The Sociology Track: Negligence at UCU?

For years, UCU’s Sociology track has been the subject of student complaints and criticism. Its 100-level is notoriously infamous – celebrated by some, detested by others. At the start of the new academic year, the track seemed on the verge of collapse, as it stood without a fellow and  only saw its course offerings dwindle. This raises some important questions about the quality of education at UCU. Why have these issues been allowed to persist? Is it an isolated incident, or the manifestation of a university-wide problem? And why are students not stepping up to the plate?

ASC Social Sciences AAO Isha Mol admits that the issues with the Sociology track are commonly acknowledged and have been raised in focus group discussions since at least 2012-2013. One of the most important points that emerged from these discussions is the lack of coherence of the track. Interviews with third-year Sociology majors conducted for the purpose of this article reveal that most students generally perceive the track as decent, but nevertheless raise some important concerns. One student labels sociology as “what people take when they don’t know what else to take.” Another admits that the while the track could be interesting for people looking for a third track, it “is not strong enough for students to be able to major in, or write a thesis in […] it fails to completely equip the student with all of the skills needed to continue with Sociology after their time at UCU.”

These persisting issues raise the question of what is being done to improve the ill-reputed Sociology track. While ASC forwarded student concerns to the fellow and Head of Department, it still remains unclear what concrete action has been undertaken on the basis of these reports and student evaluations. The university expects that the appointment of the new track fellow Marco van Leeuwen will clear the path for positive change, but this remains to be seen. Although I do not wish to call into doubt that the department is doing their best to patch things up, it appears ironic that it requires an almost complete collapse of the track to incite those responsible to take action. How can an institution that claims to provide high-quality education for excelling students deny them the ability to pursue a worthwhile degree in Sociology?

It may be that these issues are not restricted to the Sociology track, but are manifestations of structural problems that affect the quality of UCU’s education as a whole. A College Council letter from 2014 to the Management Team reveals that there exists uncertainty regarding the implications of consistent bad teacher evaluations, and it is unclear whether this issue has been cleared up by now. This implies a lack of procedures to translate course evaluations and other pathways of student feedback into tangible improvements in students’ education. Additionally, it is concerning that students appear to be kept in the dark regarding the outcomes of focus groups and course evaluations, undermining their ability to push for positive change.

However, it would be too easy to blame the disintegration of the Sociology track completely on the university’s negligence. In the end, it is our responsibility to stand up for the quality of our education and to make our voices heard.

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