Melbourne University:

Christina Buckridge, Corporate Affairs Manager, University on Melbourne, writes: Re. “So what does Glyn Davis actually do?” (Yesterday, item 5). In response to yesterday’s unprovoked and scurrilous attack on University of Melbourne Provost Peter McPhee, an attack made without any effort to check facts which reflects badly on the author and the sources who apparently have no regard for the truth.

The normal presumption would be that Crikey would adhere to journalistic standards where facts are checked before publication. Sadly, that was not the case on this occasion.

Peter McPhee has made a stunning and selfless contribution to the students and staff of the University of Melbourne over the past 20 years. He has chosen to retire — a well-deserved move — and he gets vilified in Crikey over three days with the anonymous, mean suggestion that he cannot be taken at his word on his reasons for this decision. Those who know him will be appalled by such a suggestion.

Yesterday’s article shows amazing ignorance about how universities operate and their sheer complexity. The operation of today’s universities requires a range of specialist skills at all levels. That observers within and without the University apparently do not see or understand that that is the case is surely testament to the University’s efficient operation.

As Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) and later, Provost, Peter McPhee is the chief academic officer in the University. As such he was exactly the right person to lead a review of the University’s entire curriculum and the development of the Melbourne Model. His careful oversight of the implementation of the Melbourne Model included a process of review of new Melbourne Model subjects at the end of the first year to ensure they were taught at the very highest standard, a process followed with all new subjects – and there are many each year. It provides opportunities to make our subjects even better.

But there is also a puzzling reference to: funding cuts in the Arts Faculty and the History Department, [which] “arose from new funding rules Davis introduced, replacing a long-standing tradition of rich faculties subsidising poorer ones”.

On the contrary, one of the agreed goals for the revision of the University budget model for 2009 was to increase the funding of Arts in 2009 and 2010 compared to the previous model.

So 2009 brings an additional $8 million package of initiatives including new positions across all Schools of the Faculty in, for instance, Indigenous Heritage, Islamic banking, Philosophy, Asian Studies, Cultural Management, International Relations, Global Criminology, Development/Anthropology and senior tutors in Spanish and French. And there is a special School Renewal process during 2009-10 to help the School of Historical Studies resolve its deficit.

Swine Flu:

Geoff Russell writes: Re. “Swine flu pandemics and other porkies” (yesterday, item 1). Bernard Keane is always a “must read” for me, but his piece yesterday shows he just doesn’t get public health. It’s too early to tell yet, but if our public health people keep on top of Swine Flu, then it will be a global non-event and everybody will say “see, just a beat up!” But if, as Mike Davis argues in The Guardian a couple of days back, they are already fumbling the ball,  then the result could be catastrophic. In the H1N1 flu of 1918, people bled internally and their lungs on autopsy could be six times their normal weight.

That’s the thing about public health. When you have clean water, nobody dies of typhoid but there doesn’t seem to be any reason to thank those responsible because nothing happened. But when they stuff up and Joe Public gets sick, Joe goes to hospital and, hopefully, gets antibiotics and cured and his friends all say: “Gosh, Joe was so sick, but the doctors cured him, isn’t our health system wonderful, let’s build more hospitals and pay those doctors more money”.

Moira Smith writes: Bernard Keane reveals a breathtaking lack of understanding of this serious public health issue. So profound is his ignorance that he probably doesn’t appreciate just how much he has embarrassed himself by complaining that Swine Flu is getting way too much attention “despite accounting for fewer deaths than a week’s road toll”.

But what’s really worrying is his failure to recognise that, before writing on a subject about which he knows nothing, a little basic research would be in order. He might learn, for example, that the point of paying all this attention to a virus while deaths are minimal is precisely that — do something BEFORE people start dying in their millions.

Bernard would also benefit from a few seconds’ googling on the 1918 flu pandemic which ended up killing more people than WW1 but initially “seemed as benign as the common cold”.

Crikey’s cardboard controversy:

Simon Casey writes: Re. Yesterday’s editorial. I’m not on either side of the “Dick Pratt fence” regarding his behaviour or history but your editorial with the cut out coffin is a tasteless. His family will be mourning the loss of their father/Husband/Loved one and they don’t deserve this. Further it does nothing to add to the debate surrounding Mr Pratt which I would see as your role in journalism. What were you thinking?

Cathy Bannister writes: You bastards! Your joke about Visy cardboard coffins has to be the most evil, inappropriate, nasty, pernicious, and just plain WRONG response to a tragic cancer death that I’ve ever seen. Pernicious? Yes — I laughed ’til tears splashed onto my laptop. Expect a bill if my laptop shorts and goes pfffut.

The Monthly:

Sophy Williams, CEO, Black Inc, writes: Re. “The Monthly to get its Manne after Warhaft exits” (yesterday, item 3). It is deeply ironic to suggest Morry Schwartz and Robert Manne are stifling editorial freedom. Here are two men who have done more than most in Australia to open up debate and introduce new, independent ideas into the media landscape. Their commitment to diversity is obvious. I have worked for Morry and with Robert for several years. Chris Feik’s editorial freedom with Quarterly Essay is proof that if the idea is good enough then the freedom is there. It’s as simple as that.

Terry Maher writes: Morry Schwartz’s assertion The Monthly‘s editorial board was so untenable it only held one meeting this year strikes me as being somewhat disingenuous. As a regular imbiber at Mr Jimmy Watson’s salubrious establishment in Lygon Street, Carlton, I wish to report many sightings of The Monthly‘s gang of four (Robert Manne, Morry Schwartz, Sally Warhaft and Chris Feik) in session this year — monthly if not fortnightly, fortnightly if not weekly.

