I have been getting some visits to a previous post of mine which, whilst primarily reporting on an Australia Ensemble concert, also touched on the then state of play concerning Kim Walker, the dean of the conservatorium whose position might reasonably be described as “embattled.”
Ms Walker (actually, it’s Professor Walker, but I can’t take these ex officio professorships too seriously) was suspended from duties last year for a while over accusations of plagiarism before being reinstated. Various bigwigs around town wheeled in behind her to voice their support, including Rowena Danziger. Ms Danziger’s support alone made me look on Ms Walker less favourably.
Now there are fresh accusations of plagiarism, this time centring around notes for one of a series of what can only be described as socialite adult education talks given by Ms Walker at the Art Gallery of NSW.
Like the last piece of writing which attracted accusations, which was a bundle of educational-managerial puffery, this was not serious academic writing. Even then, Ms Walker didn’t even claim to have done all the work herself. It seems like she can’t even give a talk like this without getting some research assistant/casually employed postgraduates to do her legwork (that is what I take to be the import of the acknowledgments to Paula Brusky and an untraceable “David Stefano”).
The SMH has helpfully reproduced the notes distributed on Kim Walker’s behalf, as well as the relevant chapter from Will and Ariel Durant’s The Lessons of History. These have been helpfully marked up by someone in purple and blue highlighter. I wonder if there has been a highlighter audit going on at the Con since then.
Bearing in mind the qualified privileges available under the Defamation Act, SMH has sought comment from Ms Walker and also reports a statement by an audience member on the night who was there, though not just any audience member.
The Herald approached Professor Walker for comment and she responded through her lawyer. Mr O’Brien said the name “James” was a typographical error. “The typo was corrected in the speech when proper attribution was given to Will and Ariel Durant,” he said.
An audience member, Mary Turner, said Professor Walker had referred to Will Durant during the speech.
“Kim always gives attributions,” Ms Turner said. “She’s quite punctilious about this. It’s not sourced [in the lecture notes] and when she’s actually giving the speech she references them.”
It seems a fair bet that the Mary Turner quoted is the niece of the Hendersons of the Henderson bequest. It might be more accurate to describe her as a loyal benefactor.
Even if Kim Walker had prefaced every use of the Durants’ words or ideas with the necessary “as the Durants say,” the use of verbatim passages and ideas seems to me to exceed the bounds of decency for a public talk about great minds by a person who sports the title “Professor.” However entertaining and thought-provoking her lectures are, it looks like she is serving up the warmed-up leftovers of other people’s work.
Why does she do it? Can she just not help herself? Is she too busy? In particular, is she too busy big-noting herself giving talks like this which she appears unwilling to prepare properly herself?
Whatever the true story, it is clear that, as no man is a hero to his valet, Professor Walker is no hero to some of her fairly immediate subordinates at the Conservatorium. I just don’t know the rights and wrongs of this (other than being inclined immediately to side against someone who has Rowena Danziger on her side). I don’t think they would be crying foul so quickly if they didn’t have some other grudges. Anyone could tell you that just as a hunch. It is even more clearly the case if you read Nicholas Pickard’s recent piece on this, and some (or at least one) of the comments to that piece.
Pickard has been sent a copy of an anonymous letter to the Chancellor of the University, NSW Governor, Marie Bashir. I can only quote the bits which he has chosen to quote:
We are writing to advise you that your support of Kim Walker is misguided and is causing seroius [sic] personal hardship to the staff of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, to its reputation and to the reputation of the university. You are also bringing your own reputation into disrepute and you are rapidly losing the respect of your colleagues at the The University of Sydney.
The letter also alleges that a string of staff have left the Conservatorium, including three heads of school and even accuses the Dean of financial mismanagement, harassment and bullying.
And finally (presumably the parting shot):
“If you do not reconsider your position and withdraw to a neutral place and allow the university to conduct its business, details of your conduct, including your financial support of Walker’s legal costs, will be put into the hands of the press where it will be open to public debate.”
This Pickard’s over-punchy final paragraph:
The allegations are strong, the bile is even stronger and it appears that a Governor hailed by her people as one of the best leaders of her time is about to be forced to dance to a tune that’s more allegro than adagio.
