Comment at Wednesday's Address

Harry Oxley (
Fri, 8 Sep 1995 14:18:44 +1000

Management Ratbag Ghetto, Building 7, 7.9.95

To: The Editors, Monitor.

Dear Folk,
I spent three years in the armed services and have met many servicemen and
seen many of their recruiting advertisements since, and at no stage have I
ever heard anyone in that game say anything like "the first purpose of a
modern armed service is to kill people". Those services are indeed called
on to kill people from time to time and must be prepared to do so; that is
why they are armed. But I have always heard their main purpose described
in terms of goals like "defending the country", with killing people only
justified insofar as it is a necessary means to that end. Perhaps I am old

At yesterday's address to the troops here, My stunned-mullet
semiconsciousness was pricked by words to the effect that what we are all
here for is to teach students. I heard that this might not be so in Oxford
or Cambridge, and felt sorry for the disappointment those places would feel
at this denial of the claims they make to close kinship with Aussie CAEs,
but that this is what a modern university is all about.

It is good I have so few years to go to the Old Age Pension, because in
this matter of institutional definition it is clear I am quite hopelessly
old-fashioned. I am still unconverted out of my old socialisation that
made me see the purpose of a university as being to serve civilisation,
among other ways by producing things like 'knowledge' and 'scientific
advance' and 'technology', by maintaining and enhancing of all sorts of
bits of our cultural heritage; 'academics' were even let get so far above
themselves on the odd occasion as think they were serving things like
'truth', 'beauty', 'reason'.

In that world, teaching was just one of the things one had to be prepared
to do within that duty; just like soldiers had to be prepared to kill
people. But it was not the only or ultimate thing; just one side (and to
some not the most pleasant side - we are still not always desperate to hear
the sound of our own voices) of something bigger.

I rather hope the greater universities continue thus to define their
priorities more broadly, and that Oxford and Cambridge are not so horrified
at our rejection of their older ways that they rush too hastily to emulate
us. I also rather hope we do not promote our Aussie Vice Chancellors to
commanding our armed forces.
Yours everso, (Cpl.) Harry Oxley, 4092566

P.S. In my old Grammar School ('red brick' for 'scholarship' kids, before
UK democratised schooing so everybody got the same unless their parents
could afford fees) we had three 'streams'. The one for the top-comers in
the first few end of year exams was the 'Science' stream; that for the
mediocre was the 'Arts' stream; that for kids whose having been passed in
their '11-plus' turned out to have been a mistake was called the 'Modern'
stream. Perhaps the 'modern' university is the continuation of that
Harry Oxley