Vice-Chancellor Peter Coaldrake recently announced plans to shut down QUT’s School of Humanities and Human Services. The plan would include the termination of the Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Social Science degrees. Staff in selected areas (Human Services, Languages) would be re-deployed. Those in the core humanities disciplines (for example, History, Geography, Politics, and Sociology) face an uncertain future.
The Coaldrake initiative has far-reaching consequences. QUT would become the first major metropolitan university in Australia to have no Bachelor of Arts degree.
The vice-chancellor defends this move by arguing that QUT has developed an alternative to what he calls “traditional” arts study. He is referring to QUT’s Faculty of Creative Industries, which began operations in 2001. The Coaldrake vision is for Creative Industries to become QUT’s version of a 21st century arts faculty.
The shutting down of what the vice-chancellor likes to call the “old” humanities will presumably be accompanied by a re-directing of resources and load towards the “new” humanities, i.e. Creative Industries.
This is a decision dictated by strategic management theory, and is meant to place QUT in a winning market position. It also implements the diversified system model for Australian universities. The plan would deliver ownership of the so-called “traditional” arts to the University of Queensland, while Creative Industries would offer QUT’s own distinctive brand of arts study.
The Coaldrake proposal is clearly grounded in firm policy settings. But it is also open to question on several key issues.
The first point is the labelling exercise that accompanies most of the media statements released by the Chancery. The labels “old” and “new” humanities are leftovers from the culture wars of the past decade. They have no real validity outside the framework of polemics long since dead and buried.
When one scrutinises what the vice-chancellor means by “traditional” humanities, it turns out he is referring to the basic humanities disciplines: History, Geography, and the like. These are the very same areas of study that are currently being talked up by both sides of politics as fundamental to Australia’s future.
Make no mistake. When the vice-chancellor threatens to axe the “traditional” humanities, he is really talking about eliminating the very same disciplines that are presently at the very forefront of educational concerns in this country.
A second point relates to the vice-chancellor’s claim that Creative Industries can step in to act as a credible replacement for an arts faculty.
Let me stress here that I have been an admirer of the Creative Industries idea from the beginning. Years ago I participated in the initial discussions that helped give shape to the concept. I have subsequently collaborated with CI colleagues on a number of research projects, in cultural studies, and more recently in journalism and media studies. I frequently run seminars and workshops for journalism students, and enjoy excellent relations with CI staff. I admire and respect their work.
To me Creative Industries is QUT at its best: responding to market forces with aggressive, innovative, and exciting applications, especially (but not only) in the technology area.
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