In the unprecedented times that are now upon us, education has certainly taken a major turnaround. As a student of the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine I have been able to see first hand, what this response has been like for UWI.
The campus quickly sprung into action, mobilising the campus IT services to begin the process of online facilitation of classes. Shortly after, the original dates for the end of classes were upon the campus community, and questions remained as to how exams would be administered.
This question plagued the minds of students and perhaps even staff alike as many lecturers questioned openly the inaction by the campus management to even address the issue. This, however, was quite understandable as these are indeed unprecedented times.
It was on March 31 that campus vice-chancellor Sir Hilary Beckles launched the ‘One Love, One UWI’ series of emails, which perhaps were a distraction to the questions that students and staff had. It took a rather poetic, or comedic approach to address the concerns of students as to exams, as it stated, ‘this week we shall be soothing the pained heart of the matter.’
It did not matter the form in which this promise came, as it meant an answer to the question of exams was near.
On April 10, we then were informed by the Campus Registrar that the campus would then be put to exams via an online method starting from May 25. Happily, the UWI community was able to breathe a sigh of relief, shortly albeit, as the question then shifted as to exactly how this exam would be administered. These issues then were addressed by minor meetings with deans and students online, as well as a Town Hall meeting with Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Brian Copeland (UWI St Augustine).
Students then began to press on as to information as to the time table that exams would use by UWI regulation was to be disseminated 28 days before the administering of exams. This meant that with a May 25 exam start, the time table had to be disseminated by April 27.
However, this was never done. Students, rather, had to wait for the timetable to be published. It finally came on May 11th when a provisional timetable came. But questions still remained as to the final timetable, which actually only came on May 19, a mere six days before the start of final exams.
This showed a clear disregard not only the regulations of the University, which required 28-day notice, but it also showed the disregard of the student’s rights and expectations.
The UWI sought to justify this by stating that the Campus Pro Vice-Chancellor can simply waive this 28-day rule, without qualification, reason and showing any concern for the students.
The reality is nonetheless that the intention of this rule is quite obviously to give students time to contemplate and plan their studies around their timetable, this should be of greater importance where the students are using a means that has never been used before, and are entirely unaccustomed to. To worsen the dire situation, many students have exams running concurrently, a circumstance that one must plan in advance for, unfortunately, the UWI saw it important that only six days be given to do so.
Students were asked to address issues to the Campus Registrar, but it seems that for the UWI, this was not an issue worthy of a response, they never spoke to this late information of the timetable and the issues of overlapping exams.
The UWI, however, continued to inundate students with information on how they could access mental health resources, never addressing the actions which, they could take to protect and ensure the safety of their already pressured and restricted students.
On Monday, the UWI Vice-Chancellor, Sir Hilary Beckles, took to the campus senior management to present a report on the way forward in which he paradoxically stated that, “the UWI… is not a for-profit business institution, though it is expected by stakeholders to run its operations in a business-like fashion.” This statement represented the greatest of ironies. It is clear that the campus heads understand the importance of the UWI to be treated as a business.
One of the key tenets of business is customer satisfaction, yet the organisation has shown no regard for their customers, their students.
In closing, I ask the UWI, in future, when making decisions that affect the lives of their students, place them in undue pressure and callously disregard their attempts to have their concerns addressed, at least give the students some reasoning as to why you are doing this.
Rules and regulations have been implemented and contemplated for a clear reason, and the intention is clear. Publicly circumventing rules and regulations that are made, is not to be done without showing any consideration for those it affects, otherwise the regulation would not be there. Make your students feel honoured, like they matter, and not like if they are mere subjects to your domain as if we are citizens of a dictatorship with no say or right to reasoning.