Town Gown Relations

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Address to The International Association of College Unions, University of Wollongong Union - 24 May 1989

First published in the Journal of Tertiary Education Administration in October 1989 (Vol 11 No 2)
by Giles Pickford, Public Affairs Officer, Australian National University

Machiavelli has said about leadership "It is much better to be feared than loved, if one of the two has to be wanting".*

That is the way he saw it in 1513. However 20th Century people know that there are more choices. We live in a century overflowing with choices so we tend to look for the other options. So I put it to you when thinking about the quality of leadership that there are four choices.

The prince can be feared and loved, he can be loved and not feared, he can be feared and not loved, and finally he can be neither feared nor loved. My own view is that these choices are listed in descending order of efficiency and effectiveness in princes. It is also my view that university schools of management produce far too many of the last two categories of princes and that the 20th Century is overstocked with managers who are either feared or ignored.

What, you ask, has any of this Machiavellian talk got to do with town gown relations? Everything, I say, because it is the leadership of the university and the city which determines the quality and quantity of town gown relations in our time and every other time. The reason for this is that there is no necessity for the promotion of town gown relations inherent in the idea of the university. It is an ancillary activity in that it is neither teaching, nor research, nor service to the public. However, the university prince who is feared and loved, on the campus as well as in the city, can advance his university very effectively for reasons that will become clear during this paper, particularly at the end of it.

The university is the disinterested inventor of our idea of the world as it has varied through the ages. Some giant of antiquity who bestrides the world of scholarship like a colossus, but whose name I cannot recall, said that the true history of humanity is the history of the progression of ideas that shape us. These ideas mostly either arise in or are fostered by universities. The people in universities diligently pursue the development and dissemination of ideas arising out of their own particular disciplines: while in the city people go about their trades and businesses living without knowing it in a world fashioned by the university. The two occupations are so different that it is no wonder that the history of town gown relations is so troubled. It is also no wonder that I am telling you that if there are to be any town gown relations at all it will be because the princes decide that it will be so.

Let us look briefly at some moments in the early history of town gown relations. The first modern university in the world was established in Bologna in the 11th Century. Relations between town and gown were so strained that in the end there were riots which resulted in a large group of students leaving the city and followed by their professors they joined other students in Paris where the second university in the world was established by Papal fiat in 1215. There history repeated itself and after much trouble with the citizenry another group of students left and followed by their professors they merged with a nucleus of scholars and students who had been at Oxford since the end of the 9th Century.

"No clear starting point can be fixed for the founding of the institution" says Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, the present Chancellor of Oxford. However he thinks significant dates were the appointment of the first Chancellor, Robert Grosseteste, Rector of the Oxford Franciscans in 1224, and the first university bequest which was made in 1214. "The student population divided into two main groups, the Northerners and the Southerners. Rivalries between them added to the friction that existed between the student body and the townsfolk. Assault was a common crime, exacerbated by the large quantity of ale that was brewed and sold by many Oxford householders. The earliest riot recorded was in 1209 and such events continued for a century and a half until the great riot and massacre of St. Scholastica's Day, 1335, which went on for three days. The dispute arose from a disagreement between a landlord and some students in a tavern near Carfax. It resulted in the students setting fire to the town, the townsfolk plundering the students' hostels and sixty-three scholars being killed".**

Because of all this perturbation another migration took place which eventually resulted in the establishment of a university at Cambridge.

We can thank the natural antipathy between town and gown for the spread of universities throughout Europe. Did any of those outraged burghers know what they were doing? No. Because it is not in the nature of cities to know what they are doing. However, things changed as they always do. The State, which in the Middle Ages was not at all interested in universities, began to notice the idea factories and to comprehend their awesome power. Instead of universities creating cities, or turning them upside down which was even better, the city began to plead for a university and the State began to aid and abet cities in acquiring one. All the best dressed cities wanted a university.

The method of promoting and founding universities changed from the "drive them out" model to the "get them in" model; proving beyond all doubt the theory that there is more than one way to skin a cat.

The world of scholarship flourished and town gown relations did not change. The burghers continued to think of themselves as practical, sensible people, and of the scholars as loons who would spend days arguing about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin.

We arrive in the 20th Century and we find the scholars arguing about how many neutrinos they can find in a bath full of soapy water one mile underground: while the city fulminates and postures about the need for efficiency and effectiveness in tertiary education. The city demands that instead of doing silly things like investigate the properties of willow tree bark, or theorise about the nature and role of women, universities should become part of the engine of the national economy and do useful things like create a faster grummet or a bigger widget.

The city of course did not know that the most profound and lasting revolution in two thousand years would arise out of theorising about women, putting Marx entirely in the shade. It did not know that out of the bark of willow trees would come aspirin, one of our important ways of coping with the stress of town gown relations.

