ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 2007 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.

Volume 53, No 3 - Fall 2007
Editor of this issue: M.G Slavėnas

Book Review

Algimantas P. Taškūnas, Lithuanian Studies in Australia: the Case for Low-Demand Language and Cultural Courses in Higher Education. Hobart, Tasmania: Tasmania University Union Lithuanian Studies Society, 2005, ISBN 1 86295 273 6, softcover, 200 pages, bibliography, name and subject indices.

In Lithuanian Studies in Australia, Algimantas P. Taškūnas has brought to his analysis the administrative experience he has acquired working at the University of Western Australia and the University of Tasmania, as well as his involvement with the Lithuanian-Australian community. This book, which is based on his Ph.D. thesis in the Faculty of Education at the University of Tasmania, offers a precise and detailed account of the efforts made to introduce Lithuanian studies into Australian universities over the past forty years. It begins with contextual material on Lithuanian settlement in Australia and the development of tertiary education there during the twentieth century. The largest part of the book, however, considers five different attempts to bring some form of Lithuanian studies into Australian university programs, using systems theory to explain their success or failure. The book also provides basic information on Lithuania for non-Lithuanian readers, including maps and photographs related to Lithuanian culture and Lithuanian-Australian activity. 

Although some Lithuanians are known to have come to Australia in the nineteenth century, significant numbers settled in this country only after World War II. These were men, women and children from Displaced Persons (DP) camps in Germany and Austria, political refugees who refused to return to a homeland under Soviet occupation. It is estimated that about 10,000 DPs came in all. However, a large number of these, perhaps as many as 2,000, later moved elsewhere, mostly to the United States. It seems that Australia’s system for accepting DPs was less attractive than those of many other Western countries. Families were often separated during the obligatory two-year labor contract period; afterwards, although the DPs were free to take up whatever jobs they could find, they discovered that it was very hard to get their Lithuanian professional qualifications recognized. 

In the first postwar years, a strongly assimilationist spirit predominated in Australia, creating an environment that in some respects was less favorable to the maintenance of ethnic minority cultures than in other English-language countries. The Australian Roman Catholic hierarchy, for example, did not allow these immigrants to create ethnic parishes, that were the cornerstones of Lithuanian diaspora life in Canada and the United States. Nevertheless, Lithuanian communities with numerous organizations that fostered ethnic identity did form in larger urban centers like Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and others. As in other parts of the Lithuanian diaspora worldwide, a major concern was the transmission of a Lithuanian identity (including language skills) to the second generation, those who came as small children to Australia or were born in this country. Lithuanian weekend schools were established and, in 1975, after major efforts by the DPs, the Lithuanian language was recognized as a matriculation subject, like French or German, in the states of Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia.

However, the next goal, getting some form of Lithuanian studies into the university system, has proved extremely difficult to achieve. In general, as Taškūnas indicates, Australian educational policy on the promotion of foreign-language study has not been liberal. Lithuanian DPs arrived at a time when Australian universities were removing foreign-language requirements for university entrance, reducing the popularity of foreign languages for secondary school pupils. A more positive atmosphere was created only from the mid-1970s onwards with the rise of multiculturalism: a number of reports at state and federal levels recommended the encouragement of immigrant languages within the official educational system. 

Still, as this study emphasizes, community desire and political encouragement were not sufficient to bring a new subject or program of studies into a university curriculum. The third and fourth chapters of Lithuanian Studies in Australia analyze the history of higher education in Australia and the general process of curriculum construction. Using a modified version of systems theory as developed by M. Hill, B. Chetkow-Yanoov and others, Taškūnas examines the Australian university as a system with distinct boundaries that may be favorable or hostile to attempts to introduce Lithuanian studies. 

