In life, every so often I find it helps to be a little more epigrammatic than usual. Wouldn’t you agree? How about this fine phrase?
‘The culture of a place is the sum of the values of its society.’
I wish that I could talk like that all the time. I’d sound like Cicero, venting aphoristic wisdom as I stroll along La Trobe Street. Sadly, like most people, I tend to talk in draft, rehearsing as I go and doing my best to speak in joined-up words of greater than one syllable. I heard the above epigram on the radio. It is instantly memorable and, for RMIT in this brave new year, it’s instantly important. In fact, it’s quite urgent.
You see, last year we achieved great things. Outwardly, RMIT could not seem a more different place than in previous years. Ideologically the University has shifted 180 degrees. We’ve committed to a brave and radical crowd-sourced strategy, we’ve celebrated a Founders’ Day event that ditched the black ties, pomp and ceremony, and we now have a leadership team and Council that has deeply and publicly committed to students and to their learning experience. The mood has changed, but the real test is now upon us: how long does it take to change a culture? How do we make the sum of our values and our place impact upon that culture? How fast can we really move?
As I’ve said on many occasions (sometimes even when people are listening to me) we can’t afford to be slow. Australian higher education has a peace dividend at present, a short window (forgive the architectural metaphor) before the Feds get caught up in fiddling around with higher education. In the US and UK they squandered their own period of peace. All of a sudden, universities over there are now faced with an avalanche of higher fees, increased student contribution, deregulated markets, and research with impact. A whole raft of terrifying constraints shot up the agenda – and have stayed there. The US and UK have been on the back foot ever since.
Let’s not waste the opportunity to bring about change. Let’s shift the culture by bringing our values and our sums together. Speaking epigrammatically:
‘Never tell me the sky’s the limit when there are footprints on the moon.’
Don’t you love that one?! And remember Marx’s dictum about smashing the system? I would prefer to finally cite a very different epigram – one that relates strongly to education and learning:
‘The cistern contains; the fountain overflows’.
Happy New Year!