Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 28, No. 7. 1965.
President of the Asian Studies Society.
Other Articles P.12
The proposals for reorganising the teaching of Asian Studies at Victoria University appear impressive and encouraging. The stated views behind these proposals have much in common with the objects of our society: to promote the academic study of Asian affairs amongst students.
However, I cannot help feeling apprehensive about the proposed changes. They are perhaps a step in the wrong direction—a well-intentioned step, if misguided.
While the present arrangement for pursuing the study of Asia may have its weaknesses, there is little that money can't cure.
A considerably increased grant would permit the recruitment of more highly-qualified lecturers and the expansion of library facilities. A larger, more financially stable department would give its members the "moral and intellectual support" held to be so important by the Hayter committee. It would also permit a higher degree of specialisation amongst lecturers, and give them greater opportunity for the original research so important in a discipline where the need for knowledge is so great. As the academic standard rises, and opportunities for post-graduate study becomes available, so the student role will rise accordingly.
Prof. Brookes cites the lack of student support as a major factor in limiting the size of the Asian Studies Department. This would be even more pronounced if the proposed Centre were established. If, as Prof. Brookes says, students "prefer units which train them in a discipline," it is unlikely that they will break out of this discipline at a post-graduate level. But the lack of opportunity for postgraduate study has discouraged students from taking Asian Studies as a major subject, and encouraged them to enrol in subjects which do offer post-graduate study.
Small size of a department is not really such a disadvantage given a sound basic organisation, and competent lecturers. Although a small teaching staff places a heavier work-load on each lecturer, small classes enable much more student participation in seminars, individual research projects, etc.
Incorporation of the study of Asia into the other disciplines does not give any intensive grounding in Asian Studies. In the limited time available these disciplines must cover the major areas of the world, e.g. Europe, North America, Asia, etc. As it is, most departments find now that they have too much to cover in too little time One cannot possibly hope to replace the present Asian Studies course without causing a serious decline in the academic standard of Asian Studies.
It is hard to believe that the new funds which will be allotted to the Centre could not be more profitably spent (in terms of the number of students who would benefit) in expanding the teaching staff of the existing department. If this were done lecturers would not have to "teach outside their own disciplines," and the present course could be expanded and improved within the Department. There is no reason why the idea of an Asian Studies Centre, involving interdisciplinary integration and co-operation, cannot be added to the existing structure. Graduates in Asian Studies would then offer a hard core of students in the higher levels.
If the Centre is to pay "only part of the salary" of staff members attached to it, it is obvious that the Director's control over the staff members will be limited. Their primary obligation will be to the social science departments that pay the bulk of their salary; and these departments may or may not be genuinely interested in the serious study of Asia.
It is also imperative that a large sum of money be invested in purchasing more books and periodicals for the Asian Studies library. Without adequate research facilities the difficulty of attracting and holding a good academic staff will continue.
There must be something to build a Centre around, e.g. a good library. You can hardly have an effective Asian Studies Centre if you have a Director in one place and lecturers scattered all over the rest of the university.
Prof. Brookes recognises that "a transfer of responsibility for undergraduate teaching about Asia, entailing the eventual abolition of the Asian Studies Department, would not by itself guarantee a more fruitful development." It is difficult to see how the establishment of a Centre of Asian Studies would "ensure" such a development.
The proposals call for the Director to be "generally responsible for fostering Asian Studies, both by encouraging and co-ordinating departmental developments, and by initiating and supervising such interdisciplinary courses as might be appropriate."
A Director who does not occupy a Chair of Asian Studies, but is supervised by a 10-man committee, is automatically denied the status necessary to carry out such demanding responsibilities.
The absence of sufficient funds to recruit qualified lecturers and provide adequate research facilities will also weaken the Director's hand.—J. D. Harlow.