Students need to have their say on the Class List and Tompkins Table

The processes thus far have demonstrated utter disdain for the opinion of students on an issue that directly affects them.

class lists

When the University’s Council and General Board issued their joint report calling for the abolition of the public display of the Class List  you could have been forgiven for thinking that there was virtually unanimous approval for the abolition of the Class List.

However, this was not the case. The Our Grade, Our Choice petition signed by 1200 students and alumni concluded with: “We understand that this is a tradition and, for many, is a celebration of their academic achievements which is why we simply request that students are given the choice of whether or not they are on these class list: Our grade, our choice.”

We agree. Yet, the University used that to consider not just an opt out but also whether to abolish the Class List at all. They did not consult students directly but only through CUSU. This might not have been an issue had CUSU itself held a consultation of students.

CUSU Debate Event

The NUS referendum provoked valuable debate – we need one on class lists.

Yet CUSU did not, citing the fact that it had already consulted students in 2008. However, that 2008 consultation revealed that two thirds of students liked the tradition of the Class List being published at Senate House. So on the basis of a petition that explicitly did not ask for abolition and notwithstanding a previous consultation indicating support for the Class List, CUSU Council voted to abolish the Class List.

The Class List is something which affects all students and on which students have strong opinions. They should have been consulted. It is unfortunate that the only point at which students could make their voices heard during this process was at the penultimate stage: when the matter was discussed at Senate House. And they would only have found out about the Discussion if they bothered to read the Reporter – the official Journal of the University.

A few students and myself went to the Discussion. It was also attended by several CUSU hacks. What followed was a three and a half hours long discussion on the Class List, this is likely to be the longest discussion in Senate House in recent memory. Normally, no one turns up to Discussions in Senate House. Such a large turnout is indicative of the fact that many people wanted their voices to heard but did not have any opportunity prior to this as neither CUSU nor the University felt it was important to ask them what they thought.

How about you come find us, CUSU?

How about you come find us, CUSU?

One pro-abolition person at Senate House said: “It is foolish to argue that class-lists have value as an incentive to encourage students to perform to the best of their ability” (Reporter 6430 p. 667). Not according to 36% of respondents to CUSU’s 2008 survey. This is corroborated by numerous testimonies we have received since starting the Save the Class List petition. As one student put it: “I think that class lists not only encourage us, (myself included), to work harder, but they reward those who have worked hard, and so it is a tradition I would like to see remain intact”.

Similarly it has been argued that only those who well benefit from the Class List. Again we have received numerous testimonies from students who did not perform well who thought things were made easier for them as a result of the Class List. As one student put it: “I got a class lower than everyone expected me to get. I was incredibly grateful that I didn’t need to tell anyone as everyone already knew, and everyone was nice about it. I experienced no nastiness, and it was a great relief that I didn’t have to say a hundred times how I hadn’t got the grades people expected me to get.”

A testimonial from a student.

A testimonial from a student.

Much has been said about mental health in the Discussion in Senate House but we have received testimonies from students who felt the Class List helped them. For example one student said:

“I battled with depression in my first year and attempted suicide multiple times. The examination period was the most stressful for me and made my condition so much worse. The public display of class lists may at a first glance be seen to make the situation worse for those with mental health problems, however for me it was a lifeline. I realised that getting a 2.ii or a 3rd was not the end of the world and that there were many others who also received a 2.ii or 3rd. Without the public class lists I would have spent the weeks after receiving my 2.ii locked away in my room, feeling ashamed, alone and unworthy of my place at Cambridge. The perspective and solidarity gained from the public display of class lists made my condition much easier to cope with.”

To be clear – we are not claiming that everyone benefits from the Class List. This is why we support an easy opt out system. But these students deserve to have their voices heard. The manner in which the consultation has been handled by CUSU and the University deprives them of that. This is why we need a referendum.

Even if you want to get rid of the Class List but feel that students should have been consulted you can sign it whilst indicating your opposition to the Class List. Sign the petition here.