[Editor: This article was published in The Bulletin (Sydney, NSW), 20 July 1911. The article attacks the practice of Australian institutions filling important positions with people from overseas, instead of appointing Australians.]
Australian Universities and the importing mania.
Melbourne University decided, the other day, to have a Professor of English, and it proceeded to advertise for one.
Now for the past eight years Walter Murdoch, who is an old Scotch Collegian and an M.A. of Melbourne University, has been doing (as lecturer in English Literature) the whole work required of a Professor of English. There has never been a hint, during that time, of any incapacity in his part; on the contrary, a “round-robin,” signed by Murdoch’s old students who are graduates, was recently handed to the Council by way of testimony that in their view his work has been done well.
Yet, amongst those who should know best, his chances of getting the Professorship are considered hopeless, the notorious fact being that a powerful party in the Council is frankly determined that no local man shall have the job. Murdoch’s supersession by an import, if it occurs, will be a unique instance of official perverseness as well as a horrible example of bad patriotism and a reflection on Australian Universities.
Ten or 12 years ago Murdoch himself was wont to assail the work of well-known Australian writers with considerable vigor; to-day his attitude towards Australian literature is sympathetic or nothing. The change signifies, among other things, that he has come to view the local writer in a correcter perspective. He no longer commits the error of that Oxford don who gravely contrasted and compared Henry Lawson and Robert Browning. And he is by so much the more valuable to an Australian University. He has many years’ experience of the local student and the local point of view; his English successor will have those things to learn, just as Murdoch himself has had to learn them, and it is extremely doubtful if, when he has learned them, he will be as competent as the man he displaces. For experience proves the imported professor to be a poor thing, more often than not.
For every MacCallum, Sydney University has secured about four oversea professors who were not worth a fraction of their salaries. Several of Melbourne University’s importations, especially on the Science side, have been hopelessly unsuitable. A recent appointment to a medical chair in this University was scandalous. There were at least two men in Melbourne of shining ability whose only reason for not applying was that they were plainly warned that it would be useless to do so. The reason why the Oxford or Cambridge man who comes out here is rarely of value is plain to demonstration. The British scholar and teacher of conspicuous worth has no need to expatriate himself. He finds a market for his brains in his native land where his family, friends, clubs and old associations are. If the Australian material offering were poor in quality, there would be some excuse for the shamelessly unpatriotic conduct of our great Universities. But all the evidence is the other way. There are actually two professors of English in Europe now — one in England and one in Germany — who got their training here; and of distinguished Australian professors in other branches of learning there are many.
However, the pretensions of the Australian to the Chair of Literature in Melbourne will doubtless be settled before these lines see print. But two other chairs — Philosophy, rendered vacant by Professor Laurie’s resignation, and Agriculture, a newly-made Chair — will have to be filled at the end of the year; and if a healthy and vigorous protest is not made, they will certainly be handed to oversea mediocrities. The protest had, therefore, better be put in train straight away.
The Bulletin (Sydney, NSW), 20 July 1911, p. 7 (columns 1-2)
[Editor: The original text has been separated into paragraphs.]