Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 39, Number 24, September 27, 1976.
[Letter from Mark Carey]
I disagree with Neil Gray's criticisms of the POLS department. To assert that it is peopled by 'aloof and unapproachable structuralists indicates a myopic and partisan viewpoint.
There is a distinction to be made between the practical studies of existing states and political phenomena (whether institutionalised or not) and those that are concerned with the theoretical foundations of politcs itself, ranging from Politics and Morals, to Plato and Machiavelli and Marx. In this latter category I suggest from my experience and the course outline that there would be a lot of latitude for extra-institutionist twaddle and forwarding of one's views outside the (apparently) dogmatic strictures of the institutionalists. If some students are alarmed at the possibility of being duped into some disagreeable ideological disposition by the crafty insinuations of the 'hard line structuralists' then I suggest they transfer from these practical studies, where such rigid categorising supposedly occurs to the theoretical courses where they will be competed to make their own analysis of politics and need not fear being programmed by the nasty structuralists.
However, I feel that such a radical conversion will be unnecessary, the criticism forwarded by Gray and some others are largely unsubstantiated by details of specific courses or instances of dogmatic structuralism, ideologically biased; and educationally unrealistic.
The charge that courses should be more 'relevant' is a radical's euphemism meaning 'Marxist', The dissatisfaction expressed by Gray about the Marx courses illustrates clearly the frustration of faith, he would doubtless like to see all pretensions of impartiality discarded (whether liberal or radical) and establish explicitly Marxist lecturers delivering Marxist analyses to 'sympathetic' students.
POLS students left of liberal seem to orientate towards the practical studies of politics and away from the theoretical, perhaps because the discussion of the philosophical foundations of politics is discomforting in its vagueness and inconclusitivity. I contend that the criticism of 'structuralist' is nothing but a criticism of 'non-Marxist'. Gray's argument against Prof Murphy expresses this viewpoint clearly, he maintains that Marxist thought cannot be understood "...unless his [Marx's] notion of Capital is considered a live rather than a dead issue". What he is saying is that we should all study the practical and contemporary application of Marxist dialectic to current problems.
The analysis of Dialectical Materialism as a philosophical system supplying the foundations to this sort of analysis is best left indefinitely because for one thing it stops us getting on with the business of cleaning up the world and secondly it might have a few leaks in it anyway. Though this impatience for activism may be considered morally laudable by some it is intellectually corrupt, such enthusiasts are unprepared to research the theoretical basis of their beliefs, and press for more practical and topical analyses and less criticism of the intellectual foundations on which they depend.
'Dejected Sucker'(Vol 39 No. 21) claimed the workload was too high and the assessment to frequent. I feel that the standards at Victoria are low enough that any cretin who does more than ten hours work (set hours incl) a week should be able to get a pass even if he sleeps through the exam. If you want anything better than that that you should have to work for it, too much of this much-aired gripe about course assessment and workload is simply a complaint that the courses aren't easy enough. There is no educational philosophy behind it but sloth. Assessment of some sort or another is both academically and bureaucratically necessary, students who are ill-equipped to master stage one courses could otherwise enrol in courses that they were insufficiently gifted to begin to comprehend, causing a burden to the lecturers, the other students who could be both able and interested, and the administration of the University.
If you disapprove of assessment then all you have to do is get a C pass to go on to the next course, that minimum requirement is pretty low. If you are at Univeristy to get an education and not a degree then the low grade your un-cooperation with assessment will provide you with should not bother you. If you claim you want a "good degree' for use in the commercial market then you will damn well have to accept competitive study and rigourous assessment. It seems that the only kind of assessment some students are prpeared to accept is one that makes no discrimination in the quality of the work produced, which would result in the lowering of the alreadyow standards of the University and a disadvantage for all students in consequent deterioration of teaching quality.
Some form of meritocracy exists in all human groups. Even in the Utopia-elect of China a vigourous worker or exemplary Party member is rewarded for his/her efforts, and I can see no justice at all in an academic system again that fails to favour the person who is prepared to work and excercise their talents by allowing them to progress to higher-level studies before those who have now shown equal competence. To argue that some have greater advantage than others because they are brighter or from cultural backgrounds that emphasise scholastic success, and so should be handicapped in some way, (or those that do not possess these attributes be given some compensation) is to stumble into a mire of determinism that recognises no such thing as volition, and thus rejects merit and blame, something that even China and other countries allegedly adhering to a deterministic concept of history and human behaviour do not do.
If we accept that sometimes we act strongly, and overcome obstacles, and other times we give up in despondence or out of genuine disinterest, then we recognise that sometimes we choose a meritorious course of action and other times we choose a blameful course. The point is that we are responsible for our actions, if we do well, we expect and receive credit and if we do poorly we expect to be held accountable for it, or at least not to receive credit. To criticise this as a capitalist plot is to show abysmal ignorance of the reward and punishment system that operates within all human groups. (A problem for Sinophiliacs - How can Chairman Mao be revered when he is the inevitable product of influences over which he had no control?).
Changes in the system of rewards themselves may be arguable, but that merit be recognised and rewarded is beyond dispute and dialectic.
One of the repercussions of the internal assessment system is that now a student can pass a course knowing only about 40% of the content. I have spoken to many students who claim that though they passed with a good mark in thier exams they know little of the material involved because there was no need to be familiar with very much of it. Assuming that students will team for themselves is crap, if that was the case they needn't attend University, unless that is, the motives for attendance are socio-cultural and not educational. I am here to get a degree, if I wanted to get an 'education' I would stay at home and read and forget all about deadlines and terms, exams, seminars and the whole of assessment. As for the popular 'intermingling of ideas' defence I would suggest that it is rather an intermingling of like-minded individuals or groups that is found satisfying, one feels culturally, not intellectually, alone when away from the University. The exchange that is rewarding is the sympathetic identification of people with compatible prejudices.
The POLS department has its proportion of eccentrics, some charming, most not, but I do not consider them to be at all aloof or unapproachable, nor do I consider that the department is dominated by 'hardline structuralists'. The practical courses obviously stress the 'componential' analysis that is required in such studies, but they do not prejudice the student into thinkig that only governmental and socially established institutions have any political reality. Of the courses I have taken and discussed with others politics has been considered as explicitly a part of non-institutional influences.
In such courses as the United States Government (102) the intention to study the existing political structure is stated quite clearly, and no pretence is made of making a Marxist analysis of the relation between the Senate and the Executive, nor should there be. Other courses, such as all of Dr Vasil's have been and most probably will be, are tedious, but these historical analyses are not structuralist, they examine the totality of political influences and not just the formal structure. I suggest Gray and others dissatisfied with structuralism enrol in Pols 301, Political Community, next year where you will experience such a dearth of structural or institutionalism that it will come to seem like a haven of commonsense.