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Dirty Laundry

Must admit I'm pretty pissed off today - there's an ugly and ill-considered attack on the Creative Industries Faculty at QUT in The Australian today, written no less by colleagues of mine who really should know better. I hesitate even to link to the article, as it's so full of half-truths and dirty laundry that it makes for very unpleasant reading.

Perhaps there's a small positive in this at least - seems to me that any unbiased reader can't help but see this as a hyperbolic gripe piece. Nonetheless, it's very frustrating that it has the potential to set back at least temporarily some of the great work that my colleagues and I have achieved these past four years, and to diminish our collective and individual professional standing by dragging the Faculty through the mud.

Le me be clear: my strong adverse reaction to this piece is not a case of shooting the messenger. The point here is that the message of the piece is insubstantiated and ultimately just plain wrong: the article contains a number of half-truths and misrepresentations which distort reality to suit its own purpose. It puts words in the mouths of students, it all but purports outright to speak on behalf of a good portion of Creative Industries staff, and it sets up mysterious straw figures such as "the radical philistines" in the Faculty who apparently have replaced Shakespeare with Big Brother as the new pinnacle of Western Culture.

In reality, at least in my impression as a member of staff since the inception of the Faculty, the authors of this article speak for very few staff other than themselves. They conveniently ignore the many successes of the Faculty, they denigrate the excellent work done by so many students and staff, and in describing the Faculty as a "cut-price, discount-store" facility they tar us all with a broad brush that is quite simply deeply offensive and uncollegial.

Personally, I'm proud to be a staff member of this Faculty (though as of today certainly no longer proud of all of its staff) - by contrast to these two writers, I know that we're doing great, innovative, exciting, and academically sound work, and I'm perplexed as to how they could possibly have formed the negative views they so obviously hold. Not as perplexed, mind you, as I am at the mode and venue they've chosen to express them - while fundamental opposition to commonly held views might make for a formidable martyr's stance, surely causing deep offence to your colleagues and students by so severely misrepresenting them isn't the most strategic of moves.

What, exactly, I keep wondering, is the point of this diatribe? Let's not forget that the authors are active staff members, after all, not disgruntled ex-employees - the article is therefore akin to burning your bridges before you've even crossed them. Do the authors so completely misread staff views in the Faculty that they feel this article will mobilise a groundswell of opposition that will lead to a reshaping of the Faculty in the direction they espouse (whatever that may be, in fact - the article is notably long on criticism and short on constructive suggestions)? Is there any other point to poisoning staff relations in this way? I just don't get it.

PS: I'm also less than impressed with the article's thinly veiled ad hominem against CI's founding dean, John Hartley. We have been extraordinary lucky to have had the leadership of a dean who is both an effective and successful academic manager and a scholar of the highest order. I can't blame John for wanting to return to full-time research again now that his term as dean has ended, but I wish we could have kept him in this position for longer.

PPS: What Chris said!


Really agree with you that the motives for the article are just perplexing. Thanks for adding a bit more context. Nasty stuff indeed.

Thanks Mel, and interesting to see the comments on your blog as well - although I feel they do still read too much good intent (rather than just a fairly bloodyminded intent to gripe for gripe's sake) into the original article. Of course there are more fundamental questions here. With the right to free speech (in such a public venue, no less) comes a responsibility for the consequences of one's statements. That's what I find really upsetting about this whole affair - a few ill-intentioned words in a public forum have the potential of undermining a whole lot of great work happening less publicly. The authors of this piece act irresponsibly towards their students and colleagues by denigrating the quality of both the teaching and the research done at QUT in an off-hand and entirely unjustified way. (Indeed, some of their diatribe seems to be provoked by issues such as a funding decrease that is driven entirely by factors which lie outside of the Faculty's control - perhaps Brendan Nelson would have been a more worthwhile target for so much negativity?)

Hey Axel

Yes, I can see why you're grumpy, and I think I pointed out on my fibreculture posts that I share the view that this piece doesn't really help anyone. On the other hand, in terms of *understanding* where this is coming from, I think there were a lot of public pronouncements by people who were on the wrong side of the CI Faculty restructure (particularly those in traditional production disciplines) about how badly they felt treated during that period. The question of who is right is probably less important than "was it worth it?" over the long haul.

BTW, as far as John is concerned - obviously a bad hatchet job on him. But I'd clarify that while he's an undeniably great Cultural Studies scholar, I not only disagree with almost everything he's written on the "creative economy", I find it pretty lightweight to boot. So part of the problem here is about how much moral or academic authority one can maintain in new "domains" like CI, where you're attempting to be an expert in 10 different disciplines at once.

Thanks Danny. Look, let me be absolutely clear on this: I'm all for having a robust debate on the merits of otherwise of the creative industries idea - hell, M/C, which I edit, has published several critical pieces on the creative industries concept or what those unfortunate enough to live further south sometimes call 'the Queensland Ideology'. I'd be happy for The Australian to publish a critique of creative industries as well, one of these days. While I don't necessarily engage in these debates much myself (my own research is more focussed on specific areas of the CI; others have a better big-picture perspective), I don't feel that the Creative Industries Faculty has anything to be defensive about, either in terms of its own track record or the theoretical underpinnings of what it does. My problem with the present article is that it is neither robust, nor a critique. A fair number of its claims are just plain wrong, or at the very least grossly distort the truth (I've mentioned the funding issue before - much though we'd like to, we don't as yet control Federal higher education policy :-). Others are based on nothing more than insubstantiated hearsay (disgruntled students, poor quality equipment, etc.). The most 'stinging' critique the article can muster, as far as I can tell, is that a) "The creative industries concept originated in one of British Prime Minister Tony Blair's think tanks." This is an all-too-common ploy of lazy journalists who hope that the very mention of the term 'think tank' leads readers to regard anything coming from such a source as unmitigated hogwash. b) The Faculty abandoned the use of overhead projectors in teaching. To which I can only say, not a moment too soon - but somehow this decision is cast as key evidence to support the case that CI is irretrievably tech-obsessed (which in turn is seen as obviously negative). No doubt, any change in organisational structures - at any institution - generates a small number of disgruntled staff who for whatever reason preferred the past model or would like to see another alternative. This is particularly true of such significant paradigm shifts as that from Arts to Creative Industries. I'm all for debating these changes, and finding ways to make things better. This article, though, doesn't participate in this process - it is destructive, not constructive throughout, and offers no alternatives of its own. You're right that the question 'was it worth it?' will be most important in the longer term - and I would hate for this piece to be seen (simply by virtue of its very public placement, not because of any substance to its content) as evidence in the negative.

Hi Axel

Yes, I know you've been particularly supportive of the CI debates - appreciated too! I agree with you that the piece is a poor argument. I guess I just see it as a sort of inevitable response to the kind of organisational restructure that CI put through and the way it was done. John and Stuart went out of their way to publicly paint opposition as somehow backward and against the new media future. And you guys in media and comms were the winners in that struggle no matter which way you look at it.

What worries me most is The Australian's motivation for printing something like this. It has all the smell of conservatism and a call to break innovative arts and humanities research generally.

Back to the tiresome footnote formatting on DRM! (Someone has to invent a better digital asset management tool for references than Endnote some day surely!) Hope you cheer up!