How’s this for the ‘balance and objectivity’ that the United States Studies Centre claims to provide as an ‘objective and authoritative’ source of research and study of the US: ‘Trump’s election legitimises racism in America’. On Sky News’ Paul Murray Live on last November’s election night, this five second grab from one of USSC’s top academics is just one demonstration of the triumph of emotional, highly subjective, self-indulgent, politically-based personal prejudice over the rational academic analysis that the USSC was created to provide. Coming on top of the dispiriting abject failure of the Centre’s pro-Clinton ‘experts’ to recognise the basis on which Trump could win on the backs of American ‘deplorables’, along with the departure of former Speccie editor Tom Switzer, the only staffer the Centre’s CEO, when challenged, could describe as conservative, and the intemperate lefty ‘twittering’ of its academics on issues like 18C, has raised questions about the commitment to balance and objectivity of an institution that, in its original form, is vitally needed. And in recommending an extension of its programs into schools to demonstrate the mutual benefits of strong Australia-US ties, a recent USSC study sought to offset the ‘demographic and generational changes that mean young and immigrant populations are less attached to the alliance in historical, cultural, and emotional terms’.
So ease up on the anti-USSC campaign; fix it up, don’t kill it off! The risk now is that the current three-pronged attack on the USSC will successfully damage its political capacity to fund its survival as a viable and effective entity. The Right is annoyed, but not surprised, that left academic ‘luvvies’ now have such influence over what John Howard funded for $25 million on the basis that it would be fair and balanced. Fairfax media, whose left leanings are not really compatible with support for the US alliance, see it as a Murdoch offspring and therefore fair game. To the far Left it is a corrupting capitalist conspiracy they have been campaigning to destroy ever since its creation 10 years ago, with Crikey recently describing the centre as ‘a travesty of academic process’, and that Sydney University ‘damaged academic freedom and autonomy by accepting the centre in the first place’. A senior lecturer in Sydney’s Political Economy course warned: ‘Students enrolling at the USSC should know that the Centre was set up as a propaganda tool to counter “anti-Americanism” in Australia.’ And last June, the World Socialist denounced ‘the powerful backers of the institution who made clear that its funding was tied to a definite political agenda, with Michael Baume, former Liberal Party politician, telling the Murdoch-owned Australian: “If the centre [USSC] succumbed to the anti-American prejudice endemic in Australian universities, the AAA would pull the funding” [under the terms of the Trust Deed with the Commonwealth].’ But, instead, it was I, one of the three initiators of the concept (with Malcolm Binks and Brendan Nelson) who got the chop.
While the USSC is potentially too important to be allowed to collapse, it must cease its self-inflicted wounding. Its CEO, the outstandingly qualified Simon Jackman, has had little more than a year to sort out what had been a structure drifting in what many fear was the wrong direction; the original intention to concentrate on post graduate and ‘think-tank’ activities has gone, with only one PhD graduate and 80 postgraduate candidates being swamped by 900 undergraduates doing 15 courses, earning millions in fees but requiring many more teaching academics with an inevitable tendency to the left.
So the coming federal budget is crucial for the USSC. But while Jackman clearly has the ability and the potential, with appropriate support, to restore the USSC’s status – and its necessary funding – he needs to make significant changes. Clearly, government cash is the only viable source of income to support the centre, as a recent unreleased high-level official review is reported to have shown. How ironic that having been so universally biased against Trump, the USSC academics should now be pinning their hopes on the review’s finding that it ‘deserved support’ because ‘the need for a United States Studies Centre has never been greater’ since Donald Trump became President.
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