From the President: The Diversity Issue

By Su Baker

Just as higher education is seen as a marker of privilege by some and empowerment for others, so the current debate about the relevance of the creative arts to the well being of communities also draws on, one might say, particular ideological ground. This is the question of the moment, is it not? What has brought about this scepticism and suspicion of the complexities and diversity of contemporary society but a fear of diversity itself.

This is a complex problem and not one for glib truisms, but it is clear that the factors that are driving change are leaving some people feeling overwhelmed by the multifarious cultural influences and voices.

Some of us welcome the inclusion of the many diverse voices and cultures at play, while others see this as the threat to the stable order of things. Interesting discussion arising from the recent objections to Ramsay Centre of Western Civilisation where the perfectly good idea about better understanding the Western canon and the richness of Western culture, infused and produced by the richness of other cultures, predicated on scepticism and critique has, in part, been captured, indeed hijacked, by ideological warriors on both sides. What seems to concern the conservatives is that diversity of views reduce the unchallenged value given to ‘Western culture’, and on the left, the fear that every differentiating identity and community group is vulnerable to attack from the dominant forces.

Diversity is a powerful agent in our current thinking and is calling out many underlying conditions. It is a flashpoint for a number issues that have their roots elsewhere. And these tensions are clearly coming to represent the current state of the world.

Within our institutions, the irony is that while university funding and governance regimes are expected to be the same, based on regulation and expectations, the reality is that in our system no two universities have the same models of creative arts education. Each institution has different groupings of disciplines under different oversight arrangements. Each PhD has a different examination process, and the language used in research varies. While most undergraduate degrees cover similar material, the infrastructure and teaching arrangements vary wildly.

The demographic diversity of the students has regional variations and is similarly driven by the histories and cultures of those institutions and local conditions. The response to the creative arts within the respective university is similarly conditioned by the local context and often as local as the individual university leadership.

So diversity means many things to many of us. Many of the contributions to this issue of NiTRO focus on these important matters.