An article published by Crikey on Wednesday May 8 revealed that students at the USYD had been given the task of ‘pranking’ UNSW’s student newspaper, Tharunka, as part of the assessment for GOVT2603: Media Politics. The task required students to use their knowledge of media processes to get a fake article published in Tharunka.
On May 13, lecturer Peter Chen announced in class that four out of the five tasks given to groups of students have been cancelled. This was followed by an email from Dr Chen, and another from Arts Dean Duncan Ivison to students of the course, explaining that students would have the option to elect to write an alternate paper, or to have their the outstanding 25% of their grades determined based on other assessments. Honi understands that Chen and Ivison met on Friday afternoon, along with the head of the Department of Government and International Relations Professor Graeme Gill, in addition to a Union Representative to discuss the assessment task, and that these discussions are ongoing.
The assignment was pulled because it was determined to be unethical. In his email, Chen stated that “being identified as an unethical instructor is a very sobering experience, but I’m mostly upset to have put the students, and by extension the tutors through all of this”.
Chen has also disabled a Tumblr blog and Twitter page which he ran in order to interact with, provide advice to, and get feedback from students as a result of abuse. Both pages well received by students who found them very useful in their study, and in general analysis of the media. Chen took the time to respond to individual questions and articles, sometimes not explicitly related to the course.
Tharunka editor Lily Ray commented that she felt as though the cancellation of the assignment was probably inevitable given that press coverage meant students might not have been able to complete the assignment, and that the assignment was not signed off on by the Head of Department.
Subsequent to the assignment coming to the attention of Tharunka editors, names of contributors were run through Facebook to look for connections to the University of Sydney. Other, unknown, contributors were contacted and asked if their story was a hoax. Ms Ray said that it is possible, but highly unlikely, that other prank stories made it into the final print edition.
Ms Ray also stated that the assignment was “very interesting, and conceptually sound.” Whilst Tharunka does not endorse students pranking newspapers, she expressed wishes that the focus of students had not been directed at Tharunka specifically, a paper with limited resources. She went on to say that pranking the Telegraph or the Herald would have been just as valid a tool in assessing media processes.
See here for two students’ account of their GOVT2603 shenanigans.