Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Risky for an Australian professor to criticize terrorists

Three months after accusing university lecturers of dishonestly skewing the study of terrorism to blame the West for carnage wreaked by suicidal fanatics, a senior Queensland academic believes he is the latest casualty of a campus purge. Merv Bendle, an expert on militant religion and a senior lecturer at James Cook University, has been at the centre of a debate over how terrorism, its origins and outcomes are taught on campuses since he attacked fellow academics for what he saw as their anti-West bias. In his writings, including several published in The Australian, Dr Bendle describes a crisis in history education and criticises academic elites for distorting teaching on fanaticism and avoiding "any facts that might disturb (their) comfort zone".

He now suspects his outspoken views will lead to the loss of his position at the university he has worked for since the early 1990s. A proposal, part of a restructure by Colin Ryan as head of the new School of Arts and Social Sciences, would lead to the scrapping of six of the seven subjects Dr Bendle teaches at the Townsville university. "Why strip me of my teaching load? I'm not toeing the right political line. I'm not anti-American and I'm not anti-West," he said. "The main reason for the antipathy against me is my stand on the teaching of history and my anti-terrorist stand. "People should look at terrorists in the same way they look at pedophiles. How many lecturers do you see defending pedophiles? They don't. But they defend terrorism. I have an intense antipathy to the romanticisation of terrorism. I don't see anything romantic about blowing people to bits because of an ideology that a suicide bomber has become fanatical about."

Dr Bendle's concerns over his tenure were dismissed yesterday by the faculty's pro-vice chancellor, Janet Greeley, who said more than 150 subjects were being reviewed for possible deletion to reduce workload. "We have undergone a restructure and reduced some staff, so we have to remove some of the teaching burden for lecturers," said Professor Greeley, who is married to Dr Ryan. "Unfortunately, it happened that a number of the subjects were Dr Bendle's subjects, but it has absolutely nothing to do with what he has published. Dr Bendle will be given every opportunity to teach and be part of research initiatives that the new school will put forward. "He offers so many subjects across quite a range and that's probably why he might have been hit more than others. "I may or may not disagree with all of his positions but that has no influence on the subjects that he teaches." Professor Greeley, who said her husband managed the school at arm's length from her role as faculty head, said she hoped to persuade Dr Bendle that the proposal to take away about 85per cent of his teaching load was not a conspiracy.

But Dr Bendle said he was singled out for adopting a politically incorrect position at odds with the mainstream. He said he had been previously targeted by two colleagues in an "act of bastardry", leading to an investigation, which found insufficient evidence to support complaints that Dr Bendle or others in the sociology discipline at JCU had been bullying and intimidatory. "Townsville is a Labor Party city and the side of the university that I'm dealing with is radical Labor, far left. But I'm not going to go quietly," he said. "I'll scratch and fight the whole way. All I want to do is get back to teaching what I'm well qualified and good at teaching."

In a paper titled Don't Mention The Terror, Dr Bendle says academic contributions frequently have a political agenda. Academic forums are used to denounce the war on terror, the US, Israel, Australia and their leaders, while insisting that Islam is a religion of peace and is being unfairly targeted, he says. In response, academics including Macquarie University's Goldie Osuri and Bobby Banerjee of the University of South Australia said in a published article: "Australian academe may be better served by Merv Bendle's silence on terrorism."

However, the University of Queensland's Carl Ungerer and David Martin Jones, who lecture in the School of Political Science and International Studies, said the "polysyllabic howl of outrage" from the academic lobby was predictable. They said Australian Research Council funding of social sciences was skewed "to maintain the fashionable line that, despite empirical evidence to the contrary in the form of attacks on Western civilian targets, it is all our fault". "In this Alice in Wonderland world of ... journals read only by participants in this mutually reinforcing discourse, the focus of study is not Islamist ideology and its propensity to violence, but our own long-repressed responsibility for the cause of Islamist rage," they said.

