EXCLUSIVE: It’s democracy gone mad as students push for ANOTHER referendum – this time on class lists

Some students BOOED at Senate House when it was announced that the public reading of maths results was to be discontinued – and now a petition has been launched by students angry at the proposed abolition of class lists.

Cambridge class lists CUSU referendum Student Activism student politics tompkins table university

The petition needs 350 signatures to force a referendum on the pinning up of results at Senate House.

Earlier in the year, class lists – which are publicly displayed each year at Senate House – were slated for abolition after a successful campaign by student group ‘Our Grade, Our Choice’. But a group campaigning under the banner of ‘Save the Class List’ are unhappy about the move and want a referendum asking students whether they prefer the abolition of class lists or the continuation of class lists with voluntary opt out for any reason.

Nicholas Taylor, who is proposing the petition, said: “The original Our Grade, Our Choice petition proposed ‘a system that allows a student to ‘opt out’ of class lists…we simply request that students are given the choice of whether or not they are on these class-lists’.  The complete discontinuation of publicly displayed class-lists is not envisaged anywhere in the petition. The reason we are calling on CUSU to hold a referendum is that the content of the University’s Report is almost entirely given over to opinions of the various constituent parts of the University, not to the opinions of students – who are the most directly affected by the publication of the class-lists. It remains a great irony that a Report actually touching on a matter of interest to students of this University still manages to make hardly any reference whatsoever to what those students think about it!”

Satanic House.

The campaign comes after a marathon discussion on the issue held this Tuesday in Senate House, in which 37 members of the university spoke or had speeches read out. Of these, 25 broadly supported the abolition of class lists, while 12 supported their continuation. Of the 25 speaking in favour of abolition, 11 were past, present or future student union sabbaticals.

Two days after this discussion, the results of the mathematical tripos were read out publicly in Senate House. Attendees reportedly booed at the announcement of the news that this could be the last time this happens.

Nosy mathmos grasp for the class list after being tossed from the Senate House balcony.

Students in favour of the abolition of class lists argue that it is hard to opt out of the process and can be distressing for students who perform poorly in exams. It is also argued that class lists put trans students in a difficult position by publishing their deadname.  Charlotte Chorley, Women’s Officer, pointed out that women and non-binary students, as well as students of colour, are subject to structural disadvantages in assessment, meaning that “to present these class-lists as an accurate measure of talent or capability is an insult”. In a Tab poll of 1111 students, roughly half supported the abolition of class lists. These figures indicate less support for class lists than in 2008, when a University consultation showed 70% of students supporting class lists but with a strengthened option for opting out.

Cambridge has a gender attainment gap, most notoriously in the History tripos.

Those against the abolition of class lists argue that there are other options to address these concerns, including anonymised class lists and the possibility of opting out without citing a reason. Purported benefits of class lists include transparency and competition. Additionally, the Tompkins Table may depend on the continuation of class lists, although some speakers in Senate House claimed that it could be continued by submitting Freedom of Information requests to colleges for anonymised data.  In a Tab poll of 1207 students last year, only 22% supported abolishing the Tompkins Table.

The Corinthian-columned augur of doom/probably a 2:i.

Professor Matthew Kramer, a fellow at Churchill, told The Tab it was important for league tables to continue to be published. He said this wouldn’t require the continuation of the status quo, but could rely on publishing class lists in anonymized form, or passing them on privately to league table compilers: “I believe that the elimination of the league tables would pretty quickly bring about the dissolution of the distinctively collegiate character of Cambridge.  After all, the sustainment of the colleges as pedagogical institutions – rather than as mere halls of residence like those at other universities – is extremely costly and is extremely time-consuming for the Fellows who run the colleges.  The paramount factor that elicits the willingness of Fellows to continue to expend their time on their colleges is the lively sense of rivalry among them.”

He suggested that the University could publish its own league tables, in view of methodological criticisms of the Tompins and Baxter Tables. Oxford has published its own official rankings tables since 2005.

How one student feels about Senate House.

Some speakers at Senate House spoke favourably of allowing for a voluntary opt-out system, although Chad Allen, GU President, argued that such a change would result in an “incomplete and unreliable resource”, while adding to administrative costs.

One speaker at Senate House took a swipe at Tab polls, which another speaker had mentioned. He said:  “It has no benefit whatsoever and should not even be brought up here.”

You can sign the petition for a referendum here.