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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume. 34, Number 10. 1971

Goldstein on Interpol II

Goldstein on Interpol II

I have just read a letter published in your last issue by a student in International Politics II who, understandably, chooses to have his name withheld. He appears to be in a state of extreme distress and I regret that he has not attempted to talk with me in person, instead of resorting to the less than satisfactory means of communicating through an intermediary such as Salient. It is his means of communication which leads me to suspect that his intentions are not so much to seek assistance, as to attempt to gain support from among the other members of the class who may not agree with his opinion (these he calls 'ego-trippers', whatever that means). Be that as it may, his main criticisms boil down to the following: 1) the Political Science Department in general treats students like shit; 2) there is a complete lack of unity or co-operation amongst the staff running the International Politics II course; 3) the seven quizzes from a set text are a real cause of student unrest in the class; 4) the work-load expected is excessive.

Let me briefly answer this, not to silence Name Withheld, but, on the contrary, to encourage him to enter into a constructive dialogue with me regarding this course and the teaching of political science in general at this university. First, I am sincerely unaware of any member of our department treating any student as if he were a piece of excrement (although conservationists would no doubt consider such treatment to be praiseworthy). On the contrary, my academic experience in the United States, Australia and New Zealand leads me to believe that our department has a better staff-student relationship than most. Whether this is the case in International Politics II this year is another matter, and one to be treated below. Secondly, Name Withheld appears to so far fail to see any unity within the International Politcs II course. I am not sure what he means by unity, but if he means an understandable progression leading to increasing comprehension of the interrelationships among the components, then I think his judgment is both incorrect and premature. Incorrect because the course begins with an introduction to the contemporary international political system, focusing initially on the cold war period; then moves to discussion of problems of Australian and New Zealand foreign policy, next probes decision-making theory before examining one type of foreign-policy decision-crisis-exemplified in ten empirical case studies; concurrent with this portion, problems of international integration are treated, (this is where I agree with Name Withheld; this treatment, in an ideal course, would come in the last section dealing with theory and trends in the international political system - but time constraints and commitments of staff members preclude this this year); finally, the course looks at theoretical frameworks relevant to an analysis of foreign policy and changes in the international political system, and attempts to apply them to the empirical materials discussed in the earlier portions on Australian and New Zealand foreign policy problems, and the ten empirical crisis case studies. In short, the structure of the course does contain an understandable progression leading to increasing comprehension of the interrelationships among the components. His judgment is thus premature, because at a point in time when we are barely beginning a discussion of crisis cases, one cannot be expected to see the utility and limitations of various theoretical frameworks for the evaluation of crisis decision-making in foreign policy, much less for the evaluation of changes in the international political system. As for the charge of a lack of unity and cooperation among the staff teaching the course, I can assure Name Withheld that he is wrong. Professor Murphy, Dr Robinson, Mr Alley, Miss Pery-Johnston and I have an extremely good working relationship. The return of one member from refresher leave did complicate scheduling somewhat, but certainly not to the extent that Name Withheld suggests.

Thirdly, the seven quizzes are obviously a cause of some disillusionment in the class. In fact, even the 'ego-trippers' (whoever they may be) have made this plain, and one does not need to hide in a key hold anywhere and scrutinize faces in order to realise this. Yet, since it has been made clear that these quizzes do not constitute a major portion of the final grade (in fact, they are supplementary rather than primary components, and will only be taken into consideration when a student's grade is marginal). I cannot see why serious, conscientious students should find it so intolerable to be examined on seven segments of a paperback book, especially when the examination is spread over the entire academic year.

Fourthly, the work-load in this course is less than it has been at any time in the last three years. It consists of five essays and admittedly, extensive reading. The massive research paper which at one time was mandatory, is no longer required. And to the extent possible, reading materials have been provided free of charge to students. In my opinion, the work load is about right, although some of my colleagues are of the opinion that it could be increased. I am in charge of coordinating the course this year, and so the total workload expected (and seldom fulfilled) does reflect my preferences.

But I do not want to close this letter without treating some of the more disappointing innuendoes. Comparisons of attendance with lectures and tutorials with that of other stage two units is a futile exercise; experience shows that attendance varies with many factors, including the nature of the topic under discussion that day, the preparation done by the student, the "popularity" of the lecturer or tutor, the weather, the proximity of exams, etc. Furthermore, attendance in lectures is not mandatory, and tutorial rolls show that the slight drop-off at this time of year is a regular feature in the International Politics II unit every year. I might mention that, in my opinion, the class size is some-what too large to begin with, and some diminution is both inevitable and desirable.

But not effort is consciously being made to discourage attendance. To my knowledge, International Politcs II has never equalled the numbers of either History II or Political Science IIA, and to a certain extent, the structure of the political science offerings reduces the incentive of a student to concentrate on the study of international politcs.

Name Withheld warns that "The writing is on the wall!!!" I would ask him to please be more specific. Which wall? What writing? And why not speak up instead of hiding behind veiled threats, pitiful pleas, and obtuse obscenikties?

Ray F. Goldstein, Lecturer in Politcal Science