Deputy VC’s response to ‘safety net’ petitions proves student wellbeing isn’t a priority

But who are we to expect some understanding from our university, after all?

Lancaster University has recently responded to students in Lancaster petitioning to have the university implement a “safety net” policy, to ensure that students do not face a detrimental effect of studying through the pandemic. The policy being petitioned for includes the implementation of an extension for all coursework due in weeks 11 and 12.

In his response, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Steve Bradley, ruled out the blanket extension, and called it “inappropriate.” The Deputy Vice-Chancellor went on to explain that students can still apply for extenuating circumstances, and ask for extensions from their department, which will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

Personally, what I think the Deputy Vice-Chancellor should be calling “inappropriate” is the fact that students were being expected to work over their Christmas break – a time which individual lecturers told me in my online seminars is a break that we should be taking to recharge our batteries, and get over the stresses of first term.

This is how Christmas break should have been spent

What the Deputy Vice-Chancellor should be calling “inappropriate” is the fact that I had 12,000 words to submit at the end of first term, and I managed that without any extensions, and yet I have received emails from lecturers explaining that due to “unavoidable circumstances” they won’t be able to grade and return my work on time. Surely if the circumstances are “unavoidable” then by defintion they affect every student – so a blanket policy is the only fair action?

How is it fair to give students a deadline to work towards and stress over for weeks, with them putting so much effort into the work, only to allow lecturers to have what seems like a lovely four week break doing absolutely no work to grade our papers and assignments that they set for us? How is it fair that we are having to beg our departments for extensions before our deadlines and explain our grievances in detail, and yet the teaching staff can get away with not grading our work in time – i.e. not meeting their deadline – and not even give us a valid reason?

Don’t get me wrong, I sympathise with teaching staff who have had to provide more childcare than in previous years, on account of the government closing schools. However, if students are expected to be sympathetic to the university, why on Earth is the university not being sympathetic towards its students? Or rather, its clients, seeing as we are actually paying for this, after all.

Image may contain: Electronics, Screen, Seminar, Speech, Lecture, School, Room, Classroom, Indoors, Human, Audience, Person, Crowd

Professor Bradley stated in his response: “A number of deadlines were extended from the end of Michaelmas Term to take into account the need for students to travel earlier than anticipated.” On behalf of my department, I can categorically rule this out, and that actually my deadlines were earlier this year than they were in the 2019/20 academic year, with my deadlines falling on 9th December. They were not moved on account of students travelling early. So, although this might be the case for other subjects, my department didn’t do this for its students. So, in that light, Professor Bradley’s first excuse for not putting this blanket policy in place is completely unfounded for me, and many other students.

The Deputy Vice-Chancellor then says: “Many students will have already worked hard to be able to meet the deadlines.” Yeah, that’s a good point. After all, people who meet deadlines must all be hard-workers, right? Nobody ever pulls an all-nighter to write an assignment from scratch the night before a deadline. No students are ever that risky, so everyone who submits their assignments on time must automatically be a hard-working student. So, yeah, in Professor Bradley’s defence, everyone who missed their deadlines is a good-for-nothing slacker. I quite agree.

So what if you didn’t have access to a quiet study space over the Christmas break? So what if you had to look after siblings that would usually have been in school? So what if you caught Covid-19 and could have potentially been fighting for your life? So what if you were too busy having anxiety about the health of a loved one who may have caught the virus? So what if you left your notes at university because you thought you’d be able to come back to Lancaster before the deadline, only for the government and Lancaster University to tell you to stay at home?

Look, the bottom line is, just because you fail to meet a deadline doesn’t mean you haven’t worked hard. The fact of the matter is that yes, there will always be people who abuse a deadline extension, and don’t do any extra work, and leave it until the last minute, as per usual. But a deadline extension is a lifeline for many students.

Image may contain: Text, Keyboard, Computer Keyboard, Hardware, Computer Hardware, Electronics, Computer, Pc, Laptop

A common scene for every student before a deadline

One issue might be: “Well, I worked hard to complete the essay and hand it in on time; if I got an extra week to do it then I might be able to have got a better grade!” Which I presume is what the Deputy Vice-Chancellor was getting at by saying “Many students will have already worked hard to be able to meet the deadlines.” But, like I said above, I managed to hand in 12,000 words of assignments from Michaelmas Term; if someone was given an extension, that’s none of my business, and I wouldn’t kick up a fuss about not having the same amount of time.

The final thing I want to say about the university’s pitiful attempt at a response to the growing numbers of students who are petitioning for a “safety net” policy is the added responses at the bottom of Professor Bradley’s statement: “We will work to ensure that there are appropriate educational safeguards in place to mitigate any detrimental impact on students’ academic achievement.”

Okay, that sounds lovely, thanks Professor Bradley! Wait, what do you actually mean? What academic safeguards? How will you mitigate any detrimental impact? This statement gives Lancaster University students absolutely no concrete promises or guarantees about the safety of our educations, nor does it acknowledge the hypocrisy of the university telling us we can’t have blanket extensions, but staff can make us wait far longer than is acceptable for the returning of our assignments.

This response shows a blatant lack of understanding on behalf of university management; but what should we expect from a Top 10 University, anyway?

Lancaster University’s full response to the “safety net” petition can be found here.

Related stories recommended by this writer:

Lancaster is letting its students down by not giving us a safety net

Lancaster students refuse to pay rent due to ongoing pandemic

‘We commend students taking part’: Lancs rent strike supported by JCRs and LUSU