Does the British public believe that education is a public good

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Does the British public believe that education is a public good ...

    Vice-Chancellor‟s Oration

    “Re-Moralising the University”

    26 August 2009

    Steven Schwartz

Thank you Jeff for that introduction and welcome everyone.

    I hope that you had no trouble finding this venue.

    Macquarie University is a big place and sometimes people get lost.

    To help visitors navigate their way around, we have placed maps at strategic spots around the


    The other day I noticed that one of these maps had been embellished with graffiti.

    Under the orientation arrow, the one that says, “You are here”, someone had added, “but why?”

    Why indeed?

    Why are we here? What, exactly, is the university for?

    I will try to answer these questions in my speech.

    So, just to be sure you don‟t miss it, I would like to give you my take away message up front.

    Universities once had clear ethical purposes but over the years we have lost our moral direction.

    To fulfil our true purpose, universities need to get back on course; my takeaway message is this:

    we need to re-moralise.

    To show you how much, I would like to start by taking you back through the foggy mists of time

    to my childhood.

    When I was five years old my family lived in New York City.

    That was the year the little girl next door fell victim to polio.

    Fear gripped the neighbourhood.

    Children received gamma globulin injections, but these conferred temporary immunity at best.

    Although it was summer, parents kept their children away from parks and public swimming


    Some refused to let their children play outside.

    My parents moved us to the country for the summer.

    They thought the clean air would offer protection against infection.

    While we were away, the girl who lived next door spent weeks in an iron lung and returned

    home with a brace on her leg.

    She survived, but with a disability; many others were not so lucky.

    Re-moralising the University 1

Vice-Chancellor’s Oration August, 2009

    Thousand of people around the world died of polio that year, more than half were children.

    This drama was repeated every summer.

    Everyone was relieved when autumn brought an end to the polio season, but the cycle of fear

    would begin again the following year.

    Then, two years later, something amazing happened.

    Jonas Salk, a young, and previously obscure, university researcher, created a vaccine.

    The initial results looked promising but a large-scale research project was required to be certain

    that the vaccine was safe and effective.

    A call went out for children to participate in a nationwide double-blind trial and my parents did

    not hesitate to enrol me.

    My parents were not unique.

    All together, two million primary school children, known as “Polio Pioneers” rolled up their 1 sleeves for what became known as “The Shot Heard „Round the World”.

    I can remember queuing in the school hall for my four injections, and the red lollipops they gave

    us for being “brave” and not crying—or, in my case, to get me to stop crying.

    The trial proved a success; the vaccine was safe and effective.

    That was the good news.

    The bad news was that I was in the control group.

    The injections I received contained nothing but salt water.

    So, along with the children who didn‟t even participate in the trial, I had to have the shots all over again.

    Jonas Salk became justifiably famous.

    He was the son of immigrants and the first person in his family to have a university education.

    So, don‟t ever let anyone tell you that giving more people a chance to go to university is a bad


    No one knows how many more Jonas Salks there are out there, just waiting to be discovered.

    Although Salk became famous he did not become rich.

    This is because he and the University of Pittsburgh, the private university where he worked,

    licensed the vaccine to anyone who wanted to manufacture it.

    The ethical premise driving Salk‟s work was simple.

    The purpose of university research was the discovery and dissemination of knowledge for the

    benefit of society.

    Making money was never their goal.

     1 See for example

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Vice-Chancellor’s Oration August, 2009

    Now, let‟s fast-forward to the present and look at the world today.

    Would parents be as eager to sign up their kids to this kind of experiment today?

    I wish I could say yes, but I am sad to say the answer is probably no.

    Many of today‟s parents refuse to allow their children to have tried-and-true vaccines let alone

    experimental ones.

    It‟s not that my parents were naïve. They knew that clinical trials carried risk.

    But they believed universities worked in the public interest.

    This is why they trusted the scientists who told them that the potential benefits of the trial

    justified the risks.

    This trust now seems to be gone.

    Today‟s parents are deeply sceptical about science and scientists.

    They particularly distrust the commercial motives of drug companies, researchers and


    And let‟s face it, they have a point. Let me give you one example.

    Over the last few months, the Australian media have been covering the progress of a lawsuit

    against Merck, Sharp and Dohme, the pharmaceutical company responsible for a drug called


    Vioxx was sold as a powerful treatment for arthritis pain.

    Three hundred thousand Australians used the drug, but it was pulled off the market when it

    appeared that Vioxx, especially at high doses, caused strokes and heart attacks.

    Whether the drug causes complications and any compensation paid will be determined by the

    court, but a little known part of the wider story is the role played by famous university scientists

    in getting drugs approved in the first place.

    It works like this.

    Drug companies have their in-house staff produce research articles extolling their product‟s benefits.

