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Salient. Victoria University Students' Newspaper. Volume 39, Number 25. October 4, 1976

Rumblings in Pols Sci Dept

page 25

Rumblings in Pols Sci Dept

Pols Sci Soc

The Pols Sci Soc needs contributions and ideas for the POLS SCI section of next years Handbook. So far the response has not been good, with only a few written critiques. It is imperative, therefore, that every course takes some time off in the coming week to discuss the nature, content, and effectiveness of the course under review - including some comment on the ability and approachability of their lecturer(s).

In order that change can even be contemplated in terms of new or revamped courses, it is up to students, individually and collectively, to ensure their ideas are put inot a relevant context.

Remember: A general assessment of the POLS Department does not necessarily involve ripping apart bad lecturers and shut courses, it is simply reinforcing the idea that no matter how good a course is, it can be improved - for the benefit of staff, students and the Department in general.

At present, the stage coordinators are as follows:
  • Stage 1 Bob Drummond (Weir House)
  • Stage 2 Neil Gray (Ph 728-138)
  • Stage 3 Peter McKiniay & Barbara McElwee

Honours etc: Gyles Beckford

So please have a go - or approach these people with your ideas. POLS SCI needs you !!

Political Science Lecturer Replies to Comment

Dear Sir,

May I take this opportunity to respond very briefly to some recent comment in your columns. A recent letter was most misleading in its comment on the work required for POLS 112. It would be erroneous to suggest that I "proposed another piece of work". Rather, students were informed on the first day of the course, in July, that an essay would be required for the section of the course for which I am responsible. It would have been "insincerity" on my part to have abandoned the requirement of a piece of work which I consider to be vital to the attainment of the course objectives.

More general recent comment on the Political Science department has contained numerous misinterpretations and exaggerations, but I will correct only one which was directly attributed to me.

What I observed on one occasion was that after nearly five years at Victoria, I had yet to see in Salient a single reference to anything positive, useful or in any way enjoyable about university experience. It occurred to me that perhaps once a decade might not be too frequent for some comment to appear on an aspect of university experience which students found gratifying. Such an observation on my part does not suggest that there is no room for criticism or improvement.

It does seem helpful, however, in establishing credibility and a sense of balance, for laudable features of university experience to be stressed on occasion. Moreover, this might permit us to identify more clearly the direction towards which we preferred the university as a whole to be heading, as well as to suggest those qualities of university experience which we would seek to see emulated more widely.

A failure to indicate some sense of satisfaction might give the impression that the university presents entirely a vista of unrelieved tedium and despiar, and may observations of and conservations with students suggest that such a portrait would be unnecessarily bleak and unconvincingly undifferentiated.

S.I. Levine,

Lecturer, School of Political Science and Public Administration.

Relevance and Political Science

Dear John,

That lengthy and prolixious gripe in last week's Salient about Political Science, (at least some of it was about Political Science) inspired me to outpour my gripings too. All this frogshit about 'relevance' get on my nerves. Do these blathering radicals realise that we are here studying at the reluctant expense of the tax-payers who would prefer us to all be commerce or science students or out humping shit around some grim construction site?

You see the problem - who's relevance? Muldnonism is alive and well, the idea that a University has no intellectual autonomy but is brain-processing plant for commerce and industry, left or right. Doubtless our energetic educational radicals curl up their placards in honor at being equated with il Mulduce but the repercussions of their self-righteous demands for relevant courses are just as bad if not worse.

Muldoonism is commercially expedient, it is an economic restraint, their sis an ideological restriction. The analysis and study of topical issues and problems woudl lead to a sterile university. Astute understanding and analytical skills come from the study of the foundations of problem, the principles underlying the facts. How did Carey once put it "A 'fact' is the reified product of subjectively selected principles".

I maintain that we would do better to research our principle making apparatus rather than shove our prejudiced based 'facts' down someone else's reluctant throat. Thank God (or whatever deity or reverred symbol or person you prefer) for irrelevance! As long as the university pursues a course of non-aligned intellectual studies it can assume the role of (honorary at least) gadfly, it can produce students with some cerebral skills, not just with a headful of famine statistics, and through research and theoretical studies provide a better critical service than a gaggle of vigourous welfare workers stuffed with piety, pat phrases and a vocal empathy for the much-lauded 'needy and dispossessed'. The idea of 'relevance' is arbitrary, repressive and eventually self-defeating.

We need an institution that continues freelance to think for thought's sake.

To say a university should produce what the society needs assumes one knows what the society needs. I would not aspire to any such presumption but support a free university that may help we understand more fully the paradoxes and problems of the human group by looking further than the end of it's scholastic nose.

Irrelevantly yours,

Max Currier.

