In a vote that could have vetoed the introduction of a proposed new academic year structure, 62 per cent of Trinity’s Fellows have voted in favour of the introduction of a Christmas exam week and a two-week earlier start to teaching.
Speaking to The University Times the College Registrar, Prof Paula Murphy confirmed the assent of the Fellows and said that it was a “very strong response”.
“This is very positive, and I know this is something that the student body was positive about”, Murphy continued, adding that “obviously most of the Fellows appreciated that”.
While the Fellows’ vote had the power to veto the proposed year structure, which was approved by University Council in June as part of the ongoing restructuring of the undergraduate programme known as the Trinity Education Project, the changes will also need the assent of the Visitors. The Visitors, one of whom is always the Chancellor of the University, hear appeals made against decisions of the Board and other College bodies.
Murphy explained that the approval of the Visitors will happen “as soon as they can”.
The revised structure will establish a system of semesterised learning and assessment, in which a Christmas exam week will be introduced in addition to an exam week at the end of the academic year. The changes will be introduced from the 2018/19 intake of students. Currently, annual undergraduate examinations can only be held in Trinity term, the third term of the academic year, which typically does not feature academic teaching. This restriction will be removed, should the Visitors approve.
Introducing such changes requires an amendment to the College Statutes, the basic rules of the university. This requires the assent of the majority of the Fellows, which for this change the quota was 123 assents.
Ballots were counted on Tuesday February 21st with the College Board informed of the result on today. Tomorrow a formal announcement of the result will be made to the Fellows.
In a statement to The University Times, Dale Whelehan, Education Officer of TCDSU, stated: “The union is extremely happy with the assent of the fellows, and greatly appreciate the fellows for taking the consideration of the student voice into their decision.” A statement on the union’s Facebook page about the assent praised Whelehan, who had “advocated for these loudly this year”.
TCDSU has a mandate to advocate for Christmas exams after a referendum in the 2009/10 academic year saw over 90 per cent of voters agree that the union should campaign for a semesterised exam structure.
The vote, however, had raised the fear that Fellows might have voted against the academic year changes based on other concerns surrounding the Trinity Education Project, rather than the changes to the year structure themselves. In an email to The University Times, before ballots were distributed in January, the Vice-Provost and Project Sponsor of the Trinity Education Project, Prof Chris Morash, addressed the issue: “They aren’t ‘problems’ in the sense of something problematic; they are ‘problems’ in the sense of something to be solved, and solved they will be. The important point here is these issues are not on the ballot on January 30th. That question on that ballot boils down to one simple question: Does Trinity allow Christmas exams?”
Fears were also raised from proponents of the project as, under the College’s system, an unreturned ballot counts as a vote against a proposal, rather than a lack of a vote.
In an email to The University Times before ballots were distributed, the Chair of the Fellows, Diarmuid Rossa Phelan, clarified that the vote “is an assent, not a vote for or against”.
“A refusal to assent in this statutory system is better categorised as an absence of conviction than as a vote of protest. It is the assents which are counted. Having chaired many discussions, I am certain that there are as many differing articulate views for and against as there are Fellows. This is process, not protest, and appropriate in a collegiate and discursive community”, Rossa Phelan continued.
On Wednesday February 1st, Provost Patrick Prendergast and Dale Whelehan, Education Officer of Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU), addressed the Fellows. “What we’re hoping is that we can separate those issues that they [the Fellows] have with the project, and use the vote solely on what that vote is for, which is semesterisation, and not use it as like a proxy vote for what they disagree with in the project”, Whelehan told The University Times before the meeting.
In his address to Fellows, the text of which was obtained by The University Times, Prendergast sought to “provide some reassurance on key issues”, stating that “it has become clear from my discussion with the Fellows Standing Committee, and at Board and Council, that end-of-semester exams are getting conflated with other matters relating to the Trinity Education Project”.
“Some Fellows believe that this is an opportunity to register opposition to some of the ongoing work that they disagree with”, Prendergast continued, drawing attention to the issue of protecting smaller courses and the “academic integrity of courses”.
Prendergast proposed inviting the Fellows to nominate someone to join the steering committee of the Trinity Education Project, to keep the Fellows up to date and “reassured about what is happening”.