Professor Greeley denied the university had a position on the controversy that arose from Dr Bendle's published stand three months ago. "I was a bit concerned for Merv because he was harshly criticised in the national media by his colleagues," she said. "We all like to see our staff engage in public debate, but one does not like to see them criticised too harshly."


Australian universities abandon Australian literature

Academics receive more funds to study Norse poems than Australian novels; Patrick White is unfashionable; creative writing classes flourish while Australian literature courses disappear. Rosemary Neill charts the abandonment of Oz lit

Peter Pierce is the inaugural professor of Australian literature at James Cook University in Queensland's deep north. He may also be the last. As Pierce, 56, prepares to leave James Cook, questions hover over the position he has held for the past decade. The university's school of humanities is being vacuumed up into a bigger department and - at least in the short term - its chair in Australian literature will cease to exist.

Pierce's departure at the end of this month will leave the number of permanent professorships of Australian literature in the country at ... one. The retiring professor is far from retiring about this. "It's a scandal," he says down the line from Townsville, his voice flaring with indignation.

Three decades after we shook off the colonial hangover, Pierce and others claim a new cultural cringe is infesting our halls of higher learning, encouraging the neglect of Australian literature.

A Review investigation has found:

  • When Pierce leaves James Cook, the University of Sydney will host the nation's only remaining chair in Australian literature. Sydney is the sole tertiary institution where undergraduates can major in Australian literature. Yet recently, there were moves within the university to undermine the chair and the teaching of Australian literature as a separate subject.

  • In recent years, British/European literary projects have claimed a far bigger share of academic research grants than Australian ones. In 2002, one academic was granted $600,000 to produce editions of Old Norse poetry, while a venture to produce new editions of Henry Handel Richardson's novels received $130,000. Handel Richardson is one of Australia's most important early 20th century novelists.

  • Students today seem far more interested in becoming writers than studying them: while creative writing courses flourish, the number of undergraduates studying Australian literature has fallen away dramatically on some campuses. Next year, the University of Sydney may have no students taking up the country's only honours program in Australian literature.


THE decline of Australian literature is also blamed on funding cuts and the inexorable rise of postmodern theory, a charge that supporters of that theory deny strenuously.

The Oz lit crisis is playing out on campus at a time when Australian books outsell imported ones and our first-rank authors punch above their weight in the Pulitzer, Commonwealth and Booker prizes.

Pierce says: "Sometimes it seems to me that a vigorous interest in and enthusiasm for Australian literature, including the teaching and translation of it, is to be found more offshore thanonshore." Australian literature, he says, is studied from China to Hungary, France to Singapore, because "it has always been the standard-bearer for Australian studies and a very important instrument of cultural diplomacy in this country". "If you were travelling the world, you'd think Australian literature is thriving, but when you come home, you find that the literature is without honour (at universities in) its own country."

The professor of Australian literature at the University of Sydney, Elizabeth Webby, like Pierce, is poised to retire. Asked if she can think of other countries whose academics have so little time for their native literature, she says: "Oh no, I don't think it's true of anywhere else." (As an afterthought, she says it might be true of New Zealand.)

Almost nun-like in her unfussy dark clothes, hands folded in front and feet tucked neatly under her, it is hard to imagine Webby's voice - let alone her hackles - being raised. Yet this mild-mannered woman of 65 reveals that at one point recently, she was steeling herself to go public to defend the country's only chair in Australian literature.

Review understands that rival academics saw Webby's retirement, and falling student numbers, as an opportunity to demand that Australian literature no longer be taught as a separate subject at Sydney. The detractors - whom Webby declines to identify - were unsuccessful. She has a successor in the respected scholar Robert Dixon, and Australian literature lives on as a subdiscipline amid the gothic spires and ruthlessly clipped lawns of Australia's oldest university.

Even so, in her office lined with what must be one of the nation's biggest collections of Australian fiction, Webby says ruefully: "That is what Australian literature is up against. It's also up against other people in the discipline." She confesses that after 16 years in her job, she will retire disappointed that Australian plays, poems and novels still are not regarded as a core discipline by most Australian universities.

