Public Class Lists: Opting out of sense
University takes two years to reach pointless decision
Last week it was announced that Cambridge University has finally decided to offer its students the option of removing names from public class lists of exam results. This simple conclusion took place after an arduous and complicated two year process, which provided students, academics, and even real-life journalists with endless fodder for debating, fun, and column inches.
Students will now no longer have to face the supposed indignation of seeing their results exposed to public view. Everyone's favourite virtual learning site, Moodle, will provide a friendly tick-box to opt-out, of the centuries-old tradition.
Whilst CUSU pops the champagne, and toasts the end of student anxiety over public academic humiliation, and reactionaries bemoan the sensitivities of Generation Snowflake, the rest of Cambridge (and indeed anyone else unfortunate enough to have been accosted by so many Opinions and Articles on the subject) may breathe a sigh of relief – and indeed surprise, that the whirring medieval cogs of the University have successfully churned out a relatively efficient solution.
Yet it is a pointless efficiency. It seems the debate's main purposes is to enable earnest, procrastinating argument, and to divide opinion into increasingly polarised and dramatic camps. Like all referenda- Brexit, the Scottish vote – the question of class lists started as a grass-roots movement, in this case, gaining traction and legitimacy as it was officially undertaken by CUSU and the University, and snowballing into bulging public debate, wading into the mires of morality, mental health, and modernity.
Neither side is as important as its supporters would like to believe. The CUSU-led opposition to public class lists sees the tradition as a great source for triggering mental health problems. By contrast, traditionalists convince themselves that the opting-out of class lists is the end of the world, as if the Queen had converted Buckingham Palace into a Wetherspoons.
Extremists even view the questioning of public class lists as a symbol of a weak and weedy, no-platforming. This, too, is rubbish. As long as the planet turns on its axis, Cambridge students will search for reasons to feel special and different. Traditions (matriculation, formal hall, grace, gowns, don't walk on the grass, bedder, buttery) will remain, as indestructible as a cockroach after nuclear war.
Why does anyone care? Who would really worry that others are looking at their results; who would be pathetic enough to look? It's no A-level results day, where we smug students are elevated to local news-worthy stories, with handfuls of A*; Results aren't ever private anyway. Opting-out of the Senate House grandeur is possible; refusing to answer friends', relatives', and employers' questions is socially awkward. There isn't a simple box to tick in conversation, or in life, that preserves one's anonymity.
It's also rather self-centered to take it all so personally. A degree result is not so much a validation of a student's abilities, as it is the product of the relationship between that individual and the University, whether that be for better or worse. Someone may narrowly miss their predicted First due to a cock-up with a group project, or an absentee supervisor; some other lucky chancer might squeeze out the golden First Class egg having been poked and prodded by an over-eager DoS for three years.
Given that students' results are a reflection of the university's successes and failures, it is important they remain in the public domain. Cambridge is a crucial means of maintaining high standards in the UK workforce; it churns out the best of the best, flinging its graduates into law courts, Westminster, banking and myriad other prestigious careers. The public results force accountability and transparency into a society where cover-ups and false CVs are the norm. However, as no other university publishes their results publicly, this really isn't an essential feature.
What does the reform mean? It means nothing. It won't destroy Cambridge Tradition™; it won't save students' mental health. It is impossible to keep results totally private, and there's little practical reason for results being confidential or officially accessible anyway. The main consequences have been to show that, yes, it does take the University two years to decide to bring about any change; and to divide opinion into Generation Snowflake and anti-Snowflake camps.
As if to prove its own uselessness, the reform even includes a caveat at odds with its original purpose, of protecting students from anxiety and competitiveness over grades. If someone has chosen to opt-out, but receives a prize for high marks, they are prompted to make their results public again – actively encouraging bragging and self-promotion. In a couple of years, will only the proud owners of Firsts be prepared to share their results?
The most meaningful step to take in improving mental health at Cambridge is the de-fetishisation of results. We aren't smug ten year olds any more, eyes burning into each other's work as it's handed out in a vain attempt to establish a puerile hierarchy. Top charities, the higher echelons of the corporate world and, especially so, the Sunday Times Rich List are replete people who underachieved or even dropped out of university. As soon as we realise that arbitrary numbers are not the be all and end all of the Cambridge experience we'll all be healthier and happier.