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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 30, No. 6. 1967.

Journalist writes on students

Journalist writes on students

New Zealand university students are regarded by the community with an unholy mixture of pride and contempt, confidence and mistrust, envy and scorn.

Wild generalisations are made about them on the basis of ignorance, faulty assumptions and the pathetic but natural desire to have people labelled with a set of comfortable adjectives. So farmers drive round in Jaguars, watersiders are professional loafers, civil servants are lazy and redundant, and University Students are irreverent, scruffy radicals with bad manners and long hair.

Any rational discussion of students, and their place in the community. is made extraordinarily difficult because of the accretion of prejudice, misinformation and snobbery about the word student. Students, as a sub-species, are damned for their pranks, criticised by leader-writers and Pro Bono Publico for being too big for their boots, and are advised to bend their heads to their books and leave adult affairs to adults.

But students are also told they are the leaders of tomorrow, that they must "think"; they must concern themselves with the moral issues of the times; must be politically and socially active.

Theoretically they are the intellectual elite of the youthful community, but they tend to be treated like dangerous children. When some of them do actively concern themselves with such moral issues as Vietnam they are told they have no right to protest because they are only students. When some of them do try to take part in making political policies they are regarded with deep-rooted suspicion.

And almost all the discussion about students, among the general public, ignores most of the obvious facte.

New Zealand has about 24,000 university students and they are neatly-dressed, law-abiding, conscientious, anxious to do well, determined to qualify themselves for the good life here and now. They are. in the main, uninterested in student politics and in national politics, and they support both consciously and unconsciously the local established order.

A relatively small group doesn't fit this general picture. These students include the obvious nonconformists (beards, sandals, duffle coats) and the serious scholars.

Yet it is this obvious minority which provides most of the features of the student stereotype. If university students are mentioned in a general discussion among citizens in Wellington someone is bound to snarl, wrinkle a nose in disgust and snort something about beatniks.

University students in New Zealand have almost always suffered from this peculiar blindness on the part of the generalising community. They come from the same homes, the same schools and the same environment as the bulk of our middle-class community. Then they arc branded with adjectives they haven't earned—radicals and nonconformists.

Recently about 30 students appeared in the Wellington Magistrates' Court following a capping day stunt on the Taj Mahal. One elderly woman in the back of the court enjoyed herself commenting on their clothes and their hair. Why." she kept saying, "they're a disgrace. They're dirty."

They were not dirty, and whether they were a disgrace is a matter of opinion (the magistrate discharged them without conviction). But they were dressed tidily, their hair was clean (as far as any observer 10 feet away could judge), they did not smell noticeably. They probably had more beards than a similar number of non-students in the same age group, and one boy had long straight hair down to his shoulders.

One young policeman outside the court commented to other young policemen: "And so they're intellectuals."

But just how distinguishable were they as university students? Some had beards and some had duffle coats, but one with a beard and one girl with a duffle coat were, in fact, not university students. They had just been caught up at the same time by the police and lumped under the same heading by newspapers.

Also, outside the courtroom stood another group of 10 young people. aged between 18 and 22. A stranger, obviously knowing students were going to be in court, asked the young people how their case had gone. They were, again, not university students but New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation cadet journalists. Two of the boys had comparatively long hair.

Noel Harrison, a Wellington journalist and lecturer in journalism at the Polytechnic, was asked to give an assessment of the role played by students in society.

"Students are regarded by the community with an unholy mixture of pride and contempt, confidence and mistrust, envy and scorn," he says, introducing the topic.

What was most significant about this series of incidents was the type of reaction produced. For many people no distinctions, gradations or qualifications are possible. Students are students, and everyone knows students are a doubtful lot.

This is an attitude which has a solid basis in the past. The Victorian politicians who Founded universities were essentially prag-matists, men who wanted immediate practical value for money. They were not interested in establishing institutions of higher learning for the benefit of individuals who wanted to dedicate their lives to scholarship or research or individuality.

The Vice-Chancellor of Victoria University. Dr. Williams, has said that "above all else a university is page 7 a [unclear: socie] [unclear: eople] whose common [unclear: rning]. Traditionally a [unclear: univ] [unclear: as] been expected to [unclear: edu] [unclear: hole] man, to train his mind a [unclear: ch] his experience in every [unclear: d] [unclear: eny] of life, intellectual [unclear: a] [unclear: rtistic], physical and [unclear: spiritus]

Win of the 1967 Miss Victoria contest. Helen (right) and e dgley gained first and second places respectively. Rachel Stace was third.

