Before I launch into today’s topic I’d like to offer an apology for my long absence from Blak and Black. I have been helping a friend restore a 19th Century sailing boat. In the process he asked me to paint a mural of Scylla and Charybdis in the main cabin. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Scylla and Charybdis myth, in Greek mythology, Scylla and Charybdis were a pair of monsters who lived on opposite ends of the Strait of Messina between Italy and Sicily. Scylla was originally a sea nymph who was loved by the sea god Poseidon. Out of jealousy, Poseidon’s wife Amphitrite poisoned the waters in which Scylla bathed. This turned Scylla into a six-headed beast with three rows of sharp teeth in each head. When ships passed close by her, she struck out to grab and eat unwary sailors.
In The Odyssey, Scylla lived next to Charybdis. They were so close together that sailors who sailed by had to choose which monster they wished to encounter. The phrase “between Scylla and Charybdis”, which means “between a rock and a hard place”, is now used in reference to being between two unavoidable dangers, because fleeing one will put you in danger of the other. Odysseus and his men were forced to bypass the two monsters on their route home to Ithaca. Odysseus was given advice by Circe to sail closer to Scylla, for Charybdis could drown his whole ship, but Scylla could only devour six of his men. I guess the other moral to the myth could be the sacrifice of the few for the many. That being said, I’m still at a loss to understand why someone would want to go to sea in a small 19th Century sailing boat with that particular myth adorning the walls and roof of the main cabin.
The three faces of corruption in Australian education
Don different fro those regal Dons!
With hearts of gold and lungs of bronze,
Who shout and bang and roar and brawl
The absolute across the hall.
Lines to a Don, Lines to a Don: Hilaire Belloc
Gone are the days of the Dons of Hilaire Belloc “who shout and bang and roar and bawl, the absolute across the hall” The Dons of Hilaire Belloc have been replaced, at least in Australia, by triple faced sycophants, more concerned about power and the pursuit of power than with the dissemination of knowledge. The first face is the face of concerned kindness the triple faced sycophants show to the world. The second is the true immature, yet power hungry monster lurking behind the veil of respectability offered by the first face. The third is the face of mock repentance offered by Australia’s ersatz intellectuals when asked to explain.
I was recently asked by Open Universities Australia (“OUA”) to be a ‘pin-up’ boy in an advertising campaign aimed at enticing people to study through OUA’s provider universities. I was invited by OUA to participate in its advertising campaign because of my academic success as an Indigenous Australian, at one of its provider universities. The following picture of me appeared in the Weekend Australian Magazine for the weekend of July 28 – 29 on page 40. Curiously, the advert neglected to identify me as Indigenous and hence, the reason I was selected as one of the faces of opportunity offered by OUA to people from all walks of life, but that is a separate issue.
In writing this post I feel that I’m caught between my own Scylla and Charybdis. Two of the major and recurrent themes on Blak and Black are corruption and accountability. Unfortunately subsequent to agreeing to be an OUA ‘pin-up’ boy I experienced firsthand the corruption and lack of accountability that passes for integrity in Australia’s version of the Academy.
During my final subject for the degree I was studying for at one of OUA’s provider universities and for which I became an OUA ‘pin-up’ boy, I received the following e-mail from my tutor:
I am forwarding your email to Dr Carolyn Beasley, who is your subject
You should have followed my instructions in Laurent’s Area and sent an
assignment extension application to your subject convener — Dr Carolyn
Beasley is the one who approves extensions for your subject, otherwise
we are going around in circles, and we need to follow proper procedures.
I would have preferred if you checked with me first (as detailed in
Laurent’s Area, where I specify to not send me assignments via email
unless I have instructed you to do so) ) before emailing me your work —
assignments sent via email are subject to getting lost, the reason why
we have Blackboard.
Finally, no, I have not been notified by Dr Hecq or anyone about your
request for an extension (which should have been done in writing or the
required extension form).
Dr Laurent Boulanger
Academic Tutor in Writing
I found the final paragraph of this e-mail offensive in the extreme and brought it to the attention of the course convenor. Eventually the course convenor Dr Hecq, responded to the tutor Dr Boulanger, and me to the following effect: “Hi Laurent and Mark This is to confirm that I was fully aware of the matter. Mark’s account reflects our phone conversation and I discussed it with the coordinator last Monday. All best wishes Dominique”.
