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Proposed Changes to Special Consideration

Of all times to propose changes which will make students’ lives more difficult! It is astonishing how out of touch the President of the Academic Board is. Apparently clueless about the ways in which the pandemic has put many students into a state of crisis, despite it being a situation which has created the conditions sufficiently dire for the Government to declare states of emergency and disaster.

While this would be the perfect chance for the University to enact its promise to put students at the heart of everything it does, and take an approach to special consideration which is both compassionate and equitable, instead this University appears determined to communicate its total lack of concern for its own students’ wellbeing.

The changes proposed are effectively a rebadging of some of the changes which were not supported by the Academic Board last December. The explanatory note itself acknowledges that the new proposals are a result of the “disappointment” shared by the minority of the Board who wanted the previous changes. That is, the reason some proposed changes were not included was that a majority of Academic Board Members believed they were not appropriate. UMSU remains of the view that nothing in the interim has made these inappropriate changes more appropriate, but on the contrary impacts of the pandemic have made them even less appropriate.

The proposed changes can be summarised as follows (from the benign to the ridiculously mean spirited):

 

Potentially Benign:
  • The addition of a relatively uncontroversial statement setting out the reasons for assessing students and what that assessment should achieve.
  • The addition of a new section which effectively makes express that Special Consideration is designed to ensure students have the opportunity to be assessed on a level playing field when they would otherwise be disadvantaged.

 

Inequitable:
  • Currently the policy requires the duration of the impact on an affected student to be considered when deciding on the timing and type of special assessments. That is, currently where you remain unwell during the special assessment period, at least some consideration for a later special assessment must be given. There are no hard limits on this, although in practice there is flexibility to tailor an outcome to accommodate the equity needs of a student where indicated.
  • The proposed changes alter the intention of this section, and instead effectively introduce the authority for your faculty to deny you an opportunity for special assessment if the you remain too sick to sit further assessment until the commencement of the next semester. The Dean of the Faculty can elect to allow you to sit a special after semester begins, but they must make that decision without having any regard to your actual circumstances – that is, it will be a decision based on administrative expediency, not the University’s equity obligations to you as a student.
  • Notably this change also introduces a bizarre reference to “the equity of all students in the subject” which must be considered when determining the outcome for the applicant. This is a shocking example of the University’s misconceptions of the fundamental meaning of equity which are informing these proposals. “Equity” measures are those which ensure that a specific student who has been disadvantaged due to exceptional impacts is able to participate in education on the same basis as their unaffected peers. The “equity of all students” simply makes no sense – it is a nonsense phrase predicated on the same kind of fiction which mean “reverse racism or sexism” are not actual things.
  • The addition of a section stipulating that if you remain too unwell to complete special assessment before the beginning of the next semester, and the Dean does not decide to allow you more time to sit a special, then the outcome is you must be withdrawn from the subject. Tied to the changes above, this means that where a you are very unwell and the Dean decides it is too much trouble to allow you to sit a special exam once the next semester has begun, then although you won’t fail, you will still be withdrawn from the subject with no chance to pass it – regardless of your specific circumstances.

 

How might it play out?

You love Advanced Rocket Surgery. The guest lecture by Elon Musk on a zoom from the International Space Station was a blast, and you are sitting on an H1 going into swotvac. The exam is a hurdle, but you have studied hard and are ready to go. On the morning of the exam on 3 July, you can’t get out of bed. You have studied really hard for this subject and you know it’s going to be one of your best marks ever, so you drag yourself to your computer and sit the exam over two hours, despite being in excruciating pain. At the end of the exam you pass out and your flatmate calls an ambulance and two hours later you are having your appendix out at Royal Melbourne. The nice doctor in the recovery ward tells you that you’re are going to be out of action for a couple of weeks. You manage to get a special consideration application lodged the next day, and then you go home to recover. You see an email from the Student Equity and Disability Services Team advising that you have been awarded a special exam and then the exam timetable comes out for the specials, and you see your exam is on 30 July. You start revising for the special, and on 17 July when the results come out you see you failed by a couple of marks, so this is your chance to get back on track for that H1! Unfortunately, the day before your special, a complication from your surgery means you are too sick to do it and have another stint in hospital until the second day of semester – which is only a week later. You apply again for special consideration for the special exam. The special consideration is granted, and you are advised you will be withdrawn from the subject without recording a fail, but you’ll not be able to sit a further exam because semester 2 has started and the Dean of your Faculty thinks special exams are a way of “gaming the system” – whatever that means.

 

Ridiculously Mean Spirited:
  • The final two proposals would see a situation where you need to potentially be a gambler. If you missed the original assessment altogether, this is less of a concern. However if you are a student who sat the original assessment, and was eligible for special consideration in relation to that assessment, and then is offered special assessment (and has recovered in time to sit before next semester begins) you will need to tie a scarf over your eyes and take a stab in the dark to make a decision as to whether you will sit the special assessment or not. That is, the mark will be withheld until you decide whether you want to sit or not, you can’t see how you were impacted before electing whether to do the special. You can choose to sit a special and then change your mind up to the time of the special assessment. However if you do choose to sit the special, whatever mark you get from that will take the place of any mark you got in your first attempt – so if the special is harder than the original – and you do even worse – bad luck.

 

How might it play out?

Consider your experience with Advanced Rocket Surgery, but this time you knew that if you missed your one shot in the special exam period, you would lose the chance to pass this subject. So even though you felt really sick you want to sit the special during the special exam period if you haven’t passed. If you have passed the exam, even though it might not be the H1 you were hoping for, you won’t sit a special because you’re still feeling terrible.

However, this time, you aren’t allowed to know if you have passed the original or not. You have to try to work out how much the excruciating pain affected you. You wrack your mind about how you answered the questions…where you confident despite the pain? Afterall you were really well prepared, you might have still done Ok even in agony…but … you… can’t… remember… you just have no way of knowing how much the pain affected you – it’s a blank.

Choose your own adventure: You flip a coin and…

HEADS, you will decide not to sit the special. You still feel awful and now it’s been a while since swotvac, you decide you probably did ok and passed. You withdraw the special consideration and your mark is posted. You have failed on a hurdle – you subject coordinator tells you that you were two marks off passing the exam, but in one question it seemed as though you just forgot to finish the answer.

TAILS, you sit the special. You feel really sick the whole time, having to stop for bathroom visits several times. You know that was not your best shot, and the exam just seemed harder than the first one – it was longer and you ran out of time. Results come out and you will never know if you did better or worse – because this is your mark now. You passed, but you wonder every night for the rest of your course whether you might have got that H1 in the first exam after all – but you will never know.

 

We’re asking students to provide anonymous feedback on how the University actions and decisions have affected you throughout the pandemic. Let us know what you think here.

If you have an issue that requires immediate support, UMSU Advocacy is here to help and can be contacted here.