Updating the AU academic ban against Snelling’s biographer

Posted by Davina Jackson 10 February 2016
Cover of Jackson's 2007 RMIT PhD thesis: banned in Victoria but archived at the State Library of New South Wales.

Cover of Jackson's 2007 RMIT PhD thesis: officially banned in Victoria but archived at the State Library of New South Wales.

Australian universities and government agencies have confirmed nationwide agreements by academic leaders to fail Davina Jackson's RMIT PhD thesis on Douglas Snelling – and to prevent her from 'gaining credibility' in academia.

Denouements in the saga of antipodean scholars' antipathy to Jackson and Snelling include:

Victorian Ombudsman supports its universities' rejections

The Victorian Ombudsman's office has decided again (after a third tranche of evidence) that RMIT leaders were entitled to reject Jackson's Snelling thesis and declare that her writing is unworthy of academia. The Ombudsman's investigator, Natasha Goss, said she could not detect any 'bias' or 'process errors' in RMIT's seven years of decisions to alternatively support and fail Jackson's thesis on Snelling – a trail that culminated with its Chancellery's 2010 statement that Jackson is not academically competent.

The Ombudsman's office said it supported – and did not have powers to change – general opposition by leaders of RMIT and the University of Melbourne to all of Jackson's 2000s research projects.

The Ombudsman's responses to Jackson's three submissions of written evidence of collusive research sabotage and academic misconduct – based on emails she obtained through freedom of information inquiries to five Australian universities – are here: December 2015, April 2015, October 2013. Its 'independent' (state-funded) decisions are directly supported by the Victorian Government and gain national credence via the Commonwealth Government's Australian Research Integrity Committee (at the Australian Research Council).

UTS confirms but now 'repudiates' its opposition

The University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) also has reveiwed internal emails clarifying that its Dean of Design Architecture and Building (DAB), Desley Luscombe, organised key aspects of the campaign against Jackson (spreading claims that Jackson is 'flakey', banning her faculty's professors from representing the university to work with her, and persuading architecture Deans and professors at other universities also to exclude her, including Jackson's thesis supervisors at RMIT, Professors Harriet Edquist and Richard Blythe).

UTS Provost Peter Booth decided that no staff conduct or academic sabotage codes had been broken – and/or that UTS was unable to discipline Luscombe's 'external' activities as president of the Australian Deans of Built Environment and Design (ADBED) and former president of the Scoiety of Architectural Historians of Australia and New Zealand (SAHANZ). Booth's formal decision (November 2015) is here. Notes by his staff investigator, Margaret Connolly, are here.

UTS' current Vice-Chancellor, Attila Brungs, later claimed that he will 'repudiate' Luscombe's ban. He was smoothing a complaint from Jackson's husband, former NSW Government Architect Chris Johnson, about his 'family disappointment' with 'slack' aspects of the UTS review of Luscombe's conduct. (Johnson, who had avoided confronting any architects or academics opposing his wife's work, is the eldest son of UTS' founding Chancellor, Professor Peter Johnson (d. 1983), after whom is named the building occupied by the Faculty of Design Architecture and Building.) Chris Johnson's complaint letter is here. Attila Brungs' response letter is here.

Professor Booth took 11 months to answer Jackson's complaints about Luscombe's campaign. His reviewer surveyed all documents earlier gathered by UTS' freedom of information office (including emails either redacted or not supplied to Jackson). Two weeks after Jackson's complaints were submitted in late 2014, Luscombe began telling colleagues that she was retiring in 2015, but in February 2016 she was still listed as Dean on the UTS DAB website.

British government, universities and publishers continue to support Jackson and Snelling

British revisions to Australasia's rejections of Jackson and Snelling recently gained momentum. The UK Government has renewed Jackson's Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa (approved by the British Academy at postdoctoral level in 2013) until 2019. The computing department at Goldsmiths/University of London again is renewing Jackson's visiting research fellowship to study digital cities themes. Academic publisher Routledge is publishing an update of Jackson's PhD thesis – partnering with the State Library of New South Wales and timed to support Snelling's 2016 birth centenary. (Routledge also published Jackson's essay on Australia-Pacific architectural history in its 2015 The Modernist World anthology, edited by Stephen Ross and Allana C. Lindgren, and is publishing another Jackson essay in the forthcoming Visioning Technologies: The Architectures of Sight anthology, edited by Graham Cairns.)

Jackson also has been appointed as a moderator of the Design and Art Australia Online (DAAO) database, a multi-university project led by  the University of NSW Faculty of Art and Design. Through DAAO, Jackson now has published  biographical details on Snelling and several dozen of his postwar Sydney contemporaries. She compiled these summaries during her thesis research in 2004–07 but University of Melbourne architectural historians opposed Jackson's then-suggested online database of Australian architects' biographies – because it might overshadow its contracted printing of the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Australian Architecture, edited by Philip Goad and Julie Willis (Cambridge University Press, 2012, which includes a Jackson-written item about Snelling).

Sydney's AAA modern history group now considers promoting Snelling

The Australian Architecture Association (AAA – a group promoting Sydney modernist architects, set up in the early 2000s by Harry Seidler and Glenn Murcutt and their supporters) now has included Snelling on a new list of 'less recognised' architects who might be included in future AAA publications.