Thursday, October 06, 2005

Six Degrees of Litigation

Once upon a time, in the long long ago, universities were places of higher learning. Free and open discussion of ideas, not matter how radical, were encouraged. Even from the worst of ideas might spring a seed of innovation and thus the greater good of humanity was served by expanding our knowledge of the thisiness of This. But something went wrong.

Somewhere in the '80s, things changed. Stockbroking became the latest Get Rich Quick Scheme. To gain entry to this profession, one only needed a piece of paper with BBS or BCom written on it. With all this fake money flying about, accountants had to be employed in order to disperse it. Universities started throwing money into Business and Commerce at the expense of other, less materially-rewarding courses such as Science and Arts.

After the sharemarket crash, Marketing and Advertising Consultants were in demand to try to convince people to buy stuff they couldn't possibly afford. Fee rises and student loans schemes introduced in the early '90s forced prospective students to look at tertiary study as a return-on-investment and not as a consciousness-expanding exercise. By the late '90s, BCom/LLB was the only degree worth having.

So what happens when universities lose their universalism? Well for one, universities focus on training up a bunch of B-Ark Golgafrinchans. Secondly, it seems that they lose the one thing that separated universities from being just another business; free enquiry.

The High Court injunction stunt by Vic Uni management is the worst possible thing they could have done. Withholding publication of Salient on the grounds, not that the facts weren't true but that Salient shouldn't have them, is reprehensible. As Brian Boyko points out, even the Litigious States of America has a No Prior Restraint law. Haggle first, sue later. Poorly pursued and executed legal action adds to an impression that the Vic management are as competent as a certain wananga's. Geez, the place was bad enough back in the late '90s when the VC changed on a yearly basis.

Unfortunately, it also reinforces the thought that some NZ universities have lost their way. There was the academic freedom thing about Joel Hayward some time ago. More recently, a bunch of holier-than-thou's at Auckland Uni got in a righteous hissy about Holmes and his cheeky darkie comment.

Keith Ng sounds relieved and thankful over at Public Address. The mainstream media has picked up his story, furthering his wunderkind reputation. The DomPost have an excellent piece (Hattip DPF) which even features Scott Trainor sticking the boot in. Goodstuff! Sometime in the future, I see Keith Ng picking up a few political scalps along his path. That's unless he buggers off to the BBC or somewhere.

David and Goliath fights aside, Vic Uni is looking at making a mockery of the Fees Maxima and possibly raising next year's course fees by up to $500. Vic Uni's rationale includes:

'One of the Deans says that the "level of fees implies that VUW offers a lower quality product in comparison with other universities. The fee level is not commensurate with the quality of the [Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences] teaching and research programmes.'

Good to see snob values are still alive in the Ivy Towers.