Dan: It’ll look good on my C.V.

Thursday, 9th July 2009 at 8:00 UTC 6 comments

You know when you read something and thing “man I wish I could put it like that?”. Well, a friend posted this as a note on Facebook, and that’s exactly my reaction. Being between finishing and graduating probably puts him in a better position than myself. I don’t think its a uniquely York problem, and I think everyone, even non-students need to really stop and think about the issues he raises.

Instrumentalism plagues higher education. From our courses, to our social life we employ a calculating form of reason, attempting to work out what is most expedient to achieve our aspirations. When asked, why do you do x? The reply too often is ‘it’ll look good on my C.V’. Having just finished my course and having sat on the outside circle of York’s campus life, I write this article for catharsis.

Student apathy is omnipresent at York. Our YUSU elections have a ridiculously low turn-out, the UGMs are worse and in actuality York’s political discourse is dominated by an elite: those who aspire to join the political class and understand what the prerequisites are. Our students are academically apathetic, crunching numbers working out just how many hours they have to work in order to achieve their desired grade, as oppose to learning the course. Our courses, being limited to having ‘transferable skills’ are watered down. Our Seminars are quieter than the library. Our journalists seem more concerned with writing news story that will attract the attention of fleet street, than broadening campus debate. To paint the picture fully is unnecessary. Suffice to say, a large proportion of campus activity is treated as a means towards a pre–established end.

Too often the positions in YUSU or in societies are not filled by people passionate about the role as an end in itself, rather, it is a means to their end, a chink in their armour. Such conditions are the cause of the breakdown of university life, which is already under threat from the ever increasing tuition fees. Understanding the problem of instrumentalism can help us resolve some of the deep-seated issues at York and may allow us to cast off the malaise that this university is under and start afresh.

The mantra of the times is: grit your teeth, get through it, and, maybe one day you’ll reach your end. However, our teleology is never fully actualised; in fact, true satisfaction is achieved by a select few. The consequence of such a pursuit, for the majority of us, is not a sense of satisfaction but what Hegel called bad infinity: the constant striving to attain the unattainable. Along the way in our paths towards what we desire we destroy the roles we occupy. We are always looking to be y, and are never content with what we are doing. The quientessential York student has a deep sense of dissatisfaction.

This dissatisfaction is contingent upon the defeatist almost fatalistic mentality engrained upon us by the status quo. Our course does not have to be laborious, if you feel it is, complain, you’re fucking paying enough! Our politics do not have to be esoteric and elitist, if they are, vote RON, stand yourself, or, simply do not complain when the Summer Ball has Lemar headlining. Concern with what we are doing, as opposed to what it will lead to could see a real change manifest. I was a Halifaxer who stood idly by to watch JJ’s go under. I did nothing to stop the University laying off the porters. I failed to vote and watched a pirate be elected as the head of the Student Union, epitomising the student’s conception of York’s political life. I naively believed that no one shared my taste in music, my politics or my interests. I ended York shattering these delusions: my fellow students are not what I first thought they were.

This University, contrary to popular belief is not filled with idiots. Many of the heads of societies genuinely care. However, there is there is a veneer in York. Popular culture tells us that student politics is a waste of time. We go to a Centre-Right university, full of Oxbridge rejects, wishing to put their stamp on the world and using York as their instrument. This is true of many young political minds on campus and we all can spot them a mile off. However, they do not represent mass opinion. Mass opinion chose York, we wanted more than what we have and the apathy needs to stop. I have found out that little bit too late to actually get that sense of satisfaction that I chose York for. Hopefully the people reading this haven’t.

University is more than box on a C.V, it is at least 3 years of real freedom. Student politics is more than a way into a think-tank, political party or the civil service and our courses are more than a means to an end. Instrumentalism is omnipresent and many of the people reading this are perpetuating the very problems that are destroying York’s potential. These problems can only be fought if people are more concerned about the means. I studied philosophy and the most frequently asked question is ‘what are you going to do with that?’ Is it just me, or is there such a thing as an end in itself? I chose to study philosophy at York; that was my end. However, my course, like my University, did not live up to the hype. Faced with a challenge, I gritted my teeth, got through it and took a step forward, only to realise I am less free now than I ever was at university.

The masses of York view campus life with disdain and within every one there is a level of disappointment, lamenting fatalistically ‘these were supposed to be the best days of my life’. I can make this assessment as I am one of the silent majority of York, too disheartened by the status quo to challenge it. Instead, I spent my first year as Victor Meldrew, a recluse bound to my room. My second year I succumbed: ‘if I can’t beat them, join them’ (my choice was Gallery). Finally, all too late I realised that this shitty university is not necessarily shit, it just needs to wake up.

