because I said so

telling it like I think it is: sunili’s blog

on the University of Notre Dame Australia and academic disappointment

with 5 comments

UPDATE: apparently some people @ ND are ticked off at me for writing this post.  In a perfect world, they would stop Googling themselves (with disparaging search terms, no less) or writing patronising emails and get back to supporting students and academic staff. But whatevs. That’s just my opinion, and no-one listens to me. (Anyone who is listening to me: um… may I suggest therapy?) I have made one change, and one change only to this post, and kudos will be awarded to the first person to pick what it is (hint: nothing in the text of the post, other than this update, has been changed). xoxo SG

So I am applying for this Thing (no specifics; that way, when I don’t get it I don’t have to admit to my rejection) and I need super-dooper undergrad grades, which I have, but I worry that the Thing-chooser people will look at my Notre Dame transcript and snort with derisory laughter before throwing my application out the window.

I hear the new VC is getting inaugurated this evening, and I totally hope she has lots of plans for making the place less of a joke.  When I started there, way back when, people who didn’t know me looked at me with a horrible mix of sympathy and disgust upon finding out I was going there.  The people who knew me to be generally intelligent, of course, looked at me with abject confusion:

“Why the HELL is she going there? Surely she got the grades for UWA law?”

Yeah. I did. But I thought ND would get better, cause there were all these cool lecturers there and, you know, I like being little different.

So what happened?


All the staff members who I was impressed by as a curious Year 12 leaver have since vanished into thin air (or, more accurately, better institutions) and I graduated with two lots of first class honours yet feeling like a complete tool.

I was googling my Arts honours supervisor (cause he’s flown the ND coop and I needed his new contact details to ask for a reference for aforementioned Thing) and I discovered that he’s recently co-authored a book on terrorism. It looks like a good one, too:

Responding to Terrorism

Political, Philosophical and Legal Perspectives

Robert Imre, University of Newcastle, Australia, T. Brian Mooney, Singapore Management University, Singapore and Benjamin Clarke, University of Notre Dame, Australia

This volume, which focuses on Australian perspectives on terrorism, provides significant new dimensions. Four main areas are treated in this intriguing analysis: responses to uses of torture, legal approaches, terrorism as a consequence of globalisation and counter-terrorism. There is a nice blend of the heterodox, theoretical and concrete cases. Without doubt this is a challenging, perceptive and useful book that must be essential reading in the sometimes hyper-ventilated field of terrorism studies.
Alan O’Day, Greyfriars Hall, University of Oxford, UK

Terror does not respect disciplinary boundaries. In confronting the global reality of terror from philosophical, political and legal perspectives, Imre, Mooney and Clarke, open the way for deeper and more considered responses to our age. Their message is one of totality, of the need to consider terrorism as a crisis of ideas, of politics and of laws. In this they offer a wealth of insights to both researchers and policymakers.
Kieran Tranter, Griffith University, Australia

The co-authors were also lecturers of mine. The three of them were right up there among the best academics ND had to offer.

Ben Clarke lectured me in Crim, International Law and Human Rights Law, and while he kinda needed to work on his over-reliance on PowerPoint at the time, he’s totally bloody interesting and committed and passionate about the international public law field and I will always admire him.

Brian Mooney was part of the reason I decided to go to Notre Dame.  He gave a talk to us in Year 12 Religion & Philosophy (by the way, I am still so effing impressed SHAGS implemented that. So impressed) and I was blown away by him.  He was hilarious, he was interesting, and he was bloody thought-provoking.  The thought of going to a uni with lecturers like that was highly desirable, so I did some research, went to the open days, signed up and then I got the scholarship and it was a done deal.

Rob Imre, what can a say… What a bloody legend. The man reminded us that we were there to THINK, not just hand in some arbitrary assessment to get an arbitrary grade to get an arbitrary qualification to get an arbitrary job. It would piss off the idiots to no end when they would ask him a question, expecting the answers to the exam, and he would reply, “Well, what do you think?”

Which makes perfect sense considering that thinking, if I may ever-so-lightly generalise, is the whole fricking point of a university education.  But he was treated like shit and off he went.

For those who know a bit about ND, you may or may not be surprised to know only one of those co-authors are still staff members at Notre Dame.

The other two have moved on, and frankly, left a giant effing vacuum.

For an institution so obsessed with the image they present to the outside world (I totally speak from experience here), you’d think the Media office is pretty darn pissed off they can’t claim all three authors as their own.

But they really messed up.

The thing is, right, I *did* enjoy most of my academic career there, and I learned lots of new skills (eg, How to Deal with Morons), and made some great connections that I will have with me for life (Hi, Matthew, darling) but that place… urgh, what a horrible fucking excuse for an institution of tertiary education.  And yup. I even didn’t change it to ‘effing’. It is THAT BAD.

The place was run by high school administrators AS a high school. I remember at one stage they tried to ban chocolate on campus cause it wasn’t healthy. And do NOT get me started on their attitude to mentioning any sort of reasoned discussion or debate on anything even slightly related to the s-word.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, they seemed to have no conception of the fact that a university is there to educate students and that to educate students you need good staff.  Because, oh Mary Almighty, they sure as burning hell did not act like they knew they need good staff. Or knew that to keep good staff you have to treat them like human beings, and respect them for being bloody intelligent ones at that.

