The new policy to phase out tutorials, put forward by the ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences (CASS), has been nothing but confusing for students, staff, and Chancelry alike.
In an email entitled “CASS Education: Course Delivery”, Dr Royston Gustavson (Associated Dean Education, CASS) declared to students that CASS would be gradually eradicating the existence of tutorials, in favour of lecture-sized student discussion forums. Since the policy’s initial announcement, there has been almost no clear understanding of what the policy actually entails, nor any consistent details about who or what entity is supporting it.
This was made particularly apparent in a recent postgraduate forum, held on 9 August 2013, wherein Vice-Chancellor Ian Young was questioned concerning the policy. Young himself was reported to have said to students present that they probably knew more than he did about the tutorial changes. He furthermore claimed that he had no knowledge about the policy until the 1st of August, the day after Dr Gustavson initially announced the policy to the student body.
This follows Young somewhat neutrally suggesting that he found the policy “interesting” on 2 August 2013, upon being questioned on 666ABC Radio about the policy.
Since CASS’ announcement of the tutorial changes, Young has moreover proposed a review investigating the policy, articulating in the process that he understands the CASS tutorial policy to be a “significant change from the traditional approach [which needs] to be carefully considered”. Adding to this, Young indicated that “classes will continue as normal” in the mean time.
Reading between the lines, all of these statements combined appear to express that the Vice-Chancellor, himself known for ruthless cutting of university faculties, has found the changes a surprising and radical change from a functioning status quo.
Outside of the Chancelry, notable academics have also expressed concern regarding the changes.
In particular, Dr John Minns, who was mentioned as a pioneer of the policy in the original email announcing the tutorial changes, has publicly disagreed with the policy’s general direction.
Writing to his POLS2094 class on 2 August 2013, Dr Minns declared: “I do not use forums as a replacement for tutorials. I’m still offering tutorials because some students operate better in smaller groups and because some kinds of work…is probably managed better in a tutorial size group.”
With reference to forums, Dr Minns also emphasised the need for flexibility and not total change. “I am not proposing what I do as a model for all courses,” he said. “Different courses have distinct needs and, besides, not all teachers would fit easily into the style I use.”
The other academic cited as an exemplar of the forum-based approach, former ANU lecturer Dr Ben Wellings, has come out as an example of an academic against the proposed changes as well.
In a memo addressed to the CASS Education Committee, during May 2012, Dr Wellings explicitly stated “Some colleagues are very committed to tutorials for their own well-thought out pedagogic reasons…. we should allow convenors to teach the courses in the ways that they think is best suited to their material and pedagogy…”
With all of this information in mind, it has been difficult then to ascertain the impetus behind this change. CASS has stated that in proposing these changes, it is constantly trying to “refine…students’ educational experience and to increase student engagement.” Ironically, however, reception to the policy from students has reflected a severe mode of disengagement with the changes themselves.
“I am so out of here,” stated one first year student, currently enrolled in the university’s prestigious Bachelor of Philosophy (Honours) program. When asked for further comment, the student said of their statement “I think it speaks for itself.”
Many students have also taken to social media to voice their concerns. One online piece, written by Arts/Law student Samuel Guthrie and published on the tumblr blog “Oh, The Humanities” declares: “I think the phasing out of the current tutorial system is a horrendous mistake.
“The continuing commercialisation of undergraduate education is severely narrowing the possible scope of societal discourse, and overtime will only encourage intelligent young Australians to take their talents where they will be appreciated.”
Criticism has also been levelled at the ambiguity concerning the nature of the changes. In particular, students have expressed frustration at CASS’ lack of explanation for the time frame of the changes, and whether the changes will affect all or only some classes. Even the economics of the changes have proven uncertain, as Professor Ian Young has stated (again, during the 9 August forum) that the move to forums may or may not actually cost the university even more money.
Particularly damning for CASS’ apparent commitment to “open communication” has also been the fact that the changes were only brought to light following pressure from student representation. According to Dr. Gustavson, the initial CASS email was only sent out following concerns brought forward by ANUSA, who had reacted to circulating “rumours”.
At this stage, Woroni is unaware of any further clarifications or developments in relation to the tutorial changes, other than what CASS has openly announced to its students.
Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the ANU, having seen cuts made to Drama and the School of Music over the past few years, will continue to remain in a state of flux for the foreseeable future.
In the 9 August postgraduate forum, Professor Young stated that the university is changing, and that there may not even be lectures anymore within five years time. At this stage, details about this extraordinary possibility have been as scarce and murky as those about CASS’ tutorials policy.