Mass meetings query courses

26 November 1968

The lead story in today’s Guild Gazette – by Gerry Cordon and Oliver Swingler – reports on how the drive for student participation is hotting up:

Exams, lectures and course structures are coming under heavy fire from students in many departments. During recent weeks there have been mass meetings and discussions in several A-societies, particularly in the Arts Faculty.

Chief points of  concern have been the gearing of courses to  exams, the insufficient amount of tutorial time alloted to students, the structure and content of courses, and the lack of purpose in some lectures.

ComEcon Society is in the process of sending out a questionnaire to every student related to economics courses in an attempt to find out their views on exams, teaching methods and courses. Criticisms will be embodied in a policy document to be ratified at a society mass-meeting and presented to the staff.

One floor up in the Social Science block, a similar pattern is being followed by sociology and social studies students. There was a general meeting of Social Science Society on Thursday, attended by some 85 people, where a working group was elected to draw up points arising out of the meeting. T’hese will be ratified at a later meeting and presented to the staff-student committee for discussion.

There’s an air of optimism amongst students in the Psychology department. Staff have reacted favourably to suggestions for changes and several have attended mass-meetings to discuss problems and put forward ideas. “We expect good results,” said one student.

In Politics, the airing of grievances and suggestions has been a marathon affair, a veritable Olympiad of mass-meetings. A timetable of the process of ascertaining and communicating suggestions reveals an average of two mass-meetings a week. On November 25 an extraordinary mass-meeting was held to consider further steps. The Politics committee had been mandated by the unanimous vote of an official mass-meeting consisting of 80 percent of all society members. They were mandated to approach the head of the department, discuss their proposals, and stress that they were agreed upon almost unanimously and to report back.

English Society have found the going easier in pressing for reforms. ln the first few weeks of term they completed, and analysed a questionnaire and discussed it with staff.

As a result of these talks, Professor Muir agreed that a staff-student committee, consisting of five members of staff and five students, should be formed.

Students in the School of Architecture have probably gone furthest in obtaining reforms. Grievances covered many aspects of their education. At mass-meetings earlier this term it was decided that a document embodying the educational criteria of the department should be drawn up. As a result three working groups were set up. Students will be given the agenda of a staff meeting a week before it is due to be held, and will then call a mass-meeting to discuss points arising out of the agenda. Proposals from this meeting will then be discussed at a joint staff-student meeting before the actual staff meeting is held and decisions made. Finally, it is planned to hold student mass-meetings to report back staff decisions.

Most architecture students regard the new system as a radical step forward, but there is some bewilderment over why reforms should mean such roundabout processes. “It’s a wierd system that gives us consultation without direct participation,” was one comment. The system rolls into operation this week. There was a student mass-meeting yesterday, and staff meet tomorrow.

Vice-Chancellor’s comments

The machinery available for grievances varies from department to department, and Senate has issued no directives compelling uniformity.

The Vice-Chancellor confirmed this, yesterday, when he said that the staff-student committees which have been set-up in some departments were not instituted at the bidding of Senate, but were the result of the individual initiative of departments.

The Vice-Chancellor, Mr H. Barnes, said, ”It is better that departments should feel free to institute their own style of communications system. The needs of a big department differ from those of a small one, and arrangements which worked in one school could prove out of tune with the needs of another.”

In fact the existing patterns of communication are very varied.  The School of Architecture has achieved a unique system of its own, involving student mass meetings and prior knowledge of the agenda of staff meetings.  In the Chemistry department there has been a student liaison officer for some years.  His function is to communicate problems to the staff and report back to students.

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Author: Gerry

Retired college teacher living in Liverpool, UK.

One thought on “Mass meetings query courses”

  1. Dear me! You have to laugh. Today academic staff would give their eye teeth to have students one-tenth as engaged as we clearly were. Instead of resisting our modest attempts to set up staff-student consultation arrangements, academic staff now beg and plead that students should complete official satisfaction surveys. And consultation? They can’t give students enough of it.

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