Mind of the Nation: Universities in Australian life
La Trobe University Press, $34.99 pb, 256 pp
Michael Wesley is an academic and deputy vice-chancellor at the University of Melbourne. During the Covid lockdowns, while the rest of us were baking sourdough, he pulled together several related strands of thought about universities and Australia’s complicated relationship with them. Mind of the Nation, the result, offers a survey of where we are and how we arrived here, looked at from a number of different but intersecting angles.
In seeking to understand why universities have not achieved greater traction in public policy, despite their direct relevance today to more Australians than ever before, Wesley advances a provisional diagnosis of several distinct attitudes towards universities harboured by the Australian public: agnosticism (or sublime indifference); aspiration; and antagonism. He argues that these deeply held and co-existent attitudes generate a series of paradoxes at the heart of the nation’s ambivalence towards universities and higher education generally.
He then sets out to demonstrate, or at least to illustrate, these paradoxes through the lens of half a dozen ‘aspects of Australian universities where they sit at tension points of conflicting expectations and pressures in contemporary Australia’, in chapters entitled Money, Value, Loyalty, Integrity, Ambition, and Privilege.