Calling any state governor a “leader,” let alone “a Governor hailed by her people as one of the best leaders of her time” is ramping things up a bit, surely. As for the tempo of the tune, there are some quite grim tunes which go quite slowly. The death of Siegfried in Götterdämmerung is just one example (OK, maybe not very dancelike) which comes to mind. (Winsome Evans always used to say that God Save the King/Queen was a sarabande, but that is another story, which -see comments below – it seems likely I have misremembered.)
Pickard’s piece has been followed up by another in Crikey by Alex Mitchell (not someone I think of with any overwhelming interest in the Arts, but judging from his stories, with fairly good links to the Liberal Party and likely to receive a call from Rowena or somebody like her) which I have not read yet (money is asked for) but which is headlined “The malicious attack on the Dean of the Sydney Conservatorium and the NSW Governor, marks a new low in academic intrigue and skulduggery.”
If the story continues in that vein (on a par with Pickard’s “bile”) it will miss the point.
Bashir is Chancellor of Sydney Uni. As Governor, she is also Visitor. In either role, she may have to look into irregularities. She can and should support the institution but she really does have to be careful about taking sides when disputes arise within the uni, as is obviously the case here. If she really has been paying Walker’s legal costs, that could be embarrassing for her.
On the other hand, the letter to Bashir doesn’t seem very well thought-out. (“Reputation into disrepute” – what were they thinking?) Threats (let alone anonymous ones, even though that is understandable in the circumstances) don’t seem the right way for Walker’s opponents to proceed, and Bashir is hardly likely to want to look as though she is giving into them. [Of course, we don’t know who has circulated the letter: it could very well be someone on Walker’s side.]
Oh, and did I mention Rowena Danziger?
It is sufficient to quote the last 3 paras of Alex Mitchell’s crikey piece:
Who do the members of this sick-minded academic mafiosi think they are? Their very words should be sufficient to condemn them in the court of fair play, decency and scholarship.
As for Walker’s lectures at the Art Gallery – apparently the mole of this ivory tower clique had to sit through five lectures before finding one tiny error, a misnaming in notes of a source, which she corrected in speaking to the audience. The Herald’s Harriet Alexander stretched this footnote error into a shock-horror story, raising the word “plagiarism”, something which will always raise a headline among the cut-and-pasters at Fairfax.
Oddly, the latest brouhaha reported by Pickard had little effect on the lecture audience last Friday: they gave Walker the warmest reception – and flowers.
The last paragraph is really the only piece of new information Mitchell provides in the entire article. The rest is either comment or conjecture. Mitchell is wrong about Walker just slipping up on a footnote. Sure, a talk at the Art Gallery is hardly the stuff of high scholarship (nobody expects that of Professor Walker), but the purple and blue highlighters (you have to click on the links above for this) still tell a sorry tale. It’s only a few paragraphs, but it is the stuff that those Media Watch double-voiced read-throughs are made of. And I don’t think it is right to say that Walker was cleared last year – she was reinstated, but that is something quite different.
But I do love that “mole of this ivory tower clique.” Shades of “Dalai Lama clique” and all – you can always link it to Tibet if you want to, Nicholas (see comments below for explication).
Postlude (or Afterafterword)
The SMH is not leaving this alone. Wondering why I still get hits to this post, I discovered that I had missed this. The paper has obtained a number of letters from donors urging Kim Walker’s reinstatement written last year during her suspension. Their identities are masked but one is fairly likely to be Mary Turner. One letter referred to funds and pledges of $500,000 for a legal fighting fund for Walker. The article mentions that Danziger is now the Art Gallery of NSW Foundation chairman. It all reeks of her particular brand of influence peddling. I now regret not wielding my entirely symbolic vote against her at the Opera Australia AGM all the more.
Codetta – February 2013
The stately progress of this matter through the courts has now come to public attention. Professor Walker has John Garnsey, QC acting for her. Apparently it’s all about the employer’s implied duty of good faith. This is Mr Garnsey’s special topic – he appeared for David Russell in proceedings which raised some similar issues.
In the meantime, you can read an attention-grabbing report from last year on Crikey. It is sourced primarily from a complaint to ICAC [!] by “former conservatorium professor and Fulbright-winning flutist Alexa Still” “who has taken temporary leave from the Con to serve as an Associate Professor of Flute at the prestigious Oberlin conservatory in Ohio.” Italicisation is of the bits which, if the contents did not make clear anyway, suggest which side of the dispute this story is sourced from.
Watch for Development[s] – I’m notching back my settings into first-movement sonata form to accommodate what is to come.