2) Complaint 2-Course guidelines shouldn’t have to be given to students. Truth: Hill’s description of weasel words and the rhetoric of learning outcomes perfectly suit “critical thinking”, “innovation” and “collaboration” because such rhetoric cannot be objectively “learnt” as block capabilities as universities would like them to, and moreover is are nothing but the extension of logical, common sense habits of daily life. However, Hill goes too far by promoting the abolishment of objective learning outcomes, saying that “academic disciplines are not simply chunks of concrete knowledge to be spoon fed”. But this is to distract us from the fact that without factual learning outcomes, it is unfair on the students because they don’t know what they have to study. There is not a single institution apart from universities that argues for the feeding of such ambiguity. The fact that academic disciplines are not merely chunks of unconnected knowledge does not negate the fact that there are certain chunks of knowledge crucial to undergraduate learning, which should be clearly specified, or otherwise students may spend hours studying irrelevant things. Moreover, lecturers may find it interesting to digress in lectures, but without student learning outcomes no one will know whether it is testable content or simply the lecturer telling stories for fun.
3) Complaint 3: Academics don’t have enough time to do research with all the student workshops and student help programmes forced upon them-well, suits academic right. Academics used to scam students every year by charging high fees, providing little teaching, and using students’ money to fund their research, out of which students hardly benefit. Is it so sad for academics now that the situation has turned around and academics now have to struggle to meet student demands?
4) Complaint 4: It is unethical to corporatize university. The fact that university is a place of learning does not negate the fact that it is a business. Any institution which generates profit expands its facilities, and charges for a service are businesses. Hill lives in times when universities were few. However, with more universities being created, it is obviously justified for universities to engage in mass marketing.
5) Complaint 5: Universities have an unnecessary obsession with links to industry, limiting academics’ freedom to research on topics which could not help with GDP. Well it’s about time academics were restricted towards things that actually help with GDP. The public don’t intend to pay taxes to fund these “white elephant” structures of universities just so that academics can use that money to play around with their particular research interests which are of no practical economic to the world. If you want to do non-industrialized research, use your own money! Taxpayers should not have their money abused by academics.
6) Complaint 6-Student reviews should not determine academics’ salary. Truth: I don’t see Hil’s justification for sarcastically putting quotation marks around the phrase “student shoppers”. It is time for university to own up to the fact that it is a service industry. It does not, and should not, rule students, and students are rightful shoppers. Universities are not exempt from other service industries. While other service industries are scrutinizing their customer complaints

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About the author (2012)

Richard Hil is an honorary associate at the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney, the coauthor of Erasing Iraq: The Human Costs of Carnage, and the coeditor of Surviving Care: Achieving Justice and Healing for the Forgotten Australians. His articles have been published in the Australian, Australian Universities Review, and Campus Review.

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