Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 25. 3rd October 1973
Gordon Campbell Replies
Gordon Campbell Replies
In replying to Professor McKenzie I don't want to appear as if Pm trying to undercut his points. However this is the last Salient of the year and I'd like to take up the chance for a dialogue that has been sought ever since July.
I agree that our petition did not directly represent the 1300 or 1400 currently enrolled. As I said at the meeting due to pressure of work and the time consumed by other fruitless meetings the petition was poorly circulated, not getting to even a majority of classes and not to all students at any one class. The point is, no one has ever asked that 1400 their opinion, and since this is the last Salient I can't ask the Professor to produce the "extensive evidence" he has been secretly compiling about student opinion. I say "secret" because the only other attempt to canvass English classes was done last year by Lisa Sacksen. Despite a much larger reponse than ours, her petition on presentation has never been seen or heard of again. I did hear that the Professor 'consulted' his Shakespeare class; Just after my first article appeared. He apparently demanded with obvious hostility in his voice to know who wanted to discuss changes and who wanted to do Shakespeare. Since no rash soul dared confront his scholarly wrath I'm sure he feels that the class is 1000% behind him.
Perhaps naively we told you. Professor about our strategy. A department professor has a position that carries so much authority with the majority of students, that open attacks by other students will only alienate those whom we hope to convince. We reasoned though that despite our respective faults we shared with the Professor a love for English literature; so we centred our discussion on the canon of English — what belongs in it, and how it may best be taught. So we worked on presenting, in meetings and in my articles a coherent, practical view on these matters (and the formulation on the petition was only part of this process).
If our arguments were sound It would be up to the department who controll all the available power, to incorporate our ideas in what it offers to students. If unsound, we expected some reply.
Instead we have been evaded, distorted, or ignored and have ended up being portrayed as the hysterical, violent minority that our whole effort aimed at avoiding. Admittedly towards the end the rhetoric on both sides has got pretty heavy. But instead of invoking Ycat's salute to the silent majority perhaps Professor McKenzie could see how much his own refusal to talk directly has contributed to the tone that this encounter has developed.
Ok. To more concrete things. The student group raised four criticisms. 1) The 54 credit load is excessive; 2) Compulsory language credits cannot be justified. 3) The general education and employment prospects of most students is more important than combatting, for the few MA graduates affected, a quite hypothetical threat to the international standing of the degree within the academic community. 4) Selective intensive analysis is equally important as a cursory overview.
You will look in vain through Professor McKenzie's letter for substantial answers to those points. The innovations that he mentions, however welcome do not affect any of these criticisms because their benefits will be available almost completely to non majoring students. He repeats the priority of the international standing of the degree — to us, the "disservice" he speaks of, in the unlikely event that the degree would slip below what academia expects of its recruits is lets important than the disservice being done to the general education and employment of most students. It is precisely the "local community" that he disparages (i.e. us and our environment) that is important.
He again begs the question that his canon and his degree structure provide the best approach. He simply says "we think...certain works are important......a certain range is necessary......I don't see how one can settle for less than 42 credits...we ensure...a certain competence....knowledge...and quality of response." No discussion. Papa Don knows best.
|a)||He attributes to me a distinction between the objective canon and self interest that was actually Dr Jamieson's and which was thoroughly criticised by me in my last article. His picture of our intentions is therefore quite misleading.|
|b)||The credits have not "been pared to 42" but to 54. The error lies in the department's coy refusal to recognise that they own their compulsory language credits.|
|c)||As he has been told twice, by me personally, our 36 credit course would have six, not 12 credits, leaving 30, not 24 credits.|
|d)||He says the language requirement is "a question still to be resolved." I have been informed of the contents of a letter written by Professor McKenzie to the French Department dated 13/9/73. In this, he acknowledges that "it has become extremely difficult to sustain our position." He acknowledges the validity of many of the criticisms raised against the requirement and adds a further one, namely that the shift from a written to an oral emphasis in language studies "legitimately weakens" the Department's claim that the requirement aids the study of literature. He states [unclear: that] however that "the staff are almost unanimous" for retention, but adds the interesting qualification that "unanimity breaks down over questions of the specific relevance." So what is it left to be considered Professor? How your department's personal desires are to be rationalised for public consumption?|
|e)||Counting courses does not alter the fact that majoring students will not be able to partake of this array. From the tables a majoring student will have to take English credits in his first year, 22 credits (!) in his second and the rest of the 54 probably in his third. Choice appears only at Stage III and that only between forms of the same period. So, as I said in my first article, the benefits of the innovations being carried out will be available to majors only if they want to add more English credits to an already top heavy degree. Counting courses also isn't so impressive If one remembers the staffing advantages that English has gay for example over Music.|
|f)||While these are minor matters I did not "threaten disruption", I said that this is often the unpleasant consequence when rational discussion breaks down, John Allum's statement was that if in the years ahead Professor McKenzie shows the same hostility to student opinion he will be put up against a wall by the more militant students emerging from our high schools. The "one great infelicity" I stand accused of is that I did not report Professor McKenzie's inability to read the future. Since I did not realise he entertained pretensions to clairvoyance I thought it a truism and it lies also in the context of the question being asked, a non sequitur. The saddest thing about this was that it was the one time that the Professor dropped his paternal role and spoke with some passion and sincerity. I do not know how to convince him that we do not threaten his concern for the future (and the past) of English.|
I find it hard to produce "comparable visions" when I realise that my visions are to be administrated within a university being destroyed by (i) the current staff/student ratios; (ii) inadequate funding; (iii) the degrading (to persons and ideals) scramble for those funds between Departments.
Professor McKenzie will not attract "living poets and painters" to this situation — they are currently dropping out of his undergraduate courses. Any worthwhile vision must recreate the conditions for a genuine two way learning experience i.e. smaller but connected groups that enable the full, equal sharing of ourselves and our special talents. Not only would this free "students" from dependency on "teachers" it would free talented, sincere people like Professor McKenzie from administrative pressures that are warping and twisting him, and liberate him from his dependency for his sense of values on the opinions of the international academic community.
P.S. Seeking further expert opinion I passed on to Professor Munz the suggestion of Professor McKenzie that poetry was more serious and philosophical than history. Unfortunately he at once fell into an apopleptic rage and I have been unable to get his teeth unclenched by publication time.