Back in April, students and lecturers alike had their lives greatly impacted by the introduction of online learning as a result of the ongoing pandemic. It became clear that the 2019/2020 Spring trimester would be like no other, and, in particular, that grades would be impacted.
This burden was eased with the introduction of the “Covid-19 Assessment Guidelines”, colloquially referred to as the “No-Disadvantage Policy” – a university-wide protocol which would protect students’ grades from suffering. Under the Guidelines, past grades would be taken into account, to ensure that no student would be disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
As it turned out, the guidelines were “advisory, not mandatory”, effectively rendering them moot. Students’ experiences varied starkly, with some believing they had benefited from the guidelines while others were adamant that they had been no help at all.
As poor as the implementation of the guidelines were, it was a comfort to many that, if nothing else, they would be in the back of lecturer’s minds as they graded assessments. With online learning as challenging now as it was back in April – perhaps even more so since it’s taking place over a full trimester this time around – nothing could have prepared students for what happened last week; SU President Conor Anderson announced that the guidelines had been done away with.
The reasoning behind this, Anderson told us, was that the university felt we should have been prepared for an online semester, meaning we were no longer in need of accommodations. When Anderson enquired as to whether similarly broad policy could ever be introduced, the UMT had this to say: “absolutely not.”
The fact that UCD expected us to have prepared for an online semester when, from the get go, they have been telling us the opposite, is difficult to swallow. In August – just six weeks out from the beginning of term – an email from the registrar claimed that most undergraduate students would be in classrooms around “30-70%” of the time. “Between 20 and 86%” was the amount quoted for graduate students. The contradiction here speaks for itself.
It is understood, based on sources from a University spokesperson, that UCD’s initial reluctance to implement a broad No Disadvantage policy stemmed from a fear of devaluing the degree. What we glean from this is that the University’s priorities are skewed: they value their image – their rankings – over students’ interests. In suggesting that making accommodations for students who have been forced into an online degree is a negative thing, the University fails to recognise just how competitive degrees are. We will still have to go up against people who didn’t study under a pandemic – so how is it fair to grade us on the same criteria?
There was a calculated failure on UCD’s part to announce the abolition of the guidelines. Many students assumed that the guidelines were still in place. And who could blame them? There was no email from the registrar to say otherwise, a fact which is very telling. It would surely have shocked no one in the UMT that this would have led to outrage, which is why keeping quiet was a tactical move on their part.
Still to blame, but to a lesser extent, are the SU for waiting until week 6 of term – a time loaded with assignments and mid-term exams – to inquire about the issue. This should have been a priority from the beginning and the failure to do this was a mistake on their part. We accept, however, that the greater onus was on UCD.
As much as students should recognise the SU’s failure to bring this information to light sooner, they should also support them in their attempts to fight this by using their voices as they did last time. It’s achingly clear that we cannot expect UCD to do any fighting for their students.