UCDSU President Conor Anderson took to the “No Detriment” Facebook group on Monday night in light of the recent news that both UCC and Trinity have brought in new accommodations to assist students during the ongoing pandemic.

In his post, Anderson accepted responsibility for the failure of the Covid-19 Assessment Guidelines (colloquially known as the “No Detriment” or “No Disadvantage Policy”); more specifically, in taking management’s word for how the guidelines would be implemented. He spoke to The College Tribune about the guidelines, the bureaucracy surrounding them and where it all went wrong. 

Management’s Dishonesty 

When I asked him to expand on his accusation of misleading and dishonesty on UCD’s part, Anderson explained that UCD assured the SU that they were correct in their understanding that the guidelines would “function as a No Detriment policy in spirit.” According to Anderson, he was told to be correct in his understanding that “students would be protected from seeing their GPA fall, particularly in cases where the student would be falling from a higher degree award to a lower degree award.” As it later turned out, this was not true, with some students seeing their GPAs drop regardless. The SU president looks back on this time with what appears to be an air of frustration: “I feel I did my due diligence and was perfectly willing to communicate a different message to students if I was given a different message to communicate.”

Referring to his own culpability, Anderson regrets not having used his instincts more. “I thought it was too good to be true and I did my due diligence and asked, and I was told again by a senior academic that yes, it was this great protection and ‘you can tell students they’ll be protected’.”

From Anderson’s perspective, it appears the SU were, whether intentionally or not, used as something of a scapegoat by UCD. He suggested that due to a groundswell of activity whereby students were organising, emailing TDs and creating general outcry over the situation, “management was scared”. As a result of this, Anderson says, “management wanted to defuse that as much as they could and so they used the Union, they set us up as a fall guy…”.

Response from UCD 

We sought confirmation from Marie Clarke, the Dean of Students, that there had indeed been promises made with regards to GPA protection. She maintains that “The current SU President was not given any assurances about how the process would work and no commitments were made about GPAs at any stage, as the University did not adopt the No Detriment Policy.” She also claims that it was the SU, and not UCD, who chose to adopt the term “No Disadvantage” to describe the guidelines, despite the email chain attached in Anderson’s Facebook post discussing that it was President Andrew Deeks who first used the term. 

Damaged trust

We also touched on the working relationships within this issue. When asked if he felt the relationship between UCD and the SU had been damaged, Anderson’s reply was one of vehement agreement: “The SU does not feel that we can have a productive relationship with management as a whole.” I then asked him if he believed students’ trust in the SU had been damaged in a time where their support was most needed: “I absolutely do.” 

“Advisory and not mandatory”

There has been some controversy over the weight actually held by the guidelines; specifically, that they were advisory and not mandatory. Anderson provided some clarity on this, saying that guidelines, generally speaking, tend to be somewhat non-mandatory due to limits on what UCD can mandate schools and colleges to do. However, “It’s less that they weren’t mandatory, it’s that no one decided to enforce them.” He believes that a different scenario would have arisen had management chosen to take a “really strong line” with the guidelines, and impressed upon academics that they were to be abided by. Notably, “schools did not understand the guidelines to be anything like a No Detriment Policy”, with some lecturers allegedly being unaware that the guidelines had even been passed. 

Abolition of the Guidelines

When it emerged, midway through last semester, that the guidelines had been pulled, with no chance of renewal, there was a general sense that both UCD and the SU had failed in their responsibility to inform students of this decision from the get-go. Anderson accepts responsibility in not dealing with the issue sooner: “One of my regrets with the first term is that I could have made educational supports more of a priority as president…I take responsibility and if I could go back and re-do the first term I would have made it a bigger focus.” 

As it turns out, the guidelines were not a complete failure in and of themselves, given the significant decrease in module failure rates last Spring, just 2.78% compared to the preceding year’s figure of 5.74%. Ultimately, Anderson says, he is still proud of the work he achieved in getting the guidelines passed. 

Looking to the future: What other accommodations could students achieve? 

In speaking about the pressing issue of whether accommodations similar to those in UCC and TCD could be passed, Anderson feels this is “eminently achievable.” Those accommodations reportedly include uncapped and free of charge resits, a longer period in which to defer exams and an ability to resit exams which have already been sat. The chances of achieving a full No Detriment policy is, according to Anderson, “zero”. He emphasises that “as much as students may want it I do not see any route to a No Detriment policy.” He ended the interview by encouraging students to use their voices as much as possible, believing this to be the best way to achieve real change in UCD: “Get organised. Whatever you want, wherever you want to see change, it can happen if you get organised.”

Rosie Roberts Kuntz – Assistant News Editor