In the period in which such attempts were made, the 1960s to the 1990s, Australian universities experienced major changes. First, extremely rapid growth after the Second World War brought the number of universities from six to 38 publicly funded institutions. By 1993, these had 151 campuses. In addition, one private university and eight separate colleges had appeared. With rising prosperity, university education was even free from 1974 to 1986. Since that time, however, tuition fees have been reinstated and a more commercial approach to tertiary education has come into force. In general, Australian universities are autonomous institutions insofar as curriculum planning goes, though Taškūnas points out that they are dependent on state funding and, increasingly, influenced by market pressures. 

In his case studies of five attempts to introduce Lithuanian studies into these universities, Taškūnas emphasizes the importance of working within the university’s systemic structure. He reviews these case studies in chronological order, but they can also be divided into successes and failures. 

Two unsuccessful campaigns to have Lithuanian studies drawn into university programs were mounted by members of the Melbourne Lithuanian community, the first in the mid- 1960s and the second in the early 1980s. The first of these can be seen as a natural development from community-run programs in Lithuanian culture for children and adults set up by the immigrants from the late 1940s onwards. In the summer of 1966 meetings were held by a number of Melbourne Lithuanians to consider how courses or a whole program on Lithuanian language and culture could be introduced into one of the new universities that was appearing at this time, La Trobe university. 

In some sense, the timing seemed right for such an initiative. La Trobe University, which opened in 1967, was expected to have a newer and more innovative program of studies than older educational institutions. In addition, by the mid-1960s, the Lithuanian community included many young people about to go to university. Nevertheless, as a university representative interviewed by Taškūnas recalls, this request to establish Lithuanian studies was rejected as “totally unrealistic in view of the great difficulty many Australian language departments in universities were having at the time to maintain their very existence” (p. 63).

A second attempt by Melbourne Lithuanians in the early 1980s seemed more likely to succeed. A committee was formed, known from 1981 as the Lithuanian Studies Committee; this tried to take advantage of a new federal multiculturalism program which specifically allocated funds for university courses in ethnic-minority languages. Encouraged by the knowledge that Lithuanian-Americans were successfully establishing a chair of Lithuanian studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Australian Lithuanians felt that they should be able to get something similar. However, though a number of Australian ethnic minorities did get courses and programs established in universities under the new federal funding, Lithuanians were not among these. 

The Committee did not give up: it sent renewed applications to Monash University, which it had chosen as the most likely candidate, and protests to state and federal government representatives. It even organized a petition to both Houses of the federal Parliament. Nevertheless, none of these efforts led to any positive results. 

Taškūnas’s analysis of both cases clearly indicates the reasons for their failures: the Lithuanian initiators were not familiar enough with university structures and the criteria that lead to the establishment of new courses and programs. In the application to La Trobe University in 1966, a basic mistake was made in asking for a Chair of Lithuanian, a term that in Australia refers to a position with a professor and a full-time secretary. In fact, for the Lithuanian courses that were desired, a lecturer’s appointment would have sufficed. In addition, requests for such courses have more impact if they come from students planning to attend the university and are supported by a market survey indicating an ongoing need for such courses, none of which was done by the Lithuanian applicants. Nor did the Lithuanian community offer any funding to support such courses. 

The requests made fifteen years later by the Lithuanian Studies Committee were more sophisticated, but, as Taškūnas demonstrates, also paid insufficient attention to the university’s point of view. In system theory terms, their “demand inputs” were not weighty enough to influence the administration of Monash University. While the Committee emphasized such arguments as the antiquity of the Lithuanian language and the need for teachers for weekend Lithuanian schools, university officials were more concerned with guaranteed minimum enrollment over the long term and possible funding that would come from the immigrant community itself. In comparison, American- Lithuanians provided a grant of about 600,000 American dollars and the security for enrollment from a much larger base of young Lithuanian-Americans in the Chicago area. 

In general, as Taškūnas’s analysis of these two case studies and those of three more successful endeavors shows, a key factor for success was having the right kind of representation inside the university structure. The systemic term for this is a ”withinput.” The role of such figures is made particularly clear in the description of how Lithuanian was drawn into linguistic programs at Monash University from 1974 to 1992 and at the Australian National University from 1976 to 1982. 

