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September 12, 2011 | by  | in Features |
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An Opinion Piece About The Changes Currently Happening at Vic

As has been covered extensively in Salient, Victoria University’s Political Science and International Relations (PSIR) department is undergoing some very radical changes.

These will have wide-ranging implications, not only for the students taking the course, but also for the department’s staff, some of whom have lost their jobs as a result.
Victoria University released a Consultation Document on 27 June that outlined the proposed changes to the department. It stated that “the primary objective of the proposal is for PSIR to become the premier postgraduate research destination in New Zealand, and one of the best in Australasia, while also offering an outstanding undergraduate programme”. In a five-and-a-half week consultation period, 18 submissions to the proposal were received, primarily by staff and students of the programme. Three oral submissions were also heard.

A consistent theme throughout the submissions was the perception that the course content would be narrowed down to focus on the Asia-Pacific region, particularly China. There was also concern that feminist approaches and Development Studies would no longer be available. In their response, the University stated that they were “disappointed by the amount of misinformation contained in a number of submissions”, and claimed that a Tertiary Education Union (TEU) fact sheet that many submitters cited as a reference contained incorrect information.

The University also said that the changes would see “no overall reduction in the number of courses PSIR offers… but possibly an increase, due to an overall increase in staff [per full-time equivalent student]”. It said that concerns about the loss of a particular paper (INTP 246—International Politics of Development) were unfounded, because the course was still scheduled for 2012 and would continue if a suitable replacement for outgoing lecturer Robbie Shilliam could be found.

Shilliam, who offered his resignation effective at the end of the academic year, is an expert in areas such as indigenous peoples, development and gender. Many students have also expressed great satisfaction at his teaching style: a brilliant mix of humour, outstanding intelligence and intriguing insight and understanding of the realities of international politics. He will be sorely missed by the IR department and students.

The University also responded to claims that only senior lecturers were being considered for the new roles, saying that “there need be no direct correlation between age and rank”.
Finally, on concerns of the scope of the course being narrowed, the University had this to say: “Given that a programme cannot specialise in all aspects of a discipline, it is desirable to try to develop critical mass in areas that have been identified as strategically important and in which it is reasonable to expect to make a distinctive and internationally recognised contribution”.

Now for my opinion. That last quote more or less admits outright that the University are indeed trying to develop an IR programme that focuses mainly on Asia-Pacific relations—despite spending the rest of the document claiming that everything will still be the same as before. Saying that the number of courses offered will not change doesn’t guarantee that the same scope of courses will remain.

Personally, I believe that the intelligence of the students and staff involved in the department has been insulted given that the negative nature of these changes is obvious to anyone involved. Victoria University Vice-Chancellor Professor Pat Walsh has once again proven that he is not committed to retaining the academic integrity of the school (read: the closure of the gender studies course in 2010) and has left students and staff in the lurch. Although some students are in fact interested in Asia-Pacific relations, many are not and would prefer to learn about such topics as the role of women in war and the nature of global security and governance. Denying us access to these aspects of the course goes against the very nature of university itself, as well as Victoria’s motto: “Wisdom is more to be desired than gold”. This motto is particularly pertinent given that I have heard from sources in the department that these changes are not related in any way to financial hardship, but rather as a chance for certain friends of certain people to have more of their course content offered and therefore benefit financially.

I’m already nudging my word limit without even mentioning the job losses resulting from the closure of the Crime and Justice Research Centre, which have angered the TEU. To quickly summarise, a lot of students are very angry about these proposals, and rightly so. They are completely unnecessary; they are resulting in redundancies; and they are an insult to the academic integrity of the school itself. University should never be about money or friends in high places. University is about the students. It’s about developing knowledge of the wider world to better understand how to navigate it. These constant attacks on arts programmes are a sign of things to come. These changes are already locked in but we need to stand up to them anyway and protect the integrity of one of the strongest political science departments in Australasia. Write to Pat Walsh and tell him that you don’t accept these changes. Remind him that, indeed, “wisdom is more to be desired than gold”.

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  1. Electrum Greenstone says:

    Sapientia magis auro desideranda!

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