Volume 9, Issue 11
Great stories give you a sense of what they’re about from their opening lines. Start off on the wrong foot - emphasise the wrong things, misjudge your words, and the thematic intent and tone are lost entirely, colouring the rest of the narrative in an improper light.
It would be wrong then, to start off this story with comments on university policy, of personal ideology, of ‘what should happen’. Instead, we open on the words of the individual students who feel they have been disadvantaged. Because this is their story.
“I have a chronic illness that has required me to spend a lot of time in hospital, meaning I couldn’t go to lectures [..] I don’t think students should be disadvantaged if suffering from circumstances that curtail their ability to attend lectures in person.”
“I’m a single mum, and sometimes it’s impossible to get to seminars. If I miss one, I feel like I’ve really fallen behind and find it difficult to catch up. Recorded lectures would help enormously.”
“As an international student, I did sign the […] petition, because language may be a problem from time to time. As far as I know, business school always has been keeping records of their classes […] I think it at least is possible to find out a way which is to benefits of all relevant parties.”
The first two comments are from the petition to record the law school's lectures, posted here (I recommend reading more of the comments here), while the third is a comment from Facebook of a student who has consented to have their view posted.
When Nick Parry-Jones started his petition, he didn’t expect there would be any contention on the issue of recording lectures in the cohort. Nor did I, and many of the students I know who support recording similarly were surprised.
While faculty have stated there is an opportunity to register with a medical certificate for access to recorded lectures with an ongoing health issue, see here, this process is not well-advertised, is limited in scope to very specific criteria and does not account for the once-off or occasional bump in the road, and I am aware of several friends and fellow students who have had major injuries but were not granted access.
However, there is no need to restrict access in such a way, as the debate about recording lectures is over at the University of Melbourne. The University Policy recognises the realities students face and allows for a mechanism to benefit all students. The Law School’s current policy is in breach of this. It is now mandatory for all lectures across the university (see here), unless teachers request to go through an opt-out procedure with specific guidelines.
The policy notes that studies, while limited, show attendance does not significantly drop when lectures are recorded and that the lectures are intended as a supplement, not substitute, to attendance.
The Law School is currently not adhering to this policy by having a mandatory rule against recording lectures for all lecturers. It appears that they are getting around this by characterising our classes as ‘seminars’ rather than lectures.
The Oxford Dictionary defines:
seminar – “A class at university in which a topic is discussed by a teacher and a small group of students.” (Example: ‘a seminar group of sixteen students)
lecture – “An educational talk to an audience, especially one of students in a university.”
In other faculties at this university, seminar has been used interchangeably with tutorials.
Most compulsory law subjects (with exceptions), and some electives are asked about cases on their views, the majority of lecturers nonetheless intend to teach a set amount of content each day as the lead speaker, in front of the class, with the aid of a series of slides.
The word ‘lecture’ is commonly used by students and staff. Note the earlier De Minimis article, officially by the LSS, which refers to this terminology by faculty.
Law school culture is stressful. This was brilliantly pointed out by Pat Sexton in a previous article. We wouldn’t have an ‘anxiety dog’ if this weren’t the case. It doesn’t have to be so bad. We could, with the push of a button, ease the stress of many students, and allow the students who are disproportionately affected and struggle to get in to have some of their burden lifted
There are several strains of critique against recorded lectures which cut across ideological political concerns to the detriment of considering the wellbeing of the student body.
The first is a neoliberalist critique that, since students know what they’re getting into before they start the course and are aware lectures are not recorded, why should they get the benefit of something any different to what they signed up for?
But we should keep in mind that, university policy is not a contract that we negotiated the terms of at the outset - it can and does change continually. Such a viewpoint marginalises the realities that we do not face a level playing field; if we truly want to be in a collegiate environment with competition that maximises our learning to our full potential, we’d support complete access to education and support every student getting the assistance they need.
Another strain of critique is the perspective that values privacy and the job security of lecturers. There is the suggestion that recorded lectures could lead to the firing of teachers, firstly if the university moved to a more online-focused model to the exclusion of face-to-face lectures, and secondly, if teachers were to say something controversial in the context of a lecture it would be on the record, leading to possible disciplinary action.
Despite mandatory lecture recording having been adopted across the rest of the university, these subjects remain taught by actual lecturers. I don’t think this prestigious university intends to move to a wholly “off-campus” experience any time soon. If the university wanted to adopt such a model, they could just do it, without needing the stepping stone of recorded lectures in the law school first - and I’m sure myself, and many other students would stand up if there was any unreasonable action taken against lecturers.
No evidence exists, that I’m aware of, of any lecturers at the University being fired as a result of something they had said in a recorded lectures. But we must remember lecturers are employed to teach, not to use their position as a soapbox, so if something was wholly inappropriate or incorrect, it actually a good thing if they are held accountable.
Let’s not hijack what should be an positive, benign adoption of university policy with personal ideology or a misplaced and unlikely concern of what could happen. Let’s consider what is already happening, and show unity with our fellow students for something that we would all benefit from, and that without some students are far more left out for not having than others.
The GSA (Graduate Students Association) and UMSU (University of Melbourne Student Union) is officially supporting this action. Their General Secretary, Thomas Whiteside, has stated that “This is an equity issue […] we think the law school should play by the rules” and that the position of the GSA is that they “don’t think it will drive down attendance.” The president of UMSU, Tyson Kane Holloway-Clarke, similarly has given his full support for recorded lectures.
Following the lead of these organisations, I call for official support from the law-school based associations as well, such as the LSS, the LLSN, and the GLSA. Let’s extend a helping hand and band together on what shouldn’t be a controversial issue.
Tim Sarder is a second-year JD student
The rest of this week's issue:
More articles on this topic: