The Journal of the Australian Association of Writing Programs
The Passing of the J Category
It was a nice irony that on the very day the first issue of TEXT appeared (2 April 1997) the Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee announced the withdrawal of the 'J' category from the research quantum weighting of publications list. This means new creative works in visual arts, theatre, music and writing areas - produced by university staff appointed to teach in those areas - at present do not qualify for consideration as research and therefore do not attract research quantum funding points.
Not only is access to quantum funding cut off, the move by the AVCC can be interpreted as a general downgrading of the profile of the practical arts in universities. According to DEETYA figures (1996) performing and visual arts departments presently constitute 5.4% of the national total of university staff and 5.0% of the national total of tertiary students. (These figures don't include creative writing department figures.) The suggestion in the AVCC downgrading is that creative and practical arts departments could be on the way to having their status returned to that of the old CAEs - as a teaching-only segment of the tertiary education system. The consequence of this is, of course, a singling out for reduced levels of operating grant funding (i.e. larger classes, fewer resources, greater teaching loads and less time for creative work, etc).
For those practitioners teaching in creative writing programs the implications of the removal of the 'J' category are severe.
No matter how original, innovative, influential, ground-breaking, award-winning or earth-shattering your new literary work might be - it won't be counted as research.
No matter how many of your colleagues in English and Humanities Departments write articles and books and give conference papers based on your work (and thereby gain research points for themselves) - your primary work won't be counted as research.
No matter how much better a teacher of creative writing you become through the nexus between your practical research and your teaching - that praxis won't be counted as research.
No matter how many research higher degree scholars or undergraduate enrolments you attract to your university through your reputation as a practitioner, no matter how many of your novels or poems are set readings on university undergraduate courses, no matter how many of your plays are performed or studied at tertiary level, no matter how many of your filmscripts are central to media or film courses - your literary output won't be counted as research.
No matter how many literary grants you've had, commissions you've won, books you've sold, problems and issues you've investigated, national or international debates you've influenced, government or private awards you've received - your input and output, your intellectual endeavour, won't be counted as research.
This is the present situation. If the Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Adelaide publishes a novel or a book of poems, it won't be considered that he is contributing in a research-valued way towards the state of writing or living in Australia, he'll just be indulging his hobby. If the Vice-Chancellor of Southern Cross University composes a new symphony, he won't be making a research-valued contribution to Australian music or culture, he'll just be entertaining himself. If the Director of the Queensland College of Art mounts a new exhibition in New York or London, he won't be making a research-valued contribution to the visual arts in Australia or overseas, he'll just be filling in spare time.
But academics from music, theatre and visual arts are doing something about the situation. At a meeting in Canberra earlier this year, the national bodies representing these areas agreed to draft a paper which will be presented to the AVCC as soon as possible. The attitude seems to have been that the removal of the 'J' category had occurred in order for the creative and practical areas to justify their re-inclusion by means of some hard evidence concerning the correlation between creative product and research.
Because of the newness of creative writing departments in universities, and the infancy of the Australian Association of Writing Programs, it seems that creative writing has missed out on being a part of this concerted approach to the AVCC.
There are interesting features to the position of creative writing in the 'J' category review debate - and some of these could save us from the fate visual arts, theatre and music appear headed for. Areas and processes already valorised as 'traditional research' are covered by creative writing. Because of its proximity to English/literary studies and communications; because its domain of enquiry overlaps with sociology, psychology, ethics and cultural studies; because it is textual; because it uses the same language and media typically used by the 'recognised' research areas - creative writing stands a good chance of attracting some of the research kudos those areas already lay claim to.
And there may be a further advantage (although it could equally prove to be a complication) in the fact that creative writing is developing further the notion of ficto-criticism - a means by which the borders between traditional literary research and creative product are becoming increasingly blurred.
It was good to see Frank Moorhouse receive an honorary doctorate from Griffith University at the Gold Coast campus graduation ceremony this year. There can be no doubt that Moorhouse's investigative and shaping contribution to Australian cultural understanding, and to literature, over more than a quarter-century is equivalent in its insight and influence to the contributions of several 'major' researchers.
There is a sense among 'ordinary' people that creative products are only concerned to entertain. The scientists' bloc which drives the AVCC's research quantum deliberations seems to be made up of 'ordinary' people. We, as creative writers who are also academics, need to change this 'ordinary' attitude. In the eighteenth century it was recognised that writing constituted more than just the sugar-coating on the pill. Ironically, a scientist today could research the sugar-coating on a medical pill and get quantum points for it.
If the AVCC is demanding some notion of 'research tradition' to underpin its consideration of the 'apparently upstart discipline' Creative Writing, let them not forget that before Sociology and Psychology existed, before Ethical and Cultural Studies named themselves, there was simply serious creative writing which dealt with - as it ever does - the social, psychological, intellectual and ethical problems of the world.
The Australian Association of Writing Programs must become involved in responding to the AVCC's challenge. We need to gather and collate information on creative writing courses around Australia to produce a database which will generate numbers and understandings of undergraduate and postgraduate study activity, staff involvements, and research/creative outputs. Equally, there is an urgent need for us to forge liaisons with the other creative and practical academic groups driving the response to the AVCC action.
Vol 1 No 2 OCTOBER 1997
Editors: Nigel Krauth & Tess Brady