If they were not “untenable” editorial board meetings I don‘t know what these sombre gatherings were all about. Manne usually held the floor with long diatribes delivered in his pompous baritone monotone while Schwartz, Warhaft and Feik listened in the stony silence reminiscent of a Brethren’s praying meeting.

Sally sometimes took notes which I presumed were the minutes of the editorial board.

Sol Trujillo:

Henrie Ellis writes: Re. “Sol Trujillo: one slick hustler” (yesterday, item 26). Even before Solomon Trujillo was appointed, the Telstra board should have taken into account that the man already had form. As the CEO of US West, one of the “baby Bells” he deservedly gained the dubious honour of leading the “worst” Telco in the USA which allegedly engaged in misleading practices. By leading the merger of US West with Qwest he totally underestimated how the merger would destroy shareholder value and imperil jobs. So much for the strategic insight McGauchie rabbited on about after his appointment to Telstra.

By any measure Sol “could talk the talk but not walk the walk”. After severing ties with Qwest, brief flirtations with telcos Gravitron and Orange, he had some months floundering in the digital ether until McGauchie offered Sol the Telstra post. His record of undistinguished leadership was monumental; however his predilection for risk taking were undoubtedly appealing to McGauchie, whose similarly undistinguished leadership of the National Farmers Federation still rankles with many in the rural community. With some notable exceptions a miasma clouded the critical judgements of financial commentators, journalist and analysts.

This sad rabble of cheerleaders turned a blind eye to the brinkmanship of Trujillo and his cronies culminating in the fiasco of the failure to tender for the national broadband network. Yes, Adam Schwab is right; Trujillo is one slick hustler, a snake oil salesman, and as the passage of time will confirm, an abject failure as a corporate leader.

But perhaps I am being a bit harsh, he earned an enviable reputation in US conservative circles as an assiduous and successful fundraiser for the Republican Party especially Senator John McCain. Enough said.

Cyril Ashman writes: I am sure I am not the only one disturbed by Adam Schwab’s revelations of “wonton destruction” by the Telstra executives. Is he able to put a figure on just how much Chinese food they have destroyed during Sol Trujillo’s tenure?

Prince Charles:

Thomas Flynn, Executive Director of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, writes: Re. “London architecture, royal privilege and Prince Charles” (Tuesday, item 18). At the end of his attack on Prince Charles, Greg Barns says “Now what is it that the monarchists say about the British Royal Family? That’s right, it is a wonderful thing because it stays out of politics and is decidedly above and beyond the machinations that go with that game. Charles is making a liar of them.” Way ahead of you Greg.

Put (site:www.norepublic.com.au “Prince Charles”) into Google and you will find a number of stories acknowledging the Prince’s public statements on controversial issues — all on the site of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy. It is not a matter of the Royal Family staying out of politics. It is the monarch and her representatives who must stay out of politics.

Here in Australia the power of the Australian crown is exercised by the Governors and Governor General. A number of our greatest Governors General all had extensive political careers. And yet they remained above politics when representing the Crown. Were Barns’ law (“no one who ever had an opinion must ever go anywhere near the crown”) applied, Australia would have been deprived of such Governors General as McKell, Hasluck, Casey or Hayden.

It is unfortunately true that a few of the recent Viceroys have made statements expressing an opinion on controversial political matters. Barns clearly does not like what the Prince has to say about architecture. But what does he make of the Prince’s views on climate change?

I would take Barns more seriously if he were to attack Viceroys when they express opinions he happens to share.

Separated at Birth?

Dominic Kelly writes: While Derek Barry likens Bernard Keane to Samuel Beckett (yesterday, comments), I was thinking he resembles Andrew Hansen from the Chaser (although perhaps a little older).

Anzac Day:

Brian Mitchell writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 8). If your Tips and Rumours correspondent had only lifted his head from the glass coffee table once in a while to peer beyond the mist of white powder before his eyes he might have read a thing or two about the very clear rules prohibiting the exploitation of ANZAC, rules that are actually written into law.

I’m a newspaper journo and despite the firewall between me and the wretched creatures in our advertising department even I am aware of them. Very few businesses are allowed to invoke ANZAC (Arnotts being the most obvious exception).

The tacky Domayne Furniture campaign you highlighted is a clear breach of both the law and common sense.

Israel/Palestine cage match (now with its own blog):

Guy Rundle writes: Philip Mendes (yesterday, comments) suggests I am being anti-intellectual for criticising his arguments about anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. Nonsense. I just think they have little merit, float nonsensical concepts, and seek to avoid hard thinking rather than tackle issues head-on. That’s intellectual debate — you don’t get a mark for effort as well as achievement.

My point (and that of others), that Phillip continues to avoid, is that the degree of intra-Zionist Nazi name calling is too substantial for non-Zionists and non-Jews using the Nazi tag to be all dismissed as solely out to hurt and defame Jews. The latest and one of the most comprehensive examples of the parallel — which I noted as utterly overblown — is a piece by Uri Avnery in Counterpunch.

As to the anti-Semitism conference — I pulled out because it became clear that the event was too stacked in one direction, and left a message with one of Phillip’s co-organisers to that effect. However, I probably should have made more effort to make it clear they knew I wasn’t coming.

Phillip did publish a number of social policy pieces in Arena Magazine — and it is in the light of their clarity that his arguments on the Israel/Palestine thang fall short — concepts like “anti-Zionist fundamentalism” or adopting the propagandist term “homicide bomber” (or as Phillip deployed it “suicide/homicide bomber”) don’t do much for the debate.

Send your comments, corrections, clarifications and c*ck-ups to [email protected]. Preference will be given to comments that are short and succinct: maximum length is 200 words (we reserve the right to edit comments for length). Please include your full name — we won’t publish comments anonymously unless there is a very good reason.

Peter Fray

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