The Political Science Ideology

Dear John,

Mark Carey seems to sniff a red under the bed in last week's rave about attacks on his beloved Political Science Department. To him, and no doubt Professor Murphy and many other Pol Sci staff members would agree with him, Neil Gray and other critics merely want students to be indoctrinated with Marxist thinking, Marxist analysis, and Marxist politics. He spurns a discarding of "all pretensions of impartiality" without examing how impartial the present teaching is. Partiality doesn't have to appear in the form of either opting for private enterprise or socialist enterprise. It can take many shapes and forms as was pointed out by "Ignor" in Volume 39 number 22. He/She pointed out that the "institutional" approach is ideological because it accepts the institutions as having some value in themselves outside the economic system which they are serving, and it also accepts that they are the centre of power.

This sort of approach b totally bankrupt if you are professing to be studying "political science" and not "political ideology". But what is a science? Surely this is what we should be investigating. Is a science the son of description of political institutions that occurs over and over again in the Political Science Department, or does it mean analysing society and the political struggles taking place so that we can gain a fundamental understanding of how society works and the forces that propel it along? Unfortunately, I think the second alternative would be the death blow for most of the Political Science staff - it would mean that they would have to think, instead of simply regurgitating the same old statements (eg the transfer of "power" from parliament to cabinet) every week.

Mark Carey struck on a good point when he urged people to leave dialectical materialism alone "indefinitely" because "it stops us getting on with the business of cleaning up the world". By "clearning up the world" he is obviously adopting the view of the International Politics section of the department (notably Professor Murphy) that conflict and struggle are bad and we must concentrate on stopping it. Conflict is inherent to any political system, because politics, and consequently history, are a series of struggles which will always end in the triumph of one side or the other. So, we measure various institutions' success in terms of how much conflict they have managed to cover up or south over, while ignoring that in the process they are probably holding up history.

Conductor directing young students out of a building

Mark then goes on with sword in hand to criticise the "Marxists" for not being honest about the intellectual foundations on which they would like various courses to be conducted. But, it seems to me Mark that in fact not one lecturer in the Political Science Department has ever told me of the theoretical foundations on which his thinking is based. It seems that if your basis is the relevent one of any particular society, then you don't have to come out into the open to be criticised and debated against. All the lecturers in the Political Science Department have very clear theoretical foundations (a basic support for the status quo) but will do anything to avoid thinking about it, knowing that there are very few students who will ever brave challenging a theory that is shrouded in their superior position as teacher, and also the thinking that the education system has handed us for the last 20 years.

After taking the time to write such a long letter defending all that was good and proper it is most disappointing to see you end up with the old "if you don't like it, lump it" argument in relation to Pols 102. Just because a "Marxist analysis of the relation between the Senate and the Executive" was not promised, doesn't mean that students can't demand it. A crude ideological analysis of the United States wasn't promised either, and look what we got! Also, Political "Science" 102 was promised and once again we were cheated out of anything that could possibly be called "scientific".

I think that students in the Political Science Department (and students in Sosc, who seem to be questioning basically the same things) should force lecturers to come out into the open and state their theoretical bases, so that Political Science can be debated in an honest way, and in future we may one day have a social science that is truly a science.

Yours fraternally,

Robert Collins.

Reply to Mark Carey On Political Science

Dear John,

Just a quick note in reply to Mark Carey's letter - there are a few points which I would like to take up - Mark:
1.Your attempt to distinguish between philosophy and existing society just can not work. If philosophy is not relevant to political phenomena - especially that which surrounds us — I would contend that it should not exist at all.
2.My institutionalism' refers to seeing Politics as taking place within systems, rather than looking at the rationale behind those systems - a valid point in my "experience" that applies to this university.

Your reference to Marxism I find must disturbing. "As a non-Marxist I find it very easy to visualise a Marxist analysis of POLS being (at the same time) structural".

There can be no doubt, however, that Marxism as a means of analysis is one of the most popular, and relevant to modem society. A form of analysis that the department at present lacks any real expertise in.

4.Your comments on workload, and for that matter your purpose for being at university, leaves me in some doubt as to your genuine interest in POLS. Meritocracy, by virtue of its existence in the Chinese situation, does not necessarily make it a right practice. At least in China it is recognised as a part of the contradiction - to be discouraged - whereas within the varisty it is actively supported.
5.While we are hounded by assessment regulations - and while people share your own perspective as to the purpose of university - there is no way round your criticism - any ideas?

Your letter is gratifying in that it raises more points - two sides to any story b always [unclear: preferable].


Neil Gray.

p.s. Regarding eccentrics: Judge not lest ye find yourself looking in a mirror sometime.