Leaving this briefest of all historical perspectives let us now consider the central question posed in the title "Town Gown Relations". The conference organisers have kindly provided here the broadest of all choices, entirely free of any value statement. They do not imply in the title that these relations should be peaceful or stormy. They have placed the two partners in reverse alphabetical order - town gown - thus implying that neither partner is more important than the other. There is only one hypothesis put forward in the title and that is that town gown relations exist. The organisers have left it to me to make any judgements about what they should be.

These are dangerous waters and we must tread carefully (to borrow an idea from the New Testament).

Town gown relations exist, but should attempts be made to improve them by explaining and justifying one to the other? Or should attempts be made to worsen them? Would the university be better helped by the burghers being outraged, calmed, or even anæsthetised if it comes to that?

I am going to take the view that attempts should be made to improve town gown relations and I will get down to some examples of how this can be done with special reference to the role of the union in improving the relationship between town and gown. However I will stress that this is a theory only and that I may be wrong, as much good has come out of extremely bad town gown relations and the idea of deliberately creating friction must always remain open as an option to any university or city.

So let us go from the sublime to the ridiculous, that is, from the world of ideas to the world of action.

Early in 1980 I was addressing an Apex club in Wollongong justifying the town to the gown and extolling the Wollongong campus in particular. I finished by suggesting to the club that it should hold an "away" meeting at the Union and if it did the university would provide a good speaker. During question time one member expressed some doubt about the idea, saying that some of the members may not have a suit appropriate for dining at the university.

This moment in my life was equivalent to being struck blind on the road to Damascus. I had been given a revelation. The person I was looking at was a successful tradesman, a man-about-town. He had never set foot on the campus; and by inference there could be one hundred thousand others like him out there in the City of Wollongong.

I assured the gentleman that if he appeared on campus in torn jeans and a heavy metal T-shirt he would go unnoticed, that the attire at Union dinners varied from black tie to no tie, and that no- one would get "who's your father" with him about his dress standards. Realising that I had arrived at one of those shores at which boats are burnt I redoubled my advocacy about the "away" meeting and I won.

Wollongong Apex held two "away" meetings in the University Union building in 1980. The first was addressed by the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Michael Birt and the second by Lauchlan Chipman, the Professor of Philosophy. Both of them talked about the world of ideas and neither of them tried to justify the university on the grounds of the faster grummet or the bigger widget. The Apexians were fascinated. I know because I was there both times and I stayed until the last one left at about midnight.

How was it that the Apexian I referred to earlier knew so little about the university? He obviously would have read about the place because the university had a particularly strong media programme. But he had never been there or talked to academics face to face. That was the deficiency. Many individuals and institutions are condemned without trial and the easiest way to do that is to preserve a vast distance between the judge and the accused. Good fences do not make good neighbours, they merely create a false sense of security. It was by emphasising the university's fencelessness that this particular university has made such major advances in town gown relations.

The idea that groups should visit the university evolved into the next stage which was that the university should reciprocate and visit the groups. The University of Wollongong speakers list of some thirty volunteers was produced and circulated to service clubs and community groups in the region. Hardly a week goes by without some group in the community being visited by an academic. The idea has been taken up by the university where I now work, The Australian National University. Some eighty volunteers have come forward and a very well presented booklet is now circulating in southern New South Wales. It invites groups to come on to the campus and hold their meetings in one of the many venues; and it invites groups to choose an ANU speaker from the extensive list available.

Returning to Wollongong, there are two university groups that play the dominant part in encouraging the mingling of town and gown. Strangely neither of them is noted for the number of princes in their hierarchies. One group is the Friends of the University of Wollongong, which consists firstly of citizens who value the university and secondly the university's graduates, in about equal proportions; and the other is the University Union, which is dominated as it should be by student interests.

Both groups have excellent relations one with the other, and work together on a number of projects to achieve common goals.

The biggest town gown interaction in Wollongong is University Open Day. In the 1960's Open Day was really a "preaching to the converted" event. The university then was new and small and a College of the University of New South Wales. It conducted Open Days in 1963, 65, and 67. Although I was not there at the time I have gained the impression from listening to the pioneers that the attendance was mainly by the university's supporters in the community and senior school students with their families. It was really an exercise in student recruitment and the only things to look at or do were generated by university departments. The day progressively drew fewer and fewer participants until it was abandoned in 1972.

It was the University Union in 1982 which at the suggestion of Radio 2WL staged an Expo or trade fair. The arrangement was of great benefit to the radio station which hired the floor space in the Union building at the going rate for a whole weekend and then sold it at a mark up sufficient to pay for a massive campaign in all media, especially their own. The building and the lawns around the Union were bursting with commercial exhibits, people attended by the tens of thousands and much was bought and sold. The Union had put the university on the map at some cost to itself as it would have made more money catering for a couple of weddings.

