Environmental waste

A stressed architect tries to get his head around the Melbourne Model.

Any slouch could rattle off four of the six Melbourne Model courses. Arts. Commerce. Music. Science.
The final two pieces of the puzzle, however, manage to stump the best of us.

“Engineering?” the Swinburne techie asks.
“Medicine?” the Monash drunkard mumbles.
“Actually, it’s called Bio-medicine,” Glyn Davis smugly articulates.
“Design?” the RMIT city slicker cries.
“Education?” “Law?” “Humanities?” the other Unis chip in.

No. No. And no, that’s just another name for Arts. The final answer—??of course??—is Environments, the twisted lovechild of the Melbourne Model.

You’d be forgiven for thinking Environments is an abbreviated version of the mainstream “save the planet” conservation course. But while the nuanced environmental options offered by competing Universities have a focus on sustainability and tackling climate change, Melbourne’s namesake doesn’t. Indeed, our variety is not a training ground for hippies or dendrophilic naturists. I’m afraid you’re more likely to meet one of those during Prosh Week.

Melbourne Uni may be regarded a progressive, leftist campus with a conviction in solving the “greatest moral challenge of our time”. But it’s also the site of our beloved Melbourne Model, the educational paradigm determined to leave graduates unemployable unless they commit to a postgraduate life sentence.

For the head honchos hiding in Raymond Priestly, this is a case of money taking precedence over morals. Why would one bother matching the ecological efforts of tertiary rivals? It’s far more pragmatic to lure in gullible preservationists with an ambiguous course title.

Environments, as one friend so charmingly described to me, could be deemed the “leftovers” degree. Rather than being unified by a single field of study, it’s an eclectic combination of bits and pieces. While each subject deserves its place on the Unimelb syllabus, none are quite broad enough to warrant their own course. Nor are they tailored to fit into the streams of Arts, Science, or Commerce. They’re just floating by the wayside, united to one another by a mutual sense of academic rejection.

It’s almost as if the Environments course outline was a hasty last-minute operation. The Melbourne Model was due for submission at 5pm, but LMSfaults and printing problems necessitated a makeshift solution.

I decided to challenge this hypothesis by examining the aptly titled online Handbook. Here I stumbled across a list of majors so diverse it made suburban Melbourne feel like a neo-Nazi haven.

Physical Systems—an engineering subject pertaining to soil rehabilitation—took its alphabetical place above Property—a field of study dealing with management, finance, and private school boy politics.

Similarly, Construction—the discipline responsible for the myriad of student surveyors on campus—sat adjacent to Environmental Science—the school for fervent carbon tax advocates.

You could almost chart the range on a left-to-right spectrum, with the tree-hugging greenies on the left and the capitalistic profit junkies on the right. That they can share almost six first year subjects together—let alone an identical Bachelors certificate—makes little sense.

I interrogated the course further. Then, perhaps as a result of self-fulfilling prophecy, I began to notice some tenuous environmental links. By expanding my definition of environments to encompass “the totality of surrounding conditions”, my eyes were opened to the crude framework behind the mishmash.

Construction became a construction of Constructing Environments. Property became a property of Property Environments. And while Geomatics sounded like a phony word (an observation confirmed by Microsoft Word’s squiggly red line virus), I acknowledged its vague connection with Natural Environments.

The flaw here is that by suffixing “Environments” onto a suitable noun or adjective, one could push any field of study under the Environments umbrella. Calculus could be integrated into Mathematical Environments; Art History could become part of Postmodern Environments; African Drum and Dance could be captured by Rhythmic Environments.

“Environments” is about as wishy washy as a definition can get. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure genre, where meddling with semantics is the only rule of the game. In spite of the course’s apparent vacuity, the brave souls who have chosen to pursue it withhold their criticism. Rather than blaming the course’s low intake on a lack of demand or resources, they claim to be part of a niche, tight-knit community. Likewise, they laud the broad array of subjects as a positive trait, claiming that such a structure fosters an integrated learning “environment”. Whether this is just a façade to convince Arts students of their superior place on the University pecking order, I can’t say.

Moreover, many Environments students are quite diligent. In their attempts to meet deadlines, budding architects are renowned for pulling all-nighters. They say that the Architecture Building is the only site open 24 hours a day. They evidently haven’t found the secret entrance to Frank Tate.

Given that the Uni has made this degree as unattractive as possible, those stubborn enough to enrol should be applauded. After all, they’ve dismissed the temptations of Arts; they must know what they’re doing.

Despite their ardent defences, few Environments students are willing to admit their allegiances. Careful not to be confused for a Greenpeace activist, such students will tell you that they’re studying Urban Design, or Civil Systems. Only after the inevitable “Is that a Heritage course?” question will they reveal their true colours.

While affirming the purposefulness of their choice degree, nobody’s bold enough to admit to studying Environments.

No wonder everybody forgets about it.