Concerns expressed at a meeting of the Undergraduate Studies Committee in November have led to a dramatic short-term decrease in the number of unresolved student cases – from over 600 to just 65 – but there are still fears that the issue will persist long-term.
As of January 22nd, 535 student cases had been resolved out of 600 cases left outstanding before Christmas. Before Christmas, responsibility for student cases was shifted from the office of the Senior Lecturer to Academic Registry in order to relieve the backlog. Despite this, Dr Michael Brady, a member of the committee and Director of Undergraduate Teaching & Learning in the School of Computer Science, has expressed concern that these changes, which were presented by the Senior Lecturer at its last meeting, “were changes that wouldn’t necessarily sort things out”.
Brady explained: “The changes that the Senior Lecturer was proposing were changes in process, and that’s all fair and dandy and maybe she has a point, but it seems to me that they weren’t pointedly addressed at resolving this problem.” The problem, he said, is a staffing issue, and the response to this crisis is an “emergency measure” rather than a long-term fix.
Student cases are the requests made by students in extenuating circumstances to continue their studies or to sit College examinations. Appeals can be made for a number of reasons, including difficult personal circumstances or an interruption of their studies for academic reasons. Typical solutions include deferring examinations or students going off-books for a period of time. Students’ tutors submit these cases to the Senior Lecturer seeking a specific course of action.
In an email statement to The University Times, the Senior Lecturer, Dr Gillian Martin, said that the backlog of cases will be cleared by the end of January. She commented: “The increase in the number, range and complexity of student cases in recent years has placed pressures on all those involved in processing and in decision making.”
Martin added that a student cases project, the changes to which Brady was referring, is being planned for the coming months and “should contribute to improved processes, without compromising the role of academic judgement in decision making”.
In an email statement to The University Times, Leona Coady, the Director of Academic Registry, said that “significant progress has been made in bringing cases to closure”, with support from Trinity Teaching & Learning.
According to Academic Registry, as of January 22nd, 88 per cent of the case backlog have been resolved. Coady added that they are “on track to achieve closure” of all the cases by the end of January.
Speaking to The University Times, Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) Education Officer Molly Kenny reaffirmed that the [short-term] issue should be resolved by the end of January, but that the backlog had shrank so quickly because she had placed “a lot of pressure” on the Senior Lecturer to resolve the problem.
Kenny also acknowledged that members of the Undergraduate Studies Committee and the Senior Tutor had also called on the Senior Lecturer to address the backlog in November. Kenny also requested TCDSU President Lynn Ruane to bring up the matter in her meetings with the Provost.
At the November meeting of the Undergraduate Studies Committee, the Senior Lecturer “undertook to bring the matter to the attention of the Chief Operating Officer and colleagues from the Academic Registry as a matter of urgency”. Kenny commented that Geraldine Ruane, the College Chief Operating Officer, “just sorted it out there” after frustration was expressed by some of tutors at the meeting.
Brady believes that “tutors were being used to patch up and cover over the problems with the service”.
He added: “The big picture is that this affects students who for one reason or another are in a weak position and I think it’s very poor show really if the college is not resourcing this area properly.”