The university princes were so impressed by the attendance that they asked themselves why the Library had been the only other facility on the campus to open its doors to the public. Discussions were held with the Union and Radio 2WL and the next year Open Day was held with Expo. Most university departments opened their doors for a whole weekend in October.

Attendance by the public was in the region of 40,000 people of whom about one in five elected to go on from Expo to visit the academic departments. We were a little disappointed at this but consoled ourselves with the point that it had cost us nothing because Radio 2WL had met most of the costs.

It was when the proportion rose the following years that we realised another important principle of town gown relations. It takes time. In the later years academic departments reported a much bigger and more interested attendance and yet we had done nothing differently from the year before. Why? There was a lot of speculation but my theory is that people are shy and nervous about universities. The citizens of Wollongong had not rioted and forced us to emigrate to Campbelltown. But their feelings were not much different from those of their 12th Century cousins at Oxford. It was to take a few years before the attendance at Open Day started to equal the attendance at Expo and when that happened the Expo component was discarded. We had achieved our purpose and the Union, with the help of academic departments, and the Friends of the University which actually administered Open Day, had passed an important milestone in town gown relations in the history of this campus.

Throughout this period student enrolment in the university grew in quality and quantity. While I am not vain enough to claim that this was entirely the work of the Friends and the Union, I am humble enough to suggest that we had done nothing to prevent this happy trend from emerging.

I will give you a few more examples of things that the Union has done at no financial benefit to itself to assist in the promotion of better town gown relations.

The Union runs the Public Questions Forums (PQF's) on the Union lawn at lunch time. We have had some eminent speakers address the university: people like Fr. Brian Gore of Philippines fame. We have also been visited by the infamous, including people like the Rev. Fred Nile. I have chosen to mention only men of the cloth here so that you will see that I am totally unbiased politically and theologically. Although PQF mainly attracts a university audience it is rare not to see towns people in the throng.

The Union in collaboration with the Friends (or vice versa and I have never been sure which) runs Heritage Week; a State-wide event in which the University of Wollongong excels over all others. Here we reached a peak in town gown relations in 1988 when the Aboriginal Education Unit and Dr. Winifred Mitchell brought the aboriginal community and the wider community together into the university in a major public participation moment. Dr. Mitchell herself is a town gown icon in our city. An ex-staff member of the university, a Life Member of the Friends, a member of the University Council, a Director of the Union Board, a Trustee of the City Gallery, and a Director of the Wollongong Committee; she spans the gap between town and gown like the Sydney Harbour bridge. Sometimes she spans it like the Transfield Kumagai tunnel, and that also is useful on occasion. It is on individuals like Winifred Mitchell and many others like her that the relations between town and gown depend.

The scope of this paper is restricted to examples in which the union took a direct role in influencing town gown relations. There are many other examples of things that the Friends of the University did in the last decade. These are contained in two other papers which I can provide to those who request them.

At this point I want to digress from the main theme and take a wide loop through some territory that is bothering many institutions these days. We can agree that private enterprise has really only one goal within the capitalist/socialist State which prevails in many western countries. Private enterprise is supposed to make a dollar and create a job. It has no other purpose. Governments are the socialist side of the equation and their purpose is to concern themselves with the humanitarian not-for-profit goals such as law and order, education, public health, the arts, and similar works.

Private enterprise more and more these days is putting money into public relations. Donations to the community's favourite projects, ranging from sport, to caring for the destitute and sponsoring the arts, form an increasing part of the budgets of companies that really only have one motive and that is profit.

The head of a vast American conglomerate whose name I also forget said recently that the reason why business should support community projects is that it is good business. He cited actual cases where companies had increased their profitability by being deliberately silly with their money when it came to community relations and the charitable donation. However our humanitarian institutions, governments, universities and the like are increasingly going in the opposite direction. They have reached the point now of aping the worst practices of private enterprise in the bad old days. The supposedly socialist side of the capitalist/socialist State is increasingly obsessed with profitability.

We have universities all over the country which are hot on the trail of efficiency and effectiveness; where every part of the university is sending the other part a bill for its services. For instance, an astonished Arts professor recently received an invoice for a brief telephone conversation with the university's consultancy service. Many university union's which provide facilities for numerous university functions at a break even or worse situation are being charged for various services like electricity and water, from which they were previously exempt. Many unions no doubt are responding to the idea of the profit motive in the previously non-profit area of education, and are raising their fees to achieve that goal. Who pays in the end? The userversity, which is my new word for the university which charges everyone for everything. Most of this is being done in the name of efficiency and effectiveness which is a new idea imposed by an outside, supposedly humanitarian/socialist agency, namely the government. I do not think that occupying large numbers of people in writing each other invoices is going to win us more Nobel prizes. In fact I am sure it wont. Ultimately we have to ask with Jeremy Bentham, "What is the use of it?"