[unclear: Win] of the 1967 Miss Victoria contest. Helen (right) and [unclear: e] [unclear: dgley] gained first and second places respectively. Rachel Stace was third.

This [unclear: lendid] definition, but it has [unclear: een] accepted in New [unclear: Zealan] [unclear: e] a university has always [unclear: ntended] to serve the [unclear: commu] [unclear: ascertained] practical needs, [unclear: s] [unclear: gineering], medicine, [unclear: farmin] [unclear: ce], law, accountancy.

[unclear: Intia] was just another in-[unclear: stume] the rough hands of [unclear: pioneer] were breaking open a new [unclear: la] the betterment of their [unclear: tandards].

They [unclear: n] no great priority on [unclear: educati] any level, primary, [unclear: second] university, though they [unclear: w] [unclear: pared] to admit, when pressed [unclear: e] education was a good thing. [unclear: d] was important, and took [unclear: n] their energy, was [unclear: growin] raising cattle, shearing [unclear: sh] [unclear: anufacturing] simple [unclear: articl] [unclear: ing] roads and making money [unclear: y]were unashamed [unclear: materi]

They [unclear: e] also narrow-minded and [unclear: sh]

They [unclear: university] colleges such [unclear: ria] little money and few [unclear: fa] But they happily boasted [unclear: t] having a university taking [unclear: bish] and unwarranted pride [unclear: ur] if not in its form. In [unclear: rea] [unclear: ur] early institutions weren't [unclear: more] than advanced seconds [unclear: ools] and even today our [unclear: u] [unclear: ties] match English [unclear: univers] [unclear: nly] in name.

They [unclear: a] status here in New [unclear: Zealan] [unclear: ause] they are all we have [unclear: ecause] of low entry [unclear: standa] beause of the youthfulness of [unclear: nts], the difficulties of [unclear: studyin] [unclear: hing] in depth, the lack [unclear: ities] (even such elementar [unclear: gs] books) our [unclear: universitie] [unclear: econd] rate institutions [unclear: compar] overseas standards.

It's [unclear: d] to see how they could have [unclear: b] [unclear: thing] else, or could be, [unclear: to] different.

[unclear: Unfor] [unclear: ely]our students [unclear: accomn] themselves to the [unclear: univ] They come out of a [unclear: factifi] [unclear: dary] school environment [unclear: v] certainly doesn't enment [unclear: iative] or individual [unclear: courag] plunge straight into a [unclear: univ] environment where [unclear: emph] placed on getting terms [unclear: g] assignments in on time [unclear: a] tests, and on examiantions

As [unclear: dents] attend university to [unclear: cualifications] for a job. they [unclear: tr] do well, to learn what is [unclear: exp] of them to win an [unclear: authen] [unclear: rtificate] of attainment. So they [unclear: orm]

They [unclear: completely] justified by [unclear: experie] doing this. The community [unclear: r] in both money and [unclear: prestig] certain skills because it needs them. It pays little of anything for "whole men." Most students have to earn a living eventually so they conform to community values.

Our students are. consequently, dutiful reflections of the community; and ironically the community responds by building up a stereotype of unwashed nonconformists.

I believe we have far too few nonconformists either in the community or at the university. The handful which has always existed doesn't seem to get much bigger, and the individual radicals seem to have little difficulty in merging with the community as age. girls, jobs, children and mortgages catch up with them.

Sloughing off beards and duffle coats is painless enough, and no loss of individuality. What worries me most is the ease with which nonconformity of spirit and attitude is similarly discarded.

A solid stock of healthy scepticism and iconoclasm is as vitally necessary to a community as conformity "is. People must criticise, question and poke fun at community beliefs, otherwise we're left with a static society which quietly and contentedly rots in its own convictions.

Students should be, above all else. sceptics. Knowledge, facts and statistics are the least stable of commodities and should be treated with respect tempered with caution. Universities can be repositories of knowledge only in the most fleeting way and at their peril.

Students have to develop techniques of thinking which will allow them to accommodate uncertainty as a natural part of daily life. They can't let themselves be hynotised by the status quo. or by community attitudes towards the way things were done in the past. George Orwell, publicity men and historians have demonstrated only too clearly the fragility of past events.

Students should therefore by nature be doubters and intelligent nonconformists. In New Zealand they aren't; and the community suffers from a plethora of ignorance.