Indeed, it seems the cultural cringe Webby encountered 44 years ago when she wrote a thesis on a yet-to-be-famous Australian is still flourishing inside lecture theatres. "I wrote my honours thesis in 1962 on Patrick White, which people believed was an aberration. One of my fellow students said to me many years later, 'Elizabeth, we all thought you were mad'," she says with a knowing half-smile.

Webby's thesis on White was written well before the novelist won the Nobel Prize in 1973. Today, Australia's only literary Nobel laureate is unfashionable again on Australian campuses.

But this indifference doesn't just come from the pincer movement of academics - Eurocentric traditionalists on one flank, postmodern theorists on the other - who have pushed Australian literature to the periphery.

With a rueful chuckle, Webby says the majority of her literature students "find it difficult to get through long novels". By long, she means anything over 200 pages, "which disqualifies most Patrick White".

Then again, if you were a fresher and wanted to study White - or indeed any other major Australian writer - at our other leading sandstone university, Melbourne, you wouldn't get very far. This year, first-year literary studies students at Melbourne were offered just two Australian works of fiction (Murray Bail's Eucalyptus and John Forbes's Collected Poems). There were no first-year subjects devoted to Australian literature, and of 31 second and third-year subjects on offer, three were specifically about Australian writing.

Pierce says of this: "This is the university, along with two or three others, that attracts the best students, and almost completely starves them of Australian literature. The danger is that it will become an accessory." At James Cook, things are no better. This year, the university offered 50 literature subjects, yet second and third-year students could study just one subject devoted to Australian literature.

Pierce declares that the tertiary sector's neglect of our literature exposes a disconnect between the public and academics: "It isn't as if people have stopped reading Australian literature. It's a dissociation of the readership from the formal study of Australian literature."

He says the rot set in when academics who "abased" themselves before the altar of literary theory acquired institutional power and "captured literature departments in the '80s".

Postmodern literary theory - and its near-relation, cultural studies - do not accord canonical works, Australian or otherwise, a privileged place. Such theories hold that everything from Big Brother to Charles Dickens's Bleak House and Peter Carey's Bliss is a text, thus diminishing the role of serious literature as a defining cultural force.

The bitter divisions provoked by the rise of theory are well known. Yale University professor Harold Bloom has attacked cultural studies as an enemy of reading and part of the "lunatic destruction of literary studies". In Australia, what remains largely unexplored is the role imported, voguish theories have played in the destruction of our literature.


PETER Kirkpatrick is president of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature, set up in the late 1970s to take on the academy's stifling Anglophilia. Thirty years on, he says the dominance of theory "has put a big dent in Australian literary studies".

Although ASAL's executive now includes fans of literary theory and cultural studies, Kirkpatrick says: "I find cultural studies absolutely excruciating. You can only read so many accounts of the semiotics of shopping malls or Paris Hilton before you think 'Oh, there's got to be more to life than this!"' (He stresses this is a personal view.) Kirkpatrick, who teaches at the University of Western Sydney, explains that as the influence of cultural studies and post-colonial theory grew, Australia's literature was put in the same box as that of other post-imperialist powers.

But there was a crucial - and for Australian literature, a disabling - difference. Former imperialists such as the US, France and Britain had long-established canons that survived the onslaught of theory. But Australian literature, which had only just gained a toehold, was elbowed aside as the new wave of theories washed over campuses from the '80s. The mission to entrench Australian literature in our universities - considered courageous and fashionable in the '70s - was seen as unfashionable and even reactionary a decade later.

Kirkpatrick believes that today the notion that universities should encourage the development of a national canon is "certainly dead". "Canons aren't really very fashionable at the moment," he says. And White? "He's certainly unfashionable." He claims that today there is probably more interest among Australia's academics in "capital-I Indigenous literature than in indigenous literature".

