Peter Mathieson responds with SALTY email to fourth year open letter

‘Excuse me now while I get back to dealing with the threat to the very lives of our community…’

The Principal of Edinburgh University, Peter Mathieson, has responded with anger to an open letter signed by 1,190 predominantly fourth year students.

The letter expresses detailed concerns about how Covid-19 and industrial action has affected final year studies.

The letter’s primary asks of Mathieson are to:

1. “Make final exams and essays optional for students – students should be able to choose to take their mark ‘as is’ or complete an exam/essay if they are able/want to improve their mark.”

2. “Amendments must be made” to fourth year dissertation regulations.

3. “We ask that you consider refunding each student the equivalent amount of at least 4 weeks tuition (£3,036.37 for international students).”

Ruby Wlaschin

Ruby Wlaschin, a fourth year International Relations student who penned the open letter, emailed a copy of it to Mathieson on Sunday and Monday morning. The email included a 45 page PDF document filled with 1,190 student signatures.

This morning at 8.12am Mathieson responded to Ruby’s email with the following: “Ruby (if I may, and please call me Peter) Please forgive this short reply but I am dealing minute to minute with the public health emergency which confronts us. I have a duty of care to our 40,000 students and 15,000 staff. I have plenty of empathy but also need to prioritise life and health over the normal expectations of end of year goodbyes etc.

“Your cohort has been particularly unfortunate: industrial action called whilst national negotiations were ongoing and making progress, and now the unprecedented emergency of CoVid-19. Your degrees will have every bit as much value as Edinburgh degrees over the past 430 years but this University, like all of society, is facing challenges on an unprecedented scale and we have to take radical action. With time and hindsight, I am confident that you and your colleagues will understand. With best wishes, Peter”

Ruby subsequently responded to Mathieson’s email saying: “Dear Peter, Thank you for your response. I appreciate the gravity of the situation and understand that you are faced with unprecedented challenges in managing the student body. With all due respect, our plea goes beyond a need for goodbyes. This is completely and totally about academic recourse in order to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of your students.

“I hope we can both agree that this is not a minimal concern. I hope also that you did read our letter in full, as it does explain why it is imperative for you to take the actions outlined on our behalf. To understand our situation, you must also understand the additional devastation that final year students are feeling right now. I ask that if you haven’t read beyond the beginning rhetoric of the letter, that you do. I hope that when you meet with your leadership team today, you have fully understood our requests and exactly why they are tied not only to our deep sadness through all of this, but also to our safety and academic attainment. Sincerely, Ruby Wlaschin”

The reply Ruby received next stunned her. Mathieson said: “Ruby I have fully read several copies of your message. Many of the points, including the well-rehearsed position on tuition fee refunds, have been answered previously and are available on our website. Excuse me now while I get back to dealing with the threat to the very lives of our community… Peter”

Speaking to The Edinburgh Tab, Ruby commented on the email exchange: “The emails I received from Principal and Vice Chancellor Peter Mathieson not only disappointed me, but also felt incredibly disrespectful. I want you to read these emails and just see that our ‘Senior Leadership Team’ is obviously ill-equipped to be true leaders.

“If they truly cared about their duty to their students, they wouldn’t dismiss the concerns of 1,190 of them. Think about that, nearly 1,200 students signed that letter. This IS about our lives, our safety and our wellbeing. University bureaucracy should function with the voices of its students, but they care about their bottom dollar than anything else. This is why student satisfaction is so low at the University of Edinburgh, this is why Peter Mathieson isn’t the hero he’s trying to paint himself to be. This is why this crisis is so much harder for all of us.”

In the hope that it will prove more effective, Ruby has now created a petition detailing the same requests as the original open letter.

The University of Edinburgh has been approached for comment.