Issue 8, Semester 1
By Cam Doig
Melbourne Law School has two class problems.
One: class is invisible to most children of privilege here.
Two: some MLS students are doing so well, they’ve decided their classmates don’t need lecture recordings.
PROBLEM 1: MLS AND CLASS
As one of the last bottlenecks for Melbourne’s elite, it’s only natural that MLS is a petri dish for some of the most privileged and unselfcritical people in the state.
Leaving aside overt Toryism and RM Williams-onomics, some students just feel they’re better than the plebs.
Understandable. We have our own building, silent study room, and lounge. We spend much of our time elevated from the street level. Many of us will end up at the levers of corporate and political power. In our minds, we already move in circles of influence and esteem.
You can see why some well-heeled students can’t put themselves in the place of a mature-age student, working student, parent, carer, or student experiencing hardship.
It’s just never crossed their minds that the world might look totally different to some people.
All up, there’s three types of well-off MLS students.
Type one are aware of their class status. They may do community legal work, try influencing policy, or just try to avoid becoming Julie Bishop, defending companies against asbestos-related illness claims.
Type two are old-school reactionaries: young Libs, crypto-fascists in the DM comments section, and culture warriors screaming about hegemonic political correctness. Their view on class is timeless.
Type three are the folks who just ignore class. To advocate restricting lecture recordings, they lean on well-worn tropes: there’s nothing structural about unequal access to services, and barriers to basic rights can be overcome through individual endeavour.
This demographic is the true obstacle to meaningful change on lecture recordings.
If we can show them that there are two sides to this debate – students in need, and students who already have everything they need – we may win them over.
PROBLEM 2: RECORDINGS
Argument 1: Laziness and participation
The MLS website solemnly warns, “Class attendance is an important part of the learning journey at MLS and attending classes should be understood as a serious responsibility.”
This infantilising language assumes mounting HECS debt is insufficient to make students acutely aware of their responsibilities.
It makes attendance a moral means-test: there shouldn’t be universal access to lecture content, because only some earn it by showing up.
The policy’s more enthusiastic cheerleaders in the student cohort assume their classmates just want to laze at home on the couch, alternating between lectures and Netflix.
It’s a cynical ploy to justify a microcosm of “incentive-to-work” welfare regimes. It makes the same assumption that everyone could put in the effort, and the only reason not to is laziness.
This Hobbesian view of people’s motivations doesn’t consider that some people have other, legitimate demands on their time.
Further, the elitist argument that recordings threaten our “strong culture of scholarship, commitment and community” assumes students don’t want to be in at uni, fully engaging in class.
It’s a coded appeal to class identity; an attempt to wedge lecture recording advocates by suggesting they don’t care about creating an environment of excellence where students thrive.
It posits that withholding recordings has “more or less created one hundred percent attendance”, ignoring what people had to miss out on because they had no choice.
It predicts, without evidence, that providing recordings will empty seminars. As Academic Board stated in a 2013 policy outline, “there is little empirical evidence to suggest a negative relationship between lecture capture and diminished lecture attendance.”
The argument relies on the resilient intellectual virus that students are consumers, giving us two choices: voting with our feet on the policy by leaving MLS; or grappling with special consideration.
Argument 2: Special consideration
MLS will only give you recordings in three scenarios, where:
For recordings, you need to miss 11 consecutive business days, or 15 calendar days. You’re already behind by that stage.
This remains unacceptable, despite the university’s indication that “in limited circumstances” they’ll make the 11 days cumulative across 3-4 weeks, instead of requiring consecutivity. “Limited circumstances” may indicate a more onerous evidentiary burden on students.
Either way, it’s a humiliating exercise of power over voting-age adults, displaying breathtaking contempt for human need. It makes a mockery of the MLS “therapy dog”, showing cosmetic change is easier than trying to meet people’s actual needs.
Further, the warning that “[e]vidence must be provided” assumes students are feckless, tech-happy loungers willing to manufacture crises and cheat recordings out from under the university’s nose.
They’re treating us like children. But some people in the cohort seem to love that.
For ongoing support, it shouldn’t be on students experiencing hardship to bare their problems to the university, and beg for recordings.
TIME FOR CLASS
The university’s uncritical student partisans must explain why these abstractions are more important than making a publicly funded institution maximally open and welcoming to people experiencing hardship.
If they can’t, then the need for accessible education outweighs the niche cultural values of our ivory tower.
Will lecture recordings hurt your cohort, more than they will help your classmates who need it?
If yes, keep banging the drum for the status quo. If no, start a conversation with the class agnostics.
Ask what we can do to help out our class.