Webby adds that the rise of post-colonial theory - preoccupied with how colonialism impacted on Western and non-Western cultures - has led to a suspicion of nationalism, and so of national literatures, among academics. But John Frow, head of the English department at

the University of Melbourne - soon to be renamed the culture and communications department - says the view that the rise of critical theory has harmed Australian literature "is absolute garbage".

"There is no incompatibility between teaching theory and teaching Australian literature. All our teaching is theoretically informed, and it shouldn't be otherwise," he says.

Frow says it "probably is a scandal" that there is only one chair in Australian literature. And he admits "the University of Melbourne is teaching much less Australian literature than we used to, essentially because student demand has fallen off". "It is a problem that students just seem to be less interested in Australian literature than they were 10 years ago.

"There is an economic imperative there: if student numbers fall off dramatically, we have to respond to that." (In spite of this, Sydney and Melbourne universities plan to introduce a new Australian literature subject from 2008.)

Frow has a point. At a time when universities are expected to be increasingly self-sufficient, academics must compete for students, or rather, for the HECS and other fees they generate. If student numbers fall too far, courses can come under threat, no matter how pivotal they might be to Australian life or culture.

Like Frow, Webby blames the marginalisation of Australian fiction primarily on funding cuts and lack of student interest. She says that at a time when the federal Government spends more money on private schools than on universities, "the main issue, really, is funding".

"When funding is cut, academics have to program for bums on seats, basically, and for various reasons Australian literature is not attractive at the present time to Australian students. The students we have now do not read as much as students did 20 years ago, let alone 40 years ago. That is simply because they've grown up in a culture where there are so many other things competing for their time."

More here

AIDS 'epidemic' among Australian homosexuals

And homosexuals don't seem to care

Forget gay marriage: the real story about homosexual Australians on this World AIDS Day is, once again and shamefully, an HIV/AIDS tragedy. This is because new figures from the University of NSW's National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research confirm a worrying trend. They indicate that 10 per cent to 18 per cent of the inner-city gay population of Sydney is HIV-infected. That means HIV infection rates are still rising.

By comparison, UN figures cited in The Sydney Morning Herald on Sunday claimed that Lesotho, a poor African nation, had infection rates of 20 per cent. That makes Sydney's inner city comparable to an AIDS-ravaged African nation.

But you will not hear homoactivists, medical associations, legal institutes or others, some of whom have been very vocal in their support of gay unions, campaigning for a change in the way the gay community approaches the facts of infection, or arguing for a re-evaluation of the tenets of gay liberation.

They are too busy talking about relationship equality and gay marriage, even though the only reliable study of the intentions of gay men and lesbians, the Private Lives survey conducted by La Trobe University in 2006, found the overwhelming majority of gay men did not intend to formalise their relationships at all and that most weren't even in a relationship of any kind, let alone in a union that would approach the mainstream definition of a marriage.

It is time, then, that ordinary Australians - whether same-sex attracted like me, or otherwise - stood up and demanded more from leaders and activists. It is time to clear away the politically correct nonsense, to stop focusing on fripperies such as gay marriage and other diversions and start focusing on something that will really assist gay men and the wider community: an intense campaign aimed at HIV/AIDS prevention.

Twenty five years after Gay Men's Health Crisis, ACT-UP and Australian-based anti-HIV activism first kicked off, someone has to take the blame for this outrageously long-lived, unbelievably reviving, preventable epidemic. It is time to state that a reasonably well-educated, Western gay man who contracts HIV in 2006 because of sex is at least a reckless fool, and if he deliberately brings it upon himself, at best a suicidal sociopath.

Yes, believe it or not, there is a whole gay subculture that rests upon "bug-chasing", or the despicable sport of actively seeking out or passing on HIV infection for the satisfaction of sexual or other perverse fantasies.

A great effort from within and without the gay community is needed to counter these rising infection rates and the lifestyles and political ideas that support them, not least because of the strain they put on the health system. It is time the love got tough.

