LIFE AFTER GEORGE
Das australische Erfolgsstück
von Hannie Rayson
I went to Melbourne University as an undergraduate in the mid seventies. Old Arts was a place of yellow sandstone buildings and wide green lawns. Elderly professors of Classics swished through the cloisters jostling eccentric women with waist-length grey hair who believed that to understand Keats was the key to understanding the universe. Passionate men with goatees would leap on the bench of the public lecture theatre and shout “Zeus” with embarrassing theatrics to begin a lecture on the Iliad. There was even an elderly professor who ran a course on Old Norse.
It was the epitome of a classic university, committed to a liberal education, daring us to ask the great questions. It was a place where curiosity was valued and we were urged to seek insight, not merely an accumulation of information. It was also a place, which challenged the wider society to engage in critical self-evaluation.
Today this same university is reeling from the withdrawal of government funding, compelled by the new economic ideologies to supplement its income from the private sector and to operate as a corporate entity with corporate values.
At undergraduate level, scholarship is being usurped by vocationalism and the power base has shifted from academics to administrators. Managerialism has triumphed.
This is the world of Life After George.
In the 1970s most great universities had a figure like Peter George. His vitality and his folly, his appetite for love and his propensity for neglect, his hedonism and his moral courage make him an irresistible personality.
As a lecturer it would never have occurred to him that he was involved in the business of “information transfer” or the selling of an “educational package”. He saw himself as his students saw him – an inspirational teacher committed to critical and rebellious thinking – a teacher in the tradition stretching back to Aristotle.
As an historian, he is well placed to ask, “What has happened to idealism? What has become of the values of liberal humanism enshrined in the very idea of the university itself?”.