Instead, the University seemed to see academic staff as workers in a degree factory who only need to shove random bits of information into students so that people can pay their fees, get their unnecessarily large-and-expensive-to-frame bits of paper and go work in some schmucky job.

Or, at least that was what it was like in Law and when I did Arts.  I hear that this year they made an HONOURS STUDENT change her topic AFTER it had ALREADY BEEN ‘APPROVED’ because apparently a discussion of why Muslim women living in Western Australia choose to or not to wear a hijab is “too controversial” inappropriate for a politics/sociology honours thesis.

Oh yeah, and scholarship students were expected to serve food at university functions for free as a means of “giving back” to the university community.  Because it’s not at all like they NEEDED scholarship students to  contribute anything to the academic reputation of a student population consisting mostly of air-headed daddy’s-girls/boys and bored stockbrokers’ wives . Nuh-uh. Yeah, the university is doing the scholarship students a favour.


Who knows, it might be better in other schools. But I saw nothing but shitness, I just really, really hope it gets better in the future under new leadership.

From the way things went while I was there, it seemed like some of the best staff members (including, arguably, the best ever) got fed up, then packed up and left, and I hear from good authority that the floodgates are still open.

What a bloody waste.

When I enrolled there in 2002 there was so much talk of growth and development — visions of the uni growing into a great place staff, students and alumni could be proud of.  I ignored people’s pitiful looks when I told them I was going to Notre Dame because I was sure it would eventually shrug that reputation.

Sure, it grew alright; in a hurried and horribly-planned manner that may be rather familiar to people trying to rent a house or squish onto a bus in Perth. But has it made us proud?

Not yet.

Please Celia, please fix this mess.


Written by Sunili

4 August 2008 at 5:51 pm

5 Responses

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  1. I think every university has an area where they aren’t so strong. For us (Curtin) it was the continual denial of the complete lack of scientific teaching staff. Within the scientific division there is a balance of research and teaching. Research is definitely a necessary component: you need publications to become more reputable, to gain grants, to attract more prestigous staff, to iterate. But teaching was being practically ignore, or the staff that were being assigned were also researchers, and therefore felt that their teaching load was a distraction. Obviously as a result of this we had a lot of those arbitrary assignments that you mentioned. The main problem was not having a permanent head of department for pretty much the entirety of my degree. That’s right, no Hod to address this kind of crap. And of course, at Curtin, since all the resources go to fueling the heaving corporate behemoth that is the Curtin Business School, we were left dead in the water as far as equipment. Some of our gear still has W.A.I.T. tags on it. I think we changed from that name in what, 1985? Oh yeah, *the year I was born*. Pretty shambly.

    Thankfully we’re getting a new chemistry building, so we can be appeased for now. And the (finally) recruited head of department will hopefully address the teaching issues. As for your education, I’m sure you’ve heard the old adage that it’s not what school you go to, but what you get out of it. The rest is just interpersonal skills and getting to know people. Good luck, and don’t get too frustrated D:


    4 August 2008 at 7:31 pm

  2. “snort with derisory laughter before throwing my application out the window”

    In my (limited) experience, they don’t always throw applications out the window. Sometimes they wrap fries with them, or line cat boxes, or if they’re feeling particularly derisive, they’ll have shredding parties.

    It’s not just windows anymore.

    In all seriousness, though, I feel for you. Not a fun place to be, that’s for sure.

    Naomi Dunford

    5 August 2008 at 10:55 am

  3. right there with you on this 😦 and it sucks even more when you still have a year and a half to go! it’s definitely been on my mind after spending my winter holiday in london with ex-diplomats and world-class academics ‘oh yes, that kirby of yours, i just had lunch with him last week’ (not to mention a certain belgian character). also, imre! best ever.

    it really is shameful. i can only hope that a new vc will help bring a new culture to nd, based on having good staff and actually caring about the students, instead of new buildings. i’m sure they’ve invested plenty in having a smashing catholic theology degree… how about the real ones?


    6 August 2008 at 11:41 am

  4. Yep, we’ve all been to a place like it, somehow. I had my taste at UWA: the general trend is to regard the students as livestock to be managed for the benefit of the institution. That’s why degree courses grow from 3 to 4 to 5 years, padded out with Ochsenscheiss electives. Most undergrad courses could be compressed to one solid year of adult-style work. It’s great for the careers of the staff, but your life is being whittled away while you wait for your ticket.


    6 August 2008 at 12:38 pm

  5. You changed the URL to this blog post from


    And for the record a student passed the link to a staff member, and it made it up the ranks. Sorry, but there’s no self-googling in need of therapy conspiracy against blog critics of NDA.

    Sunili says: Yay for That guy!! I’d give you kudos but you chose anonymity (and have a shameful grasp of grammar for a person posting from a university computer….), and that loses kudos, so you’re back to zero. 😦

    I’m not sure I understand your apology, though. I never said there was a conspiracy, nor asked how the link got Up The Ranks. The depreciative-Googling has happened since I received the waa-waa email last week. I assumed someone’s testing the impact of my devious writings? But if it’s a prospective student… then… well, I hope they make the right choice for them based on all the available information (I would suggest speaking to respected mentors and current students in particular) and not make the mistake of believing things they read without questioning things properly. Ciao ciao! xoxo

    That guy

    24 September 2008 at 9:21 am

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