Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Bob Jones and a riot in Castle St

I'm currently putting onto computer the typed journal I wrote back in the early 90s. It's fascinating stuff, covering the complications of family relationships, the beginning of our journey with our current church, now called Dunedin City Baptist, discovering people who would become long-term friends; my successes and failures with writing - a number of small-scale articles getting published, and the work I was doing on a young adult's novel; and the highs and lows of running a Christian bookshop.

Every so often there's also a bit of news beyond these circles. For example, on the 16th April, 1990, I wrote:

The students are well and truly in the news today: a drunken riot in the Castle St area, with 1500 involved in some form or other; a garage collapsing under the weight of about twenty student spectators; furniture being dragged out into the street to be set alight; and further through the paper, we have Bob Jones in his column berating some engineering student in Auckland for writing [that] the study of the humanities was a waste of time because it was non-productive. Jones gives him a real going-over, saying that it's the humanity students who learn to think, compared to the engineering, legal, commerce and so on students who shouldn't even be at University at all, but in separate tertiary institutions, since they are only learning how to use facts. Quite an interesting piece of writing from his lordship, who usually manages to come up with some commonsense dressed as nonsense! Often what he has to say would be fine if he wasn't so bumptious with it. For once, his subject is allowed to speak and Mr Jones is kept in the background. 

A little explanation is required for those who don't live in Dunedin. Our University campus is relatively self-contained over several large blocks, and many students live within those blocks or on their borders. Castle St, over the last few decades, has become one of the more notorious areas for such events as I'm describing here. Couch-burning, which has always seemed to me to be a pretty clueless occupation given the toxic fumes many couches give off, is still done, though it's been
After the balcony collapse - courtesy of Radio NZ
frowned upon severely by police and Proctor alike. Riots are less common, I think, though not large gatherings of students. And in the last couple of years a balcony outside a flat collapsed (harming those underneath more than those on it) when too many students stood on it at once. 

But the other interesting thing about this is that the University itself is tightening up on the Humanities Departments by cutting back on staff, and reducing them in size. Naturally there's been a considerable outcry, but to little avail. Obviously whoever is in charge of such actions thinks along the lines of the Auckland student mentioned: the humanities don't 'contribute' therefore they should be demolished. 

Bob Jones seldom made friends because of his bumptious attitude to a great number of things, and people - in fact I'd already mentioned him in the journal because of this. But here, for once, he makes a solid point, at least as far as the humanities are concerned. These are the areas where people learn to think. That's not to say there are no thinkers in the other departments (the lawyers might be most offended at his statement) but in general these other departments take known facts and work with them, developing from there. The Humanities go beyond this, study what's been written before, what's been thought about before, learn how to think about these things, and then can apply their thinking to other situations. That's a very rough view of what they do. But their value, though not always obvious in profit and loss terms, is of value in looking at how society thinks and trying to get it to think clearly and honestly and wisely. 

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