    Company representatives then approach well-known medical researchers and ask them to put

    their names on the articles as the author.

    Reluctant researchers are told that even prime ministers and presidents have ghost-writers so

    why not scientists?

    Many well-known scientists agree.

    The result is that articles, actually written by company employees, wind up in prestigious

    medical journals under the names of famous scientists.

    Steven Schwartz 3

Vice-Chancellor’s Oration August, 2009

    It is important to note that I am not talking about second-rate scientists working in obscure


    Endorsements from unknowns don‟t sell drugs.

    It‟s like tennis, you don‟t go to the runner-ups for endorsements, you go the champions.

    The scientists who pose as authors include some of the most famous scientists in the world;

    scientists working at some of the most prestigious universities.

    Are you shocked? Don‟t be. This practice is so widespread it is practically routine. For agreeing to pose as authors, scientists sometimes receive travel grants from

    pharmaceutical companies.

    These grants allow the scientists to present the research (that they did not actually conduct) at

    medical conferences in Hawaii, maybe, or Paris or Rio, never in Cleveland or Leeds or Dubbo.

    But such inducements are rarely necessary.

    Publications are the coin of the realm in university scientific careers.

    Some scientists agree to pose as authors just so they can add another paper to their CVs.

    Clearly, we live in another time and another place from Salk.

    The central ethical premise of universities has changed fundamentally.

    The discovery and dissemination of knowledge has been replaced by the desire to exploit it.

    Just think, can anyone today imagine a university giving a valuable vaccine away?

    Hardly likely.

    In fact, the government encourages universities to do just the oppositeto patent our

    discoveries and capitalise on our intellectual property.

    One famous university has just spent a large amount of money on lawyers trying to prove to a

    court that it owned the rights to a successful drug.

    The university lost the case and paid out a fortune in legal fees.

    Was the institution sorry it took the matter to court?

    Far from it. As one senior staff member explained, had the claim been successful, the university

    would have made millions.

    Please don‟t get me wrong. I am not against patents, or capitalism or getting rich for that matter.

    I agree with the screen siren, Mae West, who said, “I‟ve been rich and I‟ve been poor and,

    believe me baby, rich is better.” There is nothing illegal in universities trying to exploit the commercial value of their intellectual


    And heaven knows, universities need the money.

    Oscar Wilde said that he could resist everything but temptation.

    Steven Schwartz 4

Vice-Chancellor’s Oration August, 2009

    Well, sometimes it feels as if Vice-Chancellors can resist everything but money.

    We must recognise, however, that commercial transactions carry their own imperatives, and

    these may not be compatible with traditional academic values.

    Let me give you an example.

    2A Stanford University study found that 98 per cent of research papers sponsored by drug

    companies report that the drugs are effective.

    In contrast, only 79 per cent of non-company-sponsored research papers report positive results.

    When the results of scientific experiments depend on who pays for them, it is not surprising that

    people have become sceptical about the pronouncements of medical scientists.

    I have been using examples from medicine and science because that is my background.

    But those of you here tonight who are not scientists should not feel too smug.

    Scientists are not the only ones whose ethics require scrutiny.

    The financiers whose fast and loose behaviour has caused financial distress and misery to

    families around the world included some of the brightest graduates from the world‟s leading


    The British parliamentary expenses scandalwhich has produced lurid stories about taxpayer funded pornography, house furnishings and private castles and moatswas perpetrated by

    graduates of the United Kingdom‟s most prestigious universities. I think that the guy with the castle and moat will probably come out best.

    When the angry taxpayers come to extract their revenge, he just has to pull up the drawbridge

    and watch everyone fall into the moat.

    It is hard not to become cynical.

    Just because something is legal does not make it right.

    Nor is it right because everyone is doing it.

    As the American comedienne, Lily Tomlin, said, the trouble with joining the rat race is that even

    if you win, you‟re still a rat.

    Instead of taking a stand, universities have kept quiet.

    This is because they no longer have a moral role, they have given it up for one that is strictly


    This year‟s federal budget papers make this starkly clear. The purpose of universities, say the budget papers is (and I quote) “to grow the knowledge-3based economy”.

     2 Mildred K. Cho and Lisa A. Bero, The Quality of Drug Studies Published in Symposium Proceedings, Annals of Internal

    Medicine, Volume 124 Issue 5 March 1996 pp 485-489 see -

3 See 10/content,/glossy/education/html/education_overview_01.htm

Steven Schwartz 5

    Vice-Chancellor’s Oration August, 2009 Don‟t you just love the cliché “the knowledge-based economy”? Is there anyone here tonight who can name an ignorance-based economy?

