22 October 2010 – EDITED TO ADD:

Ongoing discussion about Graeme’s lecture and the write-up by Mark Bahnisch at Larvatus Prodeo HERE.
An illustration by Eric Lobbecke. Source: The Australian

I wasn’t able to attend Graeme Turner’s lecture at the University of Queensland last week. He was addressing the issue of the humanities in Australian universities, a topic dear to our potentially unemployed hearts. I’m hoping some colleagues may still blog about what Graeme had to say, and the impressions they got from the event.

Meanwhile, Kirsty tweeted a link to a version of Graeme’s paper that appeared in the Australian (the full version can be found HERE).


“Universities don’t decide how their money comes to them, but they do decide how to spend it. Most, however, have decided there is no money in the humanities and gradually declined to invest in them.

There are a small number of exceptions, such as the University of Western Sydney, but most have sat back and watched, deploring the depredations that market forces have wrought on their humanities programs, while operating in complicity with them.”


“Positive signs, such as the nomination of humanities disciplines as Future Fellow targets, are obviously welcome and will encourage efforts where there is a capacity to respond. There is, though, a significant danger that for some it is too little, too late.

In some of the regional universities, as well as in some of the more vocationally oriented metropolitan campuses, it is hard to see humanities programs of any quality surviving.

This is a serious policy issue that needs to be addressed by universities as well as by government.

Without proper support for the full range of disciplines, including the humanities, our higher education system will no longer demand international respect and the much vaunted national innovation system will simply fail.”

John Gunders has noted that Graeme’s lecture was recorded and should be appearing on the Centre for Critical & Cultural Studies website soon.

While Graeme offered ways out of the cyclic hand-wringing that takes place in most humanities departments/sections, he asks of the decision-makers a certain bravery and fortitude in vision. The changes necessary for a humanities sector with more vigour and sustained integrity are daunting. They need to turn back about two decades’ worth of attrition and – really – disintegration within the field. The emphasis on research income rather than quality of research outputs is a long lamented thing. Extended lamentation by those who are adversely affected or frustrated, however, hasn’t changed much.

I’ve often had ranty-chats with colleagues about how it doesn’t actually take that much funding to carry out humanities projects per se; we don’t need gazillions of dollars for equipment, or to run labs. What we do need is quality time to research, intellectual critical mass and good research infrastructure (i.e. excellent libraries and resources, opportunities for dissemination of project findings, mentoring/collaboration – what every researcher would need, really). Relatively speaking, you can get a helluva lot more bang for your buck from the Humanities.

I hope that continued, savvy critique from academics of Graeme’s profile and influence will gain the ear of those who might make a difference.

Having said that, even if substantial change happens tomorrow, it probably won’t be felt on a real level for most academics/postgrads for at least five years.