Flat White

John Howard upsets Sydney’s sandstone soviet

30 September 2016

9:15 AM

30 September 2016

9:15 AM

GettyImages-519301754Sydney University staff already skip off to Syria to help Bashar al-Assad with his propaganda ploys and get involved in allegedly anti-Semitic scuffles while part of a Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies.

Now the crew at the alma mater is at it again.

Academic staff are protesting the University of Sydney’s decision to award John Howard an honorary doctorate labelling it is ‘deeply scandalous and inappropriate’.

The former prime minister will receive the doctorate at a graduation ceremony on Friday as an acknowledgment of his achievements including ‘world-leading gun law reform, leadership in East Timor and contribution to Australia’s economic reform’.

Leading the charge against Howard is senior lecturer in English Nick Reimer:

‘Howard’s period in office exemplified the kind of prejudice and disregard for the social good which entirely goes against the mission of an institution like a university.

‘… The idea that the university would honour him is deeply scandalous and inappropriate.

‘It’s true that Howard was elected but part of the role of the university is precisely to constitute a kind of counter power and to call government and politicians to account, and the kind of craven courting of politicians, the opportunistic courting that university senior management regularly do throws all ethical, moral and intellectual standards to the wind.’


Mr Reimer was also at the forefront of the effort to dispatch Barry Spurr, the world’s preeminent Eliot scholar and Australia’s first Professor of Poetry and Poetics. His ouster was a crippling blow, not only to Sydney’s English department, but also to Australia’s international reputation. It’s like a 21st-century rondo of Monty Python’s University of Woolloomooloo sketch: instead of being obsessively conservative and nationalistic, Aussie academia came across as hopelessly, haplessly left-wing.

By the by, Barry’s sudden departure also ruined my undergraduate honours thesis. Reimer might be correct in saying that universities ought to provide a ‘counter-power’ and such floppy rubbish, but surely its first duty is to provide its students an education, which I was denied.

It’s for that reason (and to my squirming discomfort) that I agree with the protestors. L. Gordon Crovitz said it best in a recent op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, extolling the University of Chicago’s sola academia approach to administration:

The focus on academics also helps keep politicians and celebrities at arm’s length. In the 1950s, Chicago’s mayor asked the university to award Queen Elizabeth II an honorary degree when she visited the city. ‘We’re happy to consider it,’ the university replied. ‘Please send copies of her scholarly work.’

This ‘honorary degree’ nonsense cheapens the entire university system, almost as much as these ‘safe spaces’ and ‘trigger warnings’ fads.

So let me rework Reimer’s argument into something a little more coherent:

‘It’s true that Howard was elected, but what the Hell does that have to do with the University of Sydney? He’s one of our most visible alumni, yes; but he’s earned exactly one degree from this institution: a law degree in 1961. Now, if he’d like to take a doctorate, of course we’d review his application, and I’d even be willing to supervise his thesis. But the idea that the university would honour him with a degree that others spend years preparing for is deeply scandalous and inappropriate.’

There. Everybody loses.


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