    The budget papers go on to describe the university as a “key contributor to … economic


    Invest more in higher education, says the budget papers, and the result will be more wealth for


    The former Australian Chief Scientist, Robin Batterham, in his report, The Chance to Change,

    was not content with such low-key rhetoric.

    He cranks up the volume to screaming point.

    According to Batterham, money invested in higher education has gigantic payoffs because 4universities are "dynamos of growth [and] huge generators of wealth creation". As a Vice-Chancellor, I would really love to believe this, but I am sorry to say that it is grossly


    There is no automatic correlation between the amount of money spent on universities and

    economic growth.

    Consider Switzerland, for example.

    It is a wealthy, high growth, economy invests, yet it invests less of its national wealth in higher

    education than does Poland.

    France, a wealthy country, invests less than Chile, a developing one.

    Brazil, one of the ten largest economies in the world, has achieved strong economic growth

    while spending less than any OECD country on its universities. India is a similar case.

    Hong Kong has had high GDP growth for most of the past fifty years with only a tiny university

    research base.

    Despite the discrepancy between the rhetoric and the reality, many universities happily accept

    the idea that their purpose is to contribute to the economy.

    They boast about how their graduates make more money than non-graduates, trying to

    convince students that universities are the marshalling yards for life‟s gravy train. Some have tried to demonstrate their value in dollars and cents.

    The Lord, being merciful, has sent economists to help them.

    For example, Charles Sturt University claims that it contributes $264 million to the gross 5regional product.

     4 Robin Batterham, The Chance to Change. Canberra. 2000, cited in Geoffrey Boulton & Colin Lucas, ‘What are universities for?’, League of European Research Universities, September 2008 p6, accessed through -

     5 See -


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Vice-Chancellor’s Oration August, 2009

    James Cook University calculates that its value to the Townsville and Cairns economies is $445 6million.

    I suppose this means that James Cook is twice as good a university as Charles Sturt.

    These spuriously precise studies, and there are many others like them, demonstrate, once

    again, the wisdom of the anthropologist Marshall Sahlin who famously said that reality is a nice

    place to visit but no one ever wants to live there.

    Don‟t get me wrong; I am not suggesting that universities do not contribute to the economy.

    Of course they do.

    So does Shakespeare.

    Tourists to Stratford-upon-Avon spend millions of pounds per year on hotel rooms, meals, not to

    mention coffee mugs with quotes from Hamlet.

    And then there are the jobs created printing Shakespeare‟s plays, selling copies of his sonnets

    and acting in Shakespeare productions.

    Just the wine sold during the intervals at the Globe Theatre is worth millions of pounds to the


    There is only one problem.

    Shakespeare‟s value has nothing to do with any of these things.

    I know it has been said before, again by Oscar Wilde, but it bears repeating, we seem to know

    the price of everything and the value of nothing.

    Are we Australians proud that Gardasil, the cervical cancer vaccine, was developed in

    Queensland because of the money it will make?

    Is the bionic ear, another Australian invention, important because of the amount it adds to our


    The recently published Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature is not likely to be

    listed as an asset in the national accounts.

    Does this mean it has no value?

    The Opera House, the National Gallery and the State Library all contribute to the economy, but

    that is not why they exist.

    Not everything of value can be expressed in dollars and cents.

    As the former Vice Chancellor of Oxford has said, universities demean and diminish their work

    when they construe their purpose as simply making money.

    Education is, or should be, a moral enterprise.

    As one university leader put it more than a hundred years ago, education‟s primary aim is to 7help people to fashion “a life worth living”.

     6 See -

Steven Schwartz 7

    Vice-Chancellor’s Oration August, 2009 I am not a hopeless innocent.

    I know that many, indeed most, students go to university because it will help them get a better


    There is nothing wrong with this; a fulfilling occupation is part of a good life.

    But even jobs are not just about money; work also has moral value.

    In the words of John Ruskin: “The highest reward for man's toil is not what he gets for it, but

    what he becomes by it”.

    From its earliest classical origins, education has not just been about acquiring work skillsits

    real purpose was to build “character” so graduates could take up their role in their society and contribute to the good of everyone.

    As Plato said, “If you ask what is the good of education, the answer is easy—that education makes good people and good people act nobly”.

    The original universities took it for granted that their main job was to mould the character of their

    students, usually by inculcating religious precepts.

    The first European universities, founded 800 years ago, were all grounded in Christianity

    Bologna, Oxford, Cambridge and Montpellier all operated under the authority of a Papal Bull.

    The idea that the purpose of education was to forge character persisted for almost 700 years.

    thAs recently as the 19 century practically all universities still understood that this was their


    8Cardinal Newman, writing in 1854, described a professor as “a missionary and a preacher”.

    Like priests, dons in Newman‟s day had to be celibate.

