BY AARON BARLOW
In the November 2017 issue of Australian Humanities Review, in an article entitled “The Roz Ward Case: Relections on Social Media, University Management and Free Speech,” Binoy Kampmark, a a Senior Lecturer in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, writes of the situation of Roz Ward, who was suspended for “misconduct” and then reinstated by La Trobe University (Ward resigned this year). The problem? A Facebook post criticizing the Australian flag as racist. As Kampmark says, it “seemed a simple instance of opinion made in a private capacity as an activist and citizen, one arguably more of expression rather than academic opinion.”
Kampmark puts this in context:
Globally, examples abound that situate the Ward case in a troubling, institutional context affirming the thesis… that the university has been unleased from its moorings to the national-state. A consumer-market model invariably requires defending in cases where threats might be made to profits and ‘bottom line’ concerns. Critics of that very model of university operation have been threatened, suspended and subject to protracted disciplinary proceedings in environments of exploited anxiety.
What can sometimes seem to us Americans a local problem is international and extends far beyond attacks on Roz Ward or Steven Salaita here in the U.S. Kampmark writes:
Universities have become bastions of managerial arbitrariness. The trends began some time ago, when money became the ultimate pursuit, and the Dollar became chancellor and chief…. The university… has been detached from the nation-state…. The cultivated obsession with obtaining grants, grant awarding panjandrums, the siphoning of funds, underwriting projects, have all made the academy disposed to matters of a financial worth and notions of market share.
True, but we cannot give up. Ward writes, “I will never give up fighting for a more free and joyful world.” None of us should. We need to wrest control of our universities from the corporate overlords and return to (or create) spaces of exploration and unfettered enthusiasm. At the same time, we should work to establish a distinction between the public sphere and the academic one (or the commercial one, for that matter), keeping the former from impinging on the latter. As Kampmark concludes:
What management has sought to do is merely harvest aspects of the technological fruit, rather than the whole bounty, which is vast. Ward’s behaviour should never have led to the reaction it precipitated. With its bureaucratically bungling approach, it typified the errors and dangers of an ill-considered strategy reconciling the use of social media platforms with commercial branding. Without further exegesis about the phenomenon of branding, the workplace will continue to expand its influence into the private domain of views which, when publicly expressed, can be duly used against employees without due protection. Well it might be, in the words of market analyst for Randstad, Steve Shepherd, that ‘the old adage of what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas is no longer true’…. But not permitting some semblance of it will invite a chilling, de facto form of continued intrusive censorship, one most critically felt in the commercialised, metric-driven academy.
None of us should want that.