Position Statement – UMSU Supports Lecture Recordings for Law

All lectures at our University should be recorded. This has been Academic Board policy since 2013, after consistent pressure from our UMSU predecessors. It is overwhelmingly popular, and means student can access university who otherwise couldn’t.

UMSU believes Melbourne Law School’s (MLS’s) current class recording policy breaches University policy. We believe MLS should:

  1. Recognise that classes, as they’re actually taught, in almost all of the core compulsory subjects and most elective subjects, are lectures, not “seminars”;
  2. Make recordings of these lectures available to all enrolled students, as is University policy, except where specifically exempted; and
  3. In the interim, release the recordings that are already being made.

This has been an issue for years. There is no reason for delay. This is a matter of basic equity and accessibility.

The “seminars” in the bulk of core subjects are actually lectures. The School cannot redefine the word to avoid the policy when it suits its interests. Indeed, the School has used the words “lecture” and “lecturers” frequently in discussions and in writing.

For most core subjects, teachers spend the bulk of class time speaking about areas of law, to a group of students organised in rows before them, with slides. These slides are made available on LMS. Students use them to make study and exam notes. They spend most of class time making these notes. Questions or discussions are usually taken or led by teachers. Spontaneous questions from students usually clarify issues. This is a lecture.

Class sizes are too large and the content too dense for classes to be genuinely discussion-led. That students are usually significantly behind in readings is an open secret. Most class time is spent going over substantive content. The “seminar” myth says that learning is through discussion. This is not the practice – this would require half as many students in class with twice as much study time. These classes are lectures.

Student equity support access to recordings

Existing University policy notes how important recording is for equity. It recognises that the student body is diverse. Students must work to survive. They have different English abilities, travel commitments, carer responsibilities, and ongoing mental and physical barriers to continuous attendance. MLS has argued that such considerations are the exception to the norm, and its policy reflects this. MLS appears to assume the JD cohort is not diverse. If it is diverse, then release the recordings. If it isn’t, then let’s work on that, and meanwhile, release the recordings.

Attendance and access to recordings are separate

The University explicitly states that concerns about attendance are not valid reasons for denying access to recordings. The University’s own research indicates that the relationship between recordings and attendance is ambiguous. If MLS wishes to ensure students attend, it should ensure lectures are engaging, relevant, and useful. It should ensure students get continuous feedback on their work. It should take practical steps to understand and accommodate students’ external work, family, and personal commitments. It should lobby for housing close to University. It should not deny access to learning resources based on false assumptions of students’ motivations.

JD students deserve to be treated as autonomous learners

Juris Doctor students are postgraduates. The program is meant to assume maturity and experience. They can expect to be treated autonomous learners, who make considered decisions about how they study. They are entitlement to expect access to appropriate learning resources. The Student Charter gives students such an entitlement. MLS is denying JD students this entitlement by denying access to recordings that are already being made.

This issue has been ongoing for years. The Faculty has made many other arguments against releasing the recordings. UMSU does not accept any of these arguments, most of which attack the general concept of universal recording. We do not have the space to address them here, but will address them as this campaign develops.

UMSU intends to make lecture recordings for law students happen. We will be working with the GSA in the coming weeks to make this happen. We are going to encourage students to get involved, so we can bring the Law School with us. Stay tuned.

As we said at the start, there is no reason for delay. This is already University policy. JD students deserve to be treated respectfully and with understanding and compassion. They deserve access to their course content. And they deserve equal treatment.

Authors:

  • Toby Silcock and Alice Smith – Education (Academic Affairs) Officers
  • Desiree Cai – UMSU President