Friday, 25 July 2008

Library Fines and a Free University:Sydney in the 60s/70s (Part 1)

I am going to summarise events 1967-1975 (as they relate to owning knowledge) as I see them at the University of Sydney. It is my hope that I can manage to be less Sydney-centric, so if anyone has suggested or remembered events at other universities – especially ones that relate to curriculum, knowledge, assessment – please let me know. This posting only covers '67 and '68.

In 1967 the University of Sydney librarian decided to raise the fine for overdue books. Students felt very strongly about this, though of course library fines is a difficult thing to be morally superior about and their arguments were things like richer students would keep the books ad get a better education. The main issue, repeated over and over again in Honi Soit, was that the university librarian had not consulted students and was therefore treating them like “morons”. Students held two fairly mild sit-ins in the library, until after it closed. University security officers (as they are now called – then Guards. Who also carried guns, incidentally) came but, on the second attempt, around 50 students undoubtedly had a fabulous time staying the night in Fisher library, after which one student was disciplined (and his cause was then carried on, of course). The disciplining of a student protest leader on an issue that directly impacted students (or at least those who returned their books late, I suppose) suggested to the SRC that it should have representation on the university Senate and the disciplinary body, the Proctorial board.

The brand spanking new Macquarie university appointed a student senator who would sit on its proctorial board during that year, and students expressed shame that the new university was ahead of Sydney (HS40(18)200767).

In 1968 some staff and students from Sydney set up the Free University (known as the Free U) in a house in Calder St Darlington (just around the corner from Sydney), based on similar organizations in the United States. The Free U was an experiment in pedagogy, largely, allowing course convenors and students to have a say in how a loosely planned course would. It was a movement against the traditional assumptions of university teaching, where teachers know and students don’t, meaning courses are based on what teachers already know. At the Free U, courses could be based on what no one knows and they could try to figure it out together. It also meant they could freely explore issues such as Marxism and democracy in education, which were less readily explorable on campus at that time. At its peak the Free U had around 300 members, though it closed in 1972.

David Stove was, alongside the (even) more vocal Armstrong , was especially concerned about student protest. In fact, many professors and university administrators were after Berkeley and would become after Paris’ Mai 68.

At the start of 1968 Stove wrote an article for Honi Soit that seems to have no point except to be insulting and suggest that more was to come. Here’s an excerpt of Stove’s article:

“Not all the campus radicals are so disoriented by the thoughts of Mao-Tse-Tung or other hallucinogenic drugs as to be incapable of action. Some of them found enough energy, for example to inaugurate the Free University (though admittedly this involves no more than the assembly of an article which is imported from America all ready-cut, complete with instruction-manual of assorted meaningless sayings about alienation, etc.).”

David Stove">Stove and – more so, really – Armstrong, over the next 5 years, would come to represent the attitude of ‘god professors’. Indeed, Armstrong’s real success, we might think, was in embodying the image of the type of professor students were so angry about – helping to create a focus and reality for the rebellion and transformations to come.

No comments: