campus

A Porn-full Farewell

30 April 2013

As of next year, students will no longer be able to legitimately claim they are studying pornography. The titillatingly-titled English subject Art/Pornography/Blasphemy/Propaganda (APBP) will be cancelled, in order to make room for new subjects in the program.

As well as APBP, the subjects Backgrounds to English Literature and Postmodernism will run for the last time this year.

Dr Hugh McNaughtan, lecturer for APBP and Postmodernism, said he had mixed feelings about the termination of the subjects. “On the one hand, [I feel] sad, as they’ve been mainstays of the English program, providing my most enjoyable and stimulating experiences in teaching.

“On the other, after six years, I’m personally ready for something new,” he said. “It’s definitely a shame that the business model of the contemporary university can’t accommodate subjects so beloved, and of such enduring value.”

Bethanie Blanchard, who tutored the subject said, “I think it’s devastating, I’m really sad. It was such an important part of the English course at Melbourne, and I think it teaches really quite important things through fascinating texts. It has a kind of sexy title, which draws students in, but through that, they learn about pretty fundamental aspects of literary history through censorship and scandals.”

She said she felt that the subject was “close to my heart,” as she took it in her undergraduate degree, then tutored it a few years on.

“I think there was certainly scope to update the texts on the APBP course.”

The three subjects will be replaced with three new subjects in 2014, which will each focus on areas of study that are new to the English department—poetry, adaptations, and environment and ecological humanities.

The new subjects were created with the intention of appealing to contemporary issues in society. They also conform to the interests of the staff who teach them—the staff members who originally founded the three soon-to-be-former subjects have retired.

Professor Rachel Fensham, Head of School of Culture and Communication, said the subjects were not changed for any specific reason. Rather, regular subject changes form part of the university’s growth and development. “As we have some new staff in English, they are keen to introduce new perspectives in keeping with the changing times,” she said.

The subject changes have been in development for two years. Professor Ken Gelder, Head of English and Theatre Studies, said, “The way curriculum works now is that actually it takes a very long time to set up new subjects, so it’s taken us two years to get these new subjects up and running.”

On the upside, he said, the department has had a great deal of time in order to plan the subjects “carefully”.

“We’ve been able to spend a lot of time looking at what other universities do and how they teach in these areas and we’ve been able to work out the best things that we would like to do there,” Professor Gelder told Farrago. “We have some excellent staff and we’re adaptable so we can teach each of those subjects quite well.”

Previous APBP students have loved the subject for its controversial and wide-ranging content. They say the subject’s cancellation is disappointing for various reasons.

Teresa Gray, who completed APBP in 2011, said she enjoyed the subject “because it was challenging in a way that most other undergrad subjects aren’t.” She appreciated that it encouraged independent thinking.

“Instead of a lecturer saying ‘here is this great/canonical text’ and telling you why it was important, you were given a text to read and then considered why it had been controversial in a particular time and place, and whether it was still controversial now,” she said. “And, you know, reading American Psycho was a memorable experience if nothing else.”

Michael Kingston, who also took APBP in 2011, was “shocked” at the change. He liked the subject and said that it “was one of the rare subjects that evoked real passion in tutorials. It was a subject that had the ability to reshape the way students saw and interacted with the world.”

However, he also found it somewhat unsurprising, because “as commercial interests and increasingly ‘vocational’ subjects take hold, university life at Melbourne continues its downward spiral.”

In comparison, Gray said she felt surprised at the subject change because students in APBP tutorials “seemed engaged with the material and willing to get into in-depth discussions. There aren’t really any other options for studying modern fiction now, either.”

As a justification for cancelling existing subjects for new ones, Professor Gelder said that continually adding new subjects would create more work for professors. This is something the faculty is not necessarily willing to do. “Programs have to be able to make a case for managing the number of subjects they offer and if we run lots of subjects it’s more difficult to do that.” He also agreed with Professor Fensham in attributing subject changes to the staff that conduct them.

Blanchard said that as well as catering to staff desires, universities should create degrees that provide students with a well-rounded knowledge in the same way the soon-to-be eliminated subjects did. “I guess you’ve got to think about what you feel is important for a university department to cover,” she said.

Dr McNaughtan said his aim for the subjects this year is to “see them out with a bang—pouring in all the enthusiasm and expertise I can muster. And to see their continued relevance justified in the intellectual excitement of the students.”


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