The situation has become so bad that you won't even hear the local AIDS councils and other prevention or support organisations raising outraged cries or calling for more funding from UNAIDS or other bodies. They long ago resigned themselves to the fact that global and government AIDS organisations with finite resources and a substantial commitment to the African tragedy, have little time and less money for affluent idiots at risk inthe West.

Who can blame AIDS officials, however, for their pragmatic allocation of tight resources, especially if the choice is between more eduction for a fool who ignores 25 years of the same and an innocent African child who is at risk of acquiring the illness via her mother?

What a miserable situation. It must, at the very least, force a rethink of the way governments and citizens, inside and outside the gay community, approach the rising HIV infection rates.

We could start by throwing off the notion of gay pride, for there is nothing to be proud about given Sydney's HIV infection rates.

This would involve a more sober evaluation of the plight of infected gay men. AIDS victims should, rightly, be spared the stigma that too often attaches to their disease. However, unlike the early days of the epidemic, individual responsibility is, often, the key now to whether or not a man becomes infected.

Some AIDS patients are no longer, and have not been for some time, purely blameless victims of this terrible affliction. It may sound harsh to say so but it is the truth. Recognising as much could save lives.

Perhaps it is time, in 2006, to encourage the return of a proper sense of personal and collective shame, for the sake of all of us, or at least to insist upon a more public accountability for the private decisions that are too often the cause of such increases in HIV infections. Because, no matter how one looks at these miserable figures and their depressingly familiar reflections in the infection rates of New York City, San Francisco and other Western cities, pride may literally be killing us.


The above guy talks some sense but still will not name the two things that are needed if any improvement is to happen -- persuading homosexuals to keep their penises out of so many different behinds and quarantining AIDS sufferers

Physiotherapy students victimized by a near-bankrupt health system

Pressure on public hospitals has become so extreme that [Queensland] physiotherapy students are being forced to travel thousands of kilometres at their own expense to secure clinical training. Gold Coast students Lauren McLune and Emma Armfield have spent the past six weeks sharing a cramped room in a Hobart backpacker hostel because Queensland's public hospital system cannot afford to provide the practical training they need to graduate.

The pair had only four days' notice of their Hobart placement - the closest available to Griffith University's Gold Coast campus. They estimate they have each spent at least $2000 on accommodation, food and travel while also maintaining their homes on the Gold Coast. Ms Armfield, 28, had to quit two of her three part-time jobs to take the Hobart placement. "We didn't know whether to laugh or cry," Ms McLune, 25, said. "We entered into this degree knowing that this could happen. However, four days' notice is a bit different to the month that people usually get given."

The students' plight reflects the growing pains afflicting the nation's medical workforce. And it is not just physiotherapy students. Australian Medical Association national president Mukesh Haikerwal said medicine and all allied health professions suffered similar problems because poorly funded public hospital resources were straining to provide patient care, leaving no money for training. "The universities are cash-strapped, the hospitals are cash-strapped and the quality of education is at risk," Dr Haikerwal said. "If you are looking at having 10 students standing around a bed, it's more difficult than having two students. And it wears out the goodwill of both the educators and the patients."

The commonwealth and states agreed to boost medical students numbers this year. Within a few years, the number of graduates will climb from about 1500 to 3200. "But where will they train?" Dr Haikerwal said. He said the inter-governmental agreement was "a furphy" because no consideration had been given to boosting the capacity of hospitals to provide hands-on training and internships.

While politicians had claimed credit for funding more university places, universities were stumped over how to turn out doctors and other professionals with adequate practical experience. Australian Physiotherapy Association president Cathy Nall blamed the commonwealth for under-funding university courses. "There's no subsidy provided for accommodation for physiotherapy students in the way that there is for medical students and no assistance with travel costs," Ms Nall said. She agreed it was common for students to take practical placements in Tasmania because it had no university physiotherapy course. But they usually came from South Australia or Victoria and were given months of notice.


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