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Salient. Victoria University Students Newspaper. Volume 38, No 1. March 4, 1975

Sacred Cows and Shakespeare

page 14

Sacred Cows and Shakespeare

It's really an orientation handshake, much of it helpful, most of it true. The quickest guide you'll get - and from those who've stayed the course - to the dogmas of the day.

Anthony Ward, editor, sets you right on form and substance (it's not lectures and exams we're about, but social action). Lisa Sacksen points your way to full participation in VUWSA. Exams take a thrashing, but the greatest student folly in recent years - forcing in-term assessment on you - is still something of a sacred cow.

An absolutely free, open, learning - by -listening-reading-discussing-enacting education is a consummation devoutly to be wished. Spend your substance on that and it won't much matter whether exams are there or not. Get obsessive about them and you'll wreck your idealism on windmills. But in-term assessment is a killer.

There are useful run-downs on: Studass; Salient: what to do about lousy lecturers; Hart; Clubs; the Gym; the Union; how-to-handle-the-police-who handle you; your top power holders (complete with photos) in

NZUSA; and a quick scamper through the main impedimenta to good living - the several orders of administrative authority, with Government at the top and students (of course) at the bottom, just one line below the academic staff.

Top marks in fact for visual display. For a complete compendium of current critical cliches, calculated to be caught with the quickest flick of the eye, you can't beat the cartoons (see 'might is right' p 68). So no need for second thoughts on your political attitudes. Your duty is clear. Another fine and emblematic visual is the deceptively beautiful last photo in which the path to learning skirts the Union and leads up to the ivy-clad bricks of an unstable Hunter.

But alpha plus (sorry,'my nature is subdued To what it works in' as Shakespeare said) for the brilliant parody of Durer's Melancolia 1 (above English p 27). Thereby, if one only knew, hangs a tail to take the wind out of anyone's flatulent idealism.

The course critiques? Painless reading, no withers wrung. Clearly much more training is needed in critical method. Rule 1: if the course is general, complain that you're taught nothing about the particulars. Rule 2: if the course insists on your knowing two things well before you add them up to three, complain that the ultimate and blessed condition of full understanding is constantly receding. Rule 3: if the subject is abstract and theoretic, like Philosophy or Maths, complain that it's not concrete and applied. Rule 4: if a lecturer entertains you, complain that he performs but can't teach. Rule 5: if he's an expert in his field and you can't confute him, complain that he can't communicate what others say he knows.

Remember: it's axiomatic that the lecturer who teaches, excites, and still manages to keep his integrity as a scholar, is an impossible animal. For two reasons: 1. No university subject is interesting because the institutional context inevitably constricts or destroys its intrinsic interest; 2. The only human beings are students, blacks, homosexuals, deprived housewives and dead Vietnamese.

But I don't really want to seem ungrateful. After all, 'Take the Classics with confidence' is a happy enough keynote for my own Faculty. Yet the course critiques would come a close second in any Kelliher prize competition for earnest dulness (nothing could beat those paintings). At least when Gordon Campbell tore strips off what he thought was the English Department two years ago, he had the saving grace to be witty. Are the bored and boring lecturers of p 45 any worse than the bored and inaccurate reporter on Maths at pp 42-43?

Unravelling the ironies in this review isn't really a game worth playing (unless the second-to-last paragraph prompts a protest to Salient. So let me announce quite unequivocally my real admiration for all those involved in the editing and physical production of publications like Handbook and Salient. The work involved is enormous. The goodwill is broadly based (as the list of participants makes clear) and the expertise shown in giving it expression is wholly admirable. With a few exceptions, the comments on courses are helpful to students and generous to staff, and the differences in viewpoint are moderately stated. It's a good spirit.