Kathe Boehringer, Online Opinion (Australia), Sept. 22
If lawyer George Newhouse is crowing today about preventing the publication of an academic article on the White Australia Policy by my colleague Drew Fraser, universities won’t be. Vice-Chancellor of Deakin University Sally Walker has destroyed, in a single mad moment of political correctness, the basis on which taxpayer-funded support for university research stands.
Her direction to the Deakin University Law Review not to publish Fraser’s article—which it had invited, subjected to peer review and, after the author’s changes, accepted—indicates conclusively that publication now depends upon managerial assessment not independent assessment by academic peers.
The bulk of federal government funds are directed to Australian universities on a per student basis. But an additional, significant annual flow of funds is based upon each university’s research, much of which appears in peer reviewed publications. In these circumstances, the most important function by far of the peer review process is its capacity to guarantee taxpayers that published research achieves, pace Casablanca, more than a round-up of the usual suspects.
Peer review requires assessors, on their academic honour, to find genuine merit—for example new findings, new theories, new applications, and so on—in submitted articles. Every academic knows the significance of a favourable peer review leading to publication is financial in nature: it is the condition upon which cold, hard, cash will be funnelled to the author’s sponsoring institution by the federal government. For a university, peer reviewed publications conduce not simply to the institution’s reputation to attract funds and students but, significantly, to its financial resources.
Question: In what circumstances, then, will a university manager feel it necessary to kill the goose that lays these golden eggs?
Answer: When managerial control is required to suppress discussion of the taboo subject of racial differences.
This cautionary tale begins with Drew Fraser’s invited article. He utilised the well-known paradigm of racial realism that now informs the work of many scientists and social scientists in the United States and Europe. Racial realism, based on new genetic and paleo-anthropological research, rejects the egalitarian dogma that race is only skin deep. It contends that racial differences are real, not social constructs, and that an understanding of how races differ in cognitive and athletic ability, temperament and behaviour is obviously relevant to a wide range of policy—for example health, education and criminal justice—issues.
Two reviewers recommended publication, and suggested amendments. The author then submitted changes and additions and the article was accepted. As the issue was heading to the printer, lawyer George Newhouse, on behalf of the Sudanese community, threatened to sue Deakin University on the basis that the [sight unseen] article was unlawful on grounds of racial vilification.
Section 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act provides a clear exemption for acts done reasonably and in good faith … (b) in the course of … publication … made … for any genuine academic, artistic or scientific purpose …
Nonetheless, legal counsel advice was that publication would expose Deakin University to legal action. On that basis, Vice Chancellor Walker—with, perhaps, one eye on possible cost of legal action and another on the financial significance of fee-paying overseas students—waived the opportunity to test the protections offered to university publications which tackle racial issues reasonably and in good faith, for purposes of academic discussion.
The Vice-Chancellor’s action must set some curly questions for the entire political class, government and opposition alike. The racial vilification regime is rife with deception and fraud. The Attorney-General could be asked why the s 18D exemptions fail to operate as clearly intended, thus deceiving us about their capacity to protect good faith academic discussion. Deakin declined to use the Racial Discrimination Act as a shield, preferring instead to wield it as a sword to strike down deviation from academic orthodoxy.
According to Charles Murray, the well-known co-author of The Bell Curve, our managerial elites are living a lie in refusing to recognise racial realities. How can governments justify subsidising a hopelessly rigid orthodoxy generated by smugly complacent scholarly research that endlessly recycles stale, self-referential ideology? Unless you believe that the doctrine of racial egalitarianism is some sort of secular holy writ, inquiry conducted in its name must produce conformist celebrations of conventional wisdom that become ever more vapid as they are effectively insulated from intellectual challenge.
Australian academics will come to resemble workers in the old Soviet Union who pretended to work while their bosses pretended to pay them. Anti-racist intellectuals here will pretend to think while the rest of us will pretend to pay attention to their politically correct sermonising. Who said sacred cows are a thing of the past? Isn’t that a whole herd to be seen in the barn-like buildings of the modern public university? No wonder the views of a single non-conforming academic have caused such a stir.
Sooner than we think, an already widespread conviction will become entrenched: that Australia is an over-lawyered, cover-your-ass, fearful-of-what-you-say-in-case-you-lose-your-job society ruled by a secular orthodoxy: somehow created by nobody but policed by ideologically-driven activist lawyers. And managed into soporific compliance by super-cautious bureaucrats, whose first priority is the well-being of their academic corporations rather than the debate and discussion that, for example, the exemptions in s. 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act so clearly encourage.
The casualties will be not merely academic excellence, and the economic progress and social peace that could follow but, more importantly, hope itself, the only antidote to despair. Those who now presume to manage the limits of free thought may have to reap the bitter fruits of the poisoned seeds they have sown. Once a people falls into despair, they may become dangerously unpredictable.
Kathe Boehringer teaches media law in the Department of Public Law at Macquarie University.
E-mail Sally Walker, Vice-Chancellor of Deakin University, at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Posted on September 26, 2005)