Thus the key player for Monash University, who in systems theory is known as a “change agent,” was a Czech linguist, Dr. G. Jiri Marvan, who was appointed professor of Russian there in 1974. Professor Marvan, whose special field was Slavic and Baltic linguistics, had already written a study of Lithuanian declensions. He appealed to the Lithuanian Community of Melbourne for funding to help publish his work. This request was accepted by the newly-established Australian Lithuanian Foundation, which raised money so that Modern Lithuanian Declensions could be published by the University of Illinois Press. Though the Lithuanian Foundation did not attach any conditions to its funding, Professor Marvan did include a Lithuanian unit within his Balto-Slavic Linguistics course, which he taught until 1992, when he left the university. 

Similarly, because of its significance for historical linguistics, Lithuanian was also studied in a course in Indo-European linguistics at the Australian National University. Here again the initiative came from a change agent within the university system, Dr Harold Koch, a member of the linguistics department, who added the Lithuanian unit after students complained that they needed practical examples to follow his theoretical discussion. Lithuanian was included in this way from 1976 to 1982; after that it was replaced by archaic Hittite. 

In both cases, Lithuanian was very easily incorporated into programs of study because university teachers made the decision to draw it into courses whose contents they controlled. From the point of view of the Australian-Lithuanian community, such courses, which were for specialists in linguistics, did not really meet their requirements. Their goal was the creation of programs of Lithuanian at the tertiary level that would help second-generation Lithuanian-Australians deepen their knowledge of Lithuanian culture. On the other hand, as Taškūnas argues at several points in his text, it is not true that the market for Lithuanian studies should be seen as limited to people of Lithuanian origin. Indeed, almost all the students who took these courses were not Lithuanianin origin; they were specialists in linguistics from a variety of other ethnic backgrounds. 

Still, both of these cases indicate the existence of a major problem for those interested in seeing Lithuanian culture in university programs. Although it was very easy for teachers who took a professional interest in Lithuanian to include it within their courses, this meant that the Lithuanian unit could disappear with equal ease. In fact, in one case it was not continued in the course when the teacher left the university, while in the other case, the teacher himself decided to replace it for professional reasons. 

In the fifth and last of the studies featured in this analysis, Taškūnas shows that a very different approach to the problem, one that pays close attention to the way a university functions, can be fruitful. In this case, Lithuanian studies at the University of Tasmania from the 1990s to the present have taken a different form than either the traditional degree program sought by Lithuanian activists or the inclusion of units within existing undergraduate courses. Here, through the initiative of Algimantas Taškūnas himself, who was working at the university as an administrator, and a student organization, the Tasmania University Union Lithuanian Studies Society, students writing theses could do these on subjects that were entirely or partially Lithuanian. The Lithuanian Studies Society, which draws on a large virtual community of those interested in Lithuanian issues, can offer help with research and, in some cases, funding for expenses. A very wide variety of topics with Lithuanian content have been taken up, including ones in the fields of education, environmental studies and history. Some of the students have been Lithuanian in origin, while others were not. 

Throughout Lithuanian Studies in Australia, Taškūnas reflects on the issues that arise when attempts are made to have some form of Lithuanian studies included at the university level. In his concluding chapter he identifies nine factors which are crucial for the success or failure of such attempts: student demand, national policies on immigrant languages, state funding policies, ethnic lobbying, the work of change agents, the organization of universities, the timing of the attempt, academic justifications for the proposed courses, and structural features of the proposed courses. 

Algimantas Taškūnas draws generalizations from the wealth of detail that he presents in his study, which make Lithuanian Studies in Australia useful beyond the fields of ethnic history and the history of education. As migration from one country to another increases, and ethnic minorities continue to be anxious to see their cultural concerns addressed in academic programs, Taškūnas’s analysis and suggested strategies will be of interest to those trying to influence the way universities form their programs. 

Milda Danytė