Still outraged I submitted a complaint to Dr Hecq which was sent to an informal grievance committee, where unsurprisingly it was found that Dr Boulanger had no case to answer. The only problem was that somewhere in the process the lines which I found offensive, namely: “Finally, no, I have not been notified by Dr Hecq or anyone about your request for an extension (which should have been done in writing or the required extension form) suggest the possibility that the offensive lines had been deleted from Dr Boulanger’s e-mail prior to it going to the informal grievance committee. I know this because the chain of e-mails I received back from Dr Hecq advising me of the outcome of the informal grievance committee contained multiple copies of Dr Boulanger’s e-mail to me. The offensive lines had been deleted from later circulations in the chain of emails, although identification of the person responsible for the manipulation was difficult to ascertain without access to the entire internal discussions via email between university staff to which I was not privy. Apart from anything else, this represents an extreme case of arrogance by the OUA provider university’s academic staff toward their students. This is an example of what passes for academic integrity at OUA and its provider universities. I and my partner had to search a long way into the chain to find a copy that was unaltered.
Being somewhat naïve to the ways of the tripled faced sycophant, I lodged a formal grievance about the altered e-mail. Far from addressing the issue in a professional and timely manner, OUA and its provider university refused to address the substantive issue of my grievance, that of the changed e-mail. The university has refused me a face-to-face meeting on several occasions to discuss the issue even though this is allowed for under its own grievance policy.
As a result of my dealings with OUA and its provider university I asked OUA to remove me from its advertising campaign. On 11 September, 2012 I received the following e-mail from Dr Marcia Devlin, Executive Director, Academic Programs and Services, OUA:
Thank you for your email.
In terms of your request regarding the use of your image in any ongoing OUA marketing, we certainly understand and respect your decision. We would like to thank you for allowing us to use your image in the past. In accordance with your request, we removed your image (and any variations) from the OUA website yesterday.
There is no further media activity planned using creative that includes your image. Please be assured that we will not use your image in any way without first seeking your explicit approval to do so.
Once again, thank you for your assistance in the past.
I sincerely hope you are able to resolve the matters you have raised with Swinburne to your satisfaction.
Dr Marcia Devlin
Academic Programs and Services
Australia’s culture of corruption
While changing an e-mail prior to it going to a grievance panel may seem like a small thing, it’s the process that was followed that should be of concern to all those worried about Australia’s future. Generally speaking, those with tertiary qualifications are the ones who rise to positions of prominence within the community. They become our business, political and intellectual leaders. The justification being that graduates have invested their time, money and selves in improving their minds, morals and ability to weather the day-to-day maelstroms created by Scylla and her sister Charybdis. However, if the training grounds for our leaders are corrupt, how can we expect the products of those training grounds, our future leaders, to be anything other than corrupt?
Whilst it is glib to say “do as I say, not as I do”, the reality is “monkey see, monkey do”. If Australia’s wishy-washy youth in the training grounds of the mind see that that corruption is acceptable to their intellectual leaders, what more can we expect from their students? Without firm and unbending morals from our tertiary institutions we cannot expect anything other than what we have in Australia today; a land plagued by double-speak, corruption and a refusal by those in authority to accept responsibility for their own actions. This my friends, places us all in the path of a much more sinister pair of monsters than those faced by Odysseus and his crew.
I’ll leave readers with the first stanza of Hilaire Belloc’s lines to a Don to ponder on:
Remote and ineffectual Don
That dared attack my Chesterton,
With that poor weapon, half-impelled,
Unlearnt, unsteady, hardly held,
Unworthy for a tilt with men—
Your quavering and corroded pen;
Don poor at Bed and worse at Table,
Don pinched, Don starved, Don miserable;
Don stuttering, Don with roving eyes,
Don nervous, Don of crudities;
Don clerical, Don ordinary,
Don self-absorbed and solitary;
Don here-and-there, Don epileptic;
Don puffed and empty, Don dyspeptic;
Don middle-class, Don sycophantic,
Don dull, Don brutish, Don pedantic;
Don hypocritical, Don bad,
Don furtive, Don three-quarters mad;
Don (since a man must make an end),
Don that shall never be my friend.