    For those of my colleagues in the audience who may feel a little uneasy about this idea, I want

    to reassure you that my quest to re-moralise the university will stop short of requiring celibacy.

    910Nineteenth century American universities such as Harvard and Yale also had moral aims. Attendance at chapel services was mandatory.

    In addition, all students were required to enrol in a course on moral philosophy and all were

    required to adhere to detailed codes of conduct.

    The Harvard code of conduct contained no fewer than 40 pages of rules and regulations.

    The purpose of this strictly enforced code was to inculcate habits of self-control and self-

    disciplinethe building blocks of good character.

     7 Alexander Meiklejohn, cited in Anthony Kronman, Education’s End: Why our colleges and universities have given up on the

    meaning of life, Caravan Books, 2007, p39.

     8 John Henry Newman., The Idea of a University (1854) accessed through


     9 See -

     10 See -

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Vice-Chancellor’s Oration August, 2009

    Australian universities were different.

    Unlike the first American and British universities, which were either private or independent

    charitable trusts, the first Australian universities were public institutions established by acts of

    parliament and supported by annual appropriations from the government.

    They were deliberately not religious.

    Our first universities were established at a time when religion was being challenged by

    Enlightenment ideasDarwinian evolution, rationalism, Marxism and Socialismand by the

    rise of science.

    In addition, the growth of Australian cities and increased immigration brought people with widely

    different views to university.

    Some welcomed the newcomers.

    W. C. Wentworth, of the University of Sydney, was a good example.

    He made sure that his institution was one “at whose spring all may drink, be they Christian, 11Mohammedan, Jew or Heathen”. Wentworth‟s was a worthy vision, appropriate not just to his times but also to ours, but it

    rendered the old fashioned religion-based moral education more-or-less impossible.

    In a pluralist society, it is not possible to have a curriculum based on one religion.

    Interestingly, Australian universities never actually renounced their goal of developing character.

    No university came out and said, “that‟s it, we‟re out of the character business, from now on it‟s

    all about how to rake in the big bucks.” Australian universities still claimed to build character, not by teaching but by osmosis. The idea

    is that students exposed to academics who were committed to seeking the truth would emulate


    Following Socrates, Australian universities hoped that knowledge of the good would

    automatically lead to a commitment to the good.

    Beginning in the 1960s, however, even this non-religious approach became suspect.

    The Viet Nam war and civil rights movements fomented campus unrest in the USA, which

    spread to Europe and eventually Australia.

    The result was that not just students but also their professors increasingly perceived truth

    seeking as futile.

    The very idea that there was a “truth” worth seeking became suspect.

    Postmodernists sneered at the achievements of the West and universities slowly sank into the

    morass of moral relativity.

    All views came to be considered equally valid and the belief that some things are right and

    others are wrong, that some things are better and others are worse, that some things are true

     11 W C Wentworth, ‘A … description of New South Wales’ (1819) cited in John Gascoigne, The Enlightenment and the

    Origins of European Australia, CUP, 2002 p111

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Vice-Chancellor’s Oration August, 2009

    and others false came to be considered as nothing more than the repression of minority


    Moral relativity rendered universities unable to make judgements; they could not even decide

    which subjects students should study.

    Today, students are allowed to choose from hundreds of options with no subjects considered

    more important than others.

    The result is that our universities teach students, but they do not even pretend to make them


    In his inaugural address as rector of St Andrews University in 1867, John Stuart Mill said the

    object of universities was “not to make skilful lawyers, or physicians, or engineers, but capable 12and cultivated human beings”.

    Mill was right.

    Here at Macquarie University, we have decided to see whether it is possible for a secular

    institution to teach more than job skills but to actually educate the whole person.

    We began with the idea of an ethical community.

    We have not re-introduced the 40-page Harvard code of conduct, but we do have rules that

    apply to both students and staff.

    It is essential to include staff because we cannot expect our students to behave ethically, if we

    refuse to act ethically ourselves.

    Our rules begin with the basicsinsisting that staff and students alike respect others, behave civilly and meet their obligations.

    We have also established a set of operating principles for managers, which form part of all new

    employment contracts.

    13These are taken from the Nolan report into standards in public life. All new managers must agree to act with integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness and


    We have also asked our academics to set good examples.

    To meet classes on time, return assignments promptly and mark fairly.

    We require our academics to stay active in their fields, ensure their teaching materials are

    current and to ensure that they use the most effective teaching methods. And we assess each

    academic on these things every year.

    14At the institutional level, Macquarie also seeks to set a good ethical example.

     12 John Stuart Mill ‘Inaugural Address’ accessed through -;cc=livn;rgn=full%20text;idno=livn0092-11;didno=livn0092-11;view=image;seq=00653;node=livn0092-11%3A1

     13 See -

     14 See -

Steven Schwartz 10

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