Dan Renwick will graduate from the University of York this month. He played an instrumental role in both DISARM and the inception of the Palestinian Solidarity Society, and was inspiring to work with.


Entry filed under: Activism, Culture, Elections, Participation, Party Politics, Politics, University.

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Matilda Marshall.  |  Thursday, 9th July 2009 at 13:23 UTC

    I think your pessimism is unfounded. Personally I absolutely adore my course; I’m studying English and as such it is not vocational but I certainly do not see the counting of hours you describe going on. As for what I do… I dance I play games I study literature I work exceptionally hard at learning to write essays. Perhaps you want me to be less selfish in my interests. But a hedonistic personal delight is all I can muster. I would say there you rhetoric is far too sweeping and generalised… something which would get me severely marked down in any of the essays I write.

  • 2. Daniel Renwick  |  Thursday, 9th July 2009 at 13:40 UTC

    Thank you Graham, honestly. I am glad you like the article. I am sure I will see you at a demonstration in the near future. See you soon.

  • 3. danielrenwick  |  Thursday, 9th July 2009 at 15:08 UTC

    Lucky I am not being marked for this. I do not wish to generalise, yet when talking about mass culture, one is forced to generalise to some degree.
    Why would you say that I think you should be more altruistic? What about my article makes you think I am accusing you of selfishness? If you are passionate about your course and are doing your work for itself, not what you need to do to get your desired grade, then you are not being attacked in any way by my piece. Quite the contrary, yet if you feel that the whole of York are like you, I am honestly surprised and wish I ran in your social circles while I was there.

  • 4. Greg  |  Friday, 10th July 2009 at 14:37 UTC

    Dan, my university experience was quite different to yours, and I think I can see why. I did electronics, so not only a vocational course in the most utilitarian mould of education but one that required long scheduled hours. My course led directy to accreditation by my professional body the IET, and I put in enough work to gain the requisite marks for that, which was not a trivial task at all. Campus was a place where I came to do work, and for the two years I lived in Heworth, I enjoyed being able to ride two miles home and stay away for the evening.

    I probably count as some sort of student society activist based on my first degree but when I return next year, I’ll try to stay as uninvolved as possibly, and only part of that’s because I’ll be 6 years older than when I first started. Societies are a great way of making friends, but once you have friends, why stick within a particular regimented social structure? Why not just get a house with each other and form your own social circles around where you live?

    I know that this un-organised social idea has gained popularity in recent years and is causing the closure of all sorts of local sports clubs, churches, pubs etc, but in the case of York, I think there’s somewhat of a science/arts divide. The society based idea sees the university campus as a relatively self-contained place to live and function and occasionally do some work – as some sort of finishing school to refine your social mores and to network with like minds. Those whose weeks contain 20 hours of lectures plus labs, don’t want to spend the rest of their time contributing to the self-contained university ideal, they want to get home, get out of university mode and chill hard.

    As for the pirate, I didn’t vote for him but I think that when the university can do what it likes with Hes East while YUSU proposes UGM motions about equal rights for transsexual hamsters, it’s not surprising that he got in.

    • 5. Graham Martin  |  Sunday, 19th July 2009 at 12:32 UTC

      Greg, I’ve been saving this one for a while just due to net access constraints. I think you’re slightly missing the point if you think the ideal is for you to “get stuck in” to societies on your return to do your PHD. My question to someone doing a PhD would be their commitment to academia, rather than industry. Beyond the constraints your funds and institution put on you, are you doing this to further collective human knowledge or just to up your career prospects? How much do you want your PhD for reasons other than what you could do/earn at the end of it?

      I suspect things will have moved on a significant amount since you left, and you’ll need somewhere to refresh your contacts in the city. Besides, you’ll have the GSA, who have a good president, who, you’ll be glad to know, is not a Pirate. The remainder of the inaccuracies in your final paragraph I’ll leave to those who know more about YUSU’s work on Hes East.

  • 6. Daniel Renwick  |  Friday, 10th July 2009 at 15:04 UTC

    Greg, thank you for your comment. I think what you have said is true and I do not really object. The science/arts divide is real, with the former obviously being by its very nature more vocational and instrumental. The hours are more and student politics and activities are not high on the list of priorities after a long day in labs. I accept all of this with no objection and realised when writing my piece that it was kind of restricted to arts, though I did not want to state it explicitly, as it would alienate people explicitly rather than implicitly.

    My piece was not written to create divides, and was not meant to be exhaustive. I had one two demographics in mind when writing it: i) careerist politicians using York’s social infrastructure as an instrument ii) the apathetic student who can complain a lot but does not see any reason to act upon it, despite the fact their agency can manifest change.

    The writing style is meant to be contentious, as the expected readership were the careerists, I realise that if read in different circles, my piece seems to be off the mark somewhat, but I hope that this clarifies why it was written in this style.


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