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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume. 34, Number 14. July 21, 1971

Munz and the Pink Elephant — A Fairy Tale

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Munz and the Pink Elephant

A Fairy Tale.

Photo of a man sitting in a chair

Once there was a little professor who had acquired a fixation on a 'pink elephant' known by the initials 'B.A.' He had sallied forth against this munzter in a lengthy article in Wellington's respectably dull evening paper, but the windmill that he was fighting seemed oblivious of his efforts. So he summoned his Sancho Panza - the History Society - and gave a subtle hint that he would like it to call a meeting. In due course a series of posters appeared and the jousting session was called for Tuesday 22 June.

And here beginneth the news story.

To leave his audience in no doubt about his convictions, the Professor started by slating the proposed 108 credit B.A. as equally foolish as the old one. He then gave a rambling analysis of the historical development of the present degree.

Sometime last century it had become evident that a new kind of education was necessary for the training of teachers and civil servants. The solution as to that education was the area study of Classical Greece. It was held that such a detached study would give the student a proper sense of proportion which would be of benefit in any occupation. Gradually, however, it came to be realized that such an education could not provide all the answers for a complex modern world. The balloon-like expansion of universities since World War II has brought into the system a far more varied range of people than there had been before. To provide courses that were relevant to these people, the Universities fostered the growth of subjects like Political Science, Sociology and Anthropology. The old 'liberal-classical' education went into rapid decline.

But, as this was Professor Munz's greatest complaint, the new liberal arts degree was no more than a hotch-potch of several truncated professional courses. Regardless of the aspirations of the individual student, he was treated as though he wanted to become an expert in the field which he was studying.

There is also the side effect on the teaching staff. To perpetuate the myth that students really want the best possible professional training the universities have to employ at considerable expense the most highly qualified experts. But to be highly qualified, one must do some research. The end result is that, as Professor Munz put it, 'the purpose of research is stood on its head'. Much useless and irrelevant research is done to no more purpose than to gain a teaching post.

Thus far the jousting at the pink elephant. Fifty minutes of sweeping historical portraiture and numerous Munzisms to keep the audience happy. Sample - the story of the Prof's grandfather-in-law who had moved from Melling to Tauranga to a walled-in house in Tahiti to escape the corruptions of the big cities. This, in some tenuous way was supposed to be an analogy of the present attitude of the University to criticism.

But to be fair, the constructive proposals of the Professor could not in themselves have made an evening's lecture. Professor Munz's own thoughts on a liberal arts degree came in two instalments - general principles and specific suggestions. As a set of guidelines for a new degree he offered the following;
1.The course should be informative and instructive.
2.It should heal the breach between the scientific and imaginative approaches.
3.It should form a coherent whole and incorporate an intelligible theory of relationships between various subjects.
4.There should be a reasonable detachedness in the approach to study. The course would be liberal in that it helped to 'liberate' the student from his immediate surroundings. (In this context the professor said that he thought that students should live away from home in order to experience a new environment.)

Moving on from these guidelines, Professor Munz outlined his own proposals for a coherent three year degree.

The first year would be devoted to a study of the aesthetic values of a number of major works of literature (or music).

The second would explore the contexts in which each of the works was written - the nature of the societies; the characters of the authors.

The final year would be one of extrapolation. From the basic texts would be extracted generalised approaches to objects like psychology, theology and philosophy.

Of course there would be difficulties in implementing such a programme. Would the English department for instance take kindly to the idea that it should restrict its teaching activities to first year students? Also there would be the problem of providing for those who still wanted a professional course. If such courses continued and in fact commanded higher monetary rewards, the Munz scheme would be effectively torpedoed.

Some discussion followed, with Mr Doane of the English Department in the role of devil's advocate. Perhaps the final word belongs with him when he says that pressure for change must come from below - from the students who each year do battle with the 'pink elephant'.