How long is business going to go on voluntarily supporting higher education projects under the ministrations of a government which is now talking about a compulsory levy on industry for training the workforce at the apprenticeship level?

How are universities going to fare with their new push into the alumni relations field? Our government has decided that it cannot wait for the results of the universities' moves to foster voluntary giving by their graduates. Instead it will make the part funding of higher education by graduates compulsory. All graduates now face a tax impost that begins the moment their incomes reach a point fairly low down in the range of incomes available to graduates. I feel genuinely sorry for all alumni officers in Australia, most of whom were appointed in the last five years. Many will be judged before their programmes have had time to take effect, at a time when many graduates will be saying "I've already paid", when asked to give to the university. In the efficiency and effectiveness programmes that are being increasingly adopted by universities these alumni officers are going to be found wanting. Those alumni who late in their careers would have voluntarily given six figure amounts to their universities are going to content themselves with the four figure amounts which the government will ask of them early in their young lives when they are struggling with three mortgages and the car repayments. Their school friends, who were mercenary enough to go straight into the work force, will have paid off the car and eliminated one or two mortgages by the time their university educated friends have graduated and obtained their first job.

This digression is now over. I will return to my theme and its conclusion. People who work in the field of town gown relations have a very difficult job to do. Their aim is to create a wide appreciation of the university. Within that wide ambience their next aim is to create a coherent body of some thousands of people who are committed to the university by giving of their substance: that substance being either their time, their brains, their goods or their money. People who work for better town gown relations must achieve these goals while politicians and bureaucrats berate universities for wasting public money. Governments which lose billions of dollars in foreign exchange bungles, which create development banks that go broke in the most spectacular way; governments which undertake public works that incur cost overruns in the millions, all these people are particularly anxious to find scapegoats against which their own performance can appear to be a little bit better than it really is. The best scapegoat is one that depends on government funds and is not particularly well understood or loved by the outraged burghers. What better candidates than the university and the CSIRO. The university prince must therefore appreciate that better town gown relations tend to neutralise the unsympathetic politician.

The people who work in town gown relations must do their work in this ambience. They must also contend with the princes within the university who want results usually before they are possible.

We come now to the fund raising aspect of town gown relations, which is one of the ways that princes use to gauge the efficiency and effectiveness of people like me. Here misconception rules. It is thought in many princely areas that money grubbing is the aim and end of town gown relations. Nothing could be more wrong. Financial and other support is one of the results of better town gown relations, and the less the town feels that the gown has this as its aim, then the better that financial support will be.

There are two tried and true ways of raising the charitable dollar. The first way is to shake the money tree until the branches break and the second is to grow an orchard. The first way is beloved of the outside fund raising consultant who raids the town on behalf of the gown, takes his percentage, and leaves the university to live with a community which has a distinct impression that it has "given already"; and this feeling lasts for quite a long time.

The second way, growing an orchard, is the best way in the long term. It is the only way to create a coherent body of some thousands of people who will cheerfully give of their substance again and again. It is the way that the churches have evolved their support groups. The churches of course have never been obsessed with short term gain, efficiency and effectiveness. The long patient view is what is needed here. The prince that good town gown relations requires is the prince who is confident that the university has a vital role to play in the future of Australia and the world: that it will be doing its work for thousands of years during which governments and management fashions will come and go. He needs to exude confidence and remain unmoved by threats. He must say with Julian of Norwich "But all shall be well and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well",*** and the town will understand him and respond positively.

So we conclude with a word again from Machiavelli which summarises why the university prince should rely more on good town gown relations than on good (which means subservient) relations with governments. This time I am in complete agreement with Machiavelli. In the following quote the prince is the Vice-Chancellor, the nobility is the government, and the people is our public. "For the aim of the people is more honest than that of the nobility, the latter desiring to oppress, and the former merely to avoid oppression. It must also be added that the prince can never insure himself against a hostile populace on account of their number, but he can against the hostility of the great as they are few".*

I acknowledge the help and advice of the following people:
Mrs. Maureen Barnett, Director of University Public Relations, ANU
Professor Stephen Prickett, Professor of English, ANU
Mr. Colin Plowman, Assistant Vice-Chancellor, ANU
Dr. Winifred Mitchell, Member of the Union Board, University of Wollongong
* "The Prince" by Niccolò Machiavelli, Oxford University Press 1935, page 43
** "The Oxford Story" Published by Heritage Projects ( Management ) Ltd. York
*** "The Revelations of Divine Love of Julian of Norwich" Translated by James Walsh SJ., Anthony Clarke Books, Hertfordshire, 1980, Page 9

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