Sunday, July 30, 2006

On Rabbitohs, Welsman and the University of New England

This post starts with two apparently disconnected events.

Russell Crow along with Peter Holmes a'Court has just acquired the South Sydney rabbitohs.

For those who do not know, this is one of Australia's oldest Rugby League teams. The team went into decline, the game was restructured, and as part of this South Sydney was excluded as a club. The locals would not accept this. They launched a legal challenge. Nobody thought that they could win. They did, and the team was restated.

The reinstated team, out of the competition for a period, struggled. Russell and Peter won control of the struggling club to help it move forward. Following this, Russell gave every player a silver rabbit to remind them of the Club's history and traditions, the things that they were fighting for. Each player is meant to carry the rabbit around with them

In an earlier post, I referred to the well written strategy paper that Sandra Welsman had facilitated for the University of New England. How doeas this fit with South Sydney?

Just as South Sydney is one of Australia's oldest Rugby League teams, so New England is one of Australia's older universities. Just as South Sydney fell on hard times, so UNE found itself struggling. As happened with South Sydney where the official governing body removed the Club from the competition, so UNE found itself struggling with dictates from Canberra. Just as happened with South Sydney where key club stalwarts turned inwards, so UNE people did the same. Just as with South Sydney where people who did not want to change used a variety of techniques to discredit the opposition, so UNE people (especially academics) appear to have responded to Sandra's paper.

Before going on, I need to make it clear that I have a possible unique relationship with UNE, a relationship that certainly biases me. Specifically:

  1. My grandfather, David Drummond, was one of the University's founders. He fought for a university that would properly represent the broader New England.
  2. My father, James Belshaw, was of the five original 1938 staff members at the newly founded New England University College. There he met and married Mum who was the first librarian. I remember the original College as a child. I remember the key staff.
  3. Between 1963 and 1965 I was an undergraduate student at UNE. There were then just 1,200 full time undergraduates, 10 per cent from overseas. It was a magnificent period.
  4. In 1981 and 1982 I was a full time postgraduate student in the History Department. I had retained my links. This period reinforced them. I tried to focus UNE on the possibilities as I saw them, with limited success.
  5. I lived in Armidale from mid 87 to early 96, running a national consultancy business from a regional base. During this period I tried to involve UNE in a number of development projects, again with limited success.
  6. Since I moved to Sydney I have retained my links to UNE especially through Drummond, now Drummond and Smith, College as well as other UNE activities.

The point of this history? Simply, I care about UNE at a deeply personal level. I also know the place reasonably well over a very long period.

In my first response on this blog to Sandra's strategy discussion paper, I suggested that Ndarala might put in a submssion to the UNE strategy review because of the number of us who have a UNE connection. I have changed my mind, partially because so many our our people are busy, mainly because I think that I would prefer to express my own views without compromise.

In doing so, I think that I need to go another route.

Here I am not interested in attacking Sandra and her well written paper.

As Sandra knows, I have some problems with her arguments. I do accept much of her views about the trends in Australian higher education. My problem is the suggested response as it applies to UNE. Sandra, as the true professional she is, will respond to my words in the appropriate way including substantive comment.

So rather than a formal submission that gets lost in the paper, I propose to post a series of comments to this blog. I will let Jeneffer Miller know so that she can inolve other UNE alumni Then they can respond as seems approriate.

Finally, and linking all this back to South Sydney.

The silver rabbits are a device to motivate the players by linking the present and past. Maybe that's what we need with UNE.

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