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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 38, Number 25. 2nd October 1975


I investigated the "Socratic method" after hearing a rumour that Dean John Thomas and Prof. Palmer were giving students "black marks" for failing to answer questions in class. That sounded like deliberate tyranny - subjecting students to examinations at every lecture. To find out more I had an interview with Dean John Thomas, a brief discussion with Prof Palmer and drew on students' experiences of their courses.

Dean John Thomas definitely does not give "black marks." Performance in his Contracts class will be considered only in the 10-12 annual cases of students who just fail exams but only to help the student.

However, Prof. Palmer does operate a "black mark" system in Torts. Lecture attendance is compulsory. If a student is unable to answer a question (such as to show he has not read the case required) or if s/he is absent when called upon, s/he is given a "black mark." S/he will be called upon in the next lecture and if the same happens - another "black mark". Getting three "black marks" means a student will be failed terms. This year one Student made the three "black marks" and was failed terms. The working of the system was clearly stated at the beginning, and a "valid excuse" was to be "accepted."

This system seems to me more tyrannical, more like my bad old secondary school, the more I write about it! But note two points:
1.It should be judged according to its practise. Although many students claim to be terrified, many take it in good humour and some think Prof Palmer "a real sweetie."
2.The aim is not to oppress students merely for the sake of it. Prof Palmer considers it an unfortunate but probably necessary element of the "Socratic method" of law teaching.