Never underestimate facebook to keep you up to date with everyone’s personal details (your ex-boyfriend’s imminent parenthood) to the professional (B-Sharp ending at the end of 2010)…

And now… the standing down of John McCallum from the University of New South Wales was announced to me by Facebook.

I first met John McCallum when I was 12. I had been brought to Sydney to be a part of the Scientia program at UNSW- to participate in McCallum’s week long seminar: Australian Comedy: Do we Play it Safe? Can you picture me? A precocious girl from a small country town, traveled by CountryLink to Sydney for the first time. My mother, wary of the city and the muggings it held, had our travel money (2 x $50 notes) concealed within each cup of her bra. As things do when you are 12, that course had a profound effect on me… and I think about how much it inspired me to move to Sydney- and how really it was a turning point for me and just how much I learnt and what a huge impression it made on me. So, to declare my hand- I have a grand affection for the man- who is widely regarded by practitioners as the premier reviewer of Australian newspapers, by playwrights as a friend (and critic), by students as a great inspiration, and generally the thinking theatre woman’s sex symbol.

UNSW senior staff have taken a stance on their conditions and have decided to not release the students results until their conditions are met “At the core of the dispute are demands for a reduction of staff on short-term contracts. Paid parental leave and academic workload are also being discussed.”… according to the SMH: http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/staff-stood-down-in-university-dispute-20100709-1041e.html

McCallum, who not only is the author of Belongings: Australian Playwriting in the 20th Century (Currency Press), a recent speaker at The Sydney Writers Festival, the Sydney Theatre Critic for The Australian Newspaper, and Pascall prize winner for Criticism… is also a lecturer who marks the essays and reports of several hundred students AND supervises his fair share of Honours/Post-Grad Students… is a pretty significant figure in the writing about Australian Theatre… (and they are just the things I know about his career, off the top of my head… I’m sure there is more… (John, if you are reading this… um… I’m embarrassed a bit to be blogging about you… but please forgive any faux pas/ omissions in your bio- consider it a hurried, clumsy over-sight)… Anyway, John McCallum is well liked, well respected, hard working, impressive, accomplished and currently not being paid by the UNSW for his work. He has joined a group of senior staff to protest the working rights and conditions of ALL staff… he’s taking a fall for the less senior, the more vulnerable academics.

As a result 95 people on Facebook have joined the “UNSW. Standing down John McCallum was not a good move” and already comments such as Ken Dray’s:
“how can they stand down a national living treasure?”

and Andrew Johnston’s call to students:
“John is and always has been one of the most approachable, pragmatic and knowledgeable lecturers at UNSW. I have no doubt he would be acting in the best interests of the staff and students as a whole. Those of you who haven’t got your results yet… don’t stress. They will come. Try to support a lecturer that cares more about your education than your marks. ”

In a world of seeming selfishness, of individualistic pursuits- it is rare and utterly inspiring to see someone stand up for what they believe in. To put an idea , not money, first. And it is the measure of a man (or a woman) the actions which display their true convictions. Not just what they say, but what they do.

I hope that all his students stick by him… I hope the UNSW listens and negotiates fairly with their staff… I hope that John knows just how much he is appreciated, how his actions speak loudly to us and inspire us to stand up for what we believe in… and John- don’t go hungry: drop me a line and I’ll buy you a sandwich and a glass of wine.