By William Olson
Recently an old friend of mine from California sent me a nice little relic that took me down memory lane: a copy of the old student newspaper from my university days that contained my first real byline, and thereby my initial entry into journalism.
That newspaper, a weekly summer edition of the Cal State Pioneer based at the California State University at Hayward (now the CSU of the East Bay), has survived very well, for a 30-year-old piece of eight-page newsprint. The aging of time has turned the newsprint’s parchment into an orange-to-brown hue, but the memories inside are still quite sharp. I served as a community sport reporter for the paper – quite challenging in the university community during the summer months – in addition to being the lead copy editor in the run-up to publication on Wednesday nights ahead of a Thursday lunchtime release on campus.
Mind you, these were the days before the world wide web, and long before any viral activity on social media. We even did layout by hand, with the aid of an archaic version of PageMaker, and sticky tape. But those of us who worked on that newspaper, we thought we had hit the big time. Since I received this lovely relic, I’m wondering if any of those who I worked with on that project in that summer are still around the traps in the journalism profession. Such was our tight-knit group, amid pizza runs to get us through each publication night – and a final weekly 1:30am beer run to celebrate, once the paper was “put to bed”.
The Cal State Pioneer represented a quality staple of not just on-campus life in the summer of 1990, but it was a cornerstone of the mass communication department at CSUH. And as such, that which constituted a highly enriching liberal arts and humanities-based education in the CSU system at that time.
Fast-forward 30 years, and such a broad-based education path has come under attack in Australia, by the federal government, and specifically Dan Tehan, the Minister for Education.
Last week, Tehan proposed, in an effort to stimulate the “jobs and growth” agenda by the federal government, a blueprint reform of the tertiary education system – to basically halve the course fees for degree programs leading to vocational jobs in areas such as nursing, teaching, agriculture, information technology, and other sectors anticipating high employment growth, while virtually doubling fees for any study pathways relating to the arts and humanities.
A shocking development, considering it was the LNP which significantly slashed funding to TAFE schools and the VET sector since 2013 to the point where their budgets are now severely compromised. It would figure that if the Morrison government wants to inspire the economy through that “jobs and growth” agenda, why not simply re-invest in the TAFEs and the VETs?
Moreover, this revelation by the federal government in tertiary education fees policy, intended to drive young people of university age towards vocational-based degrees, is also seen as an attack not just on the arts and humanities, but also on critical thinking. And the lively university experience of a well-rounded education as well.
Especially without a Bill of Rights in Australia which would broadly define what residents’ rights and liberties are, a gradual attack by the LNP governments over the years upon those who oppose its policies and attacking the right to protest and dissent has been underway for quite some time – and the abilities around intellectualism and critical thinking are deemed essential to defend these actions.
Hypocrisy abounds in the halls of the federal parliament in this proposed policy, given the number of LNP ministers and senators who are in possession of Bachelor of Arts degrees from their university days. Not only does Tehan hold one, but so do 12 others in the LNP alone, with a majority of all MPs from all parties holding a double degree in law and some form of the arts.
The reason why arts degrees among our movers and shakers in Canberra exist is quite simple: a liberal arts education with a grounding in critical thinking skills better prepares one for the real world and how it operates, than that of a vocational background alone does. While work and employment can define who a person is, one’s experiences should be greater.
It’s done me no harm over the last 30 years living in two countries, and the same goes for countless hordes of others like myself globally since then. An education in critical thinking, the arts and humanities, it has been said, may not prepare one for a career, but can prepare one for several of them. And for the diversity of life itself.
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