Sunday, July 15, 1990

Aaron Priven's introduction to the 1990 Course Review

This is most of my introduction to the 1990 Course Review, which can be briefly described as the student guide to classes at UCSC.

I was quite humbled when I submitted it as a sample copyediting assignment with about forty deliberately placed errors, and got back about eighty corrections. Oh well. This is, I believe, quite close to the printed version.

About a year ago, I had the Friday evening shift at the Merrill College Library. One night, about six, a young Berkeley-educated professor came in from the faculty annex next door, complaining that he had been locked out of the building with his keys inside. I told him to call the proctor, which he did, but x2100 was busy. I suggested then that he go tot he Merrill maintenance shop under "B" dorm, to see if someone there had the key. Instead, he picked up the phone and dialed the emergency 911 number. "Hello, this isn't an emergency, but I'm a faculty member and --" The operator hung up. He then went down to "B" dorm, where he found someone who let him in.

I bring this anecdote up here because it symbolizes, to me, the dangers of losing contact between students and faculty. At many universities, everyone fits into their proper place; each rank -- administrator, department chair, full professor, associate professor, assistant professor, lecturer, graduate student, upperclassmen [sic], lowerclassmen [sic] -- has its own privileges, to which those lower in the hierarchy have no claim. (It is sometimes more specific than this; for example, Berkeley's "NL" parking spaces, for Nobel laureates only.) The young professor wasn't really being so egotistical as to think the whole campus would stop just so he could get his car keys; to him, it was natural that it should place more importance on a faculty member's needs than on anyone else's. It made perfect sense in the elitist system in which he was educated. Perhaps "indoctrinated" is a better word.

UCSC has traditionally been an alternative to this kind of heirarchical organization. The reason, of course, wasn't because UCSC's alternative education produces faculty who don't think they're more important than emergencies, although this is definitely a benefit. The reason is because interaction between students and faculty, if not on an equal basis than at least on a basis in which faculty are accessible to students, makes for a much higher quality of education. This is why the college system is here; this is why we traditionally have had small classes. And this is also why the Course Review exists: to provide a forum for interaction between students and instructors, in an effort to improve undergraduate education.

Of course the Course Review can't provide the kind of face-to-face interaction that provides immediate feedback, and it has its other purpose as a student guide to classes. But in an increasingly hierarchical UCSC, it becomes harder and harder to talk to one's instructors. I hope that faculty and students will use the Course Review as a starting point for discussions about their classes and about undergraduate education.

I am spending the '90-91 school year at the University of British Columbia in Canada, as an exchange student. I trust, when I come back for my last year, that UCSC's students and faculty will have convinced the administration to keep shopping for classes; to keep what is left of the college system; to keep small but important programs like Modern Society and Social Thought, Legal Studies, and Creative Writing, that have been threatened; and most important, to let UCSC's traditional lack of hierarchy and overformality continue. UCSC is a special place, in which the ideal that all people should be able to study and learn together has never died. I hope we all can keep it that way.

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