Sociology lecturer receives “torrent of complaints” over lack of class time and “rude” manner to students

Image Credit: Dominic Daly

UCD Sociology lecturer Dr Paul Stokes is under investigation after the school received complaints from several students citing that Dr Stokes was not giving lectures and was being ‘rude to students’ over email communication. 

The module in question, SOC30510: Sociology in the Wild, is a core component for final-year students studying Sociology. Dr Stokes, who has been a lecturer in the School of Sociology since 1996, is also listed as the module coordinator of another third-year module within the school, SOC30040: Governance in Society. 

The initial complaint was made by students on February 8, after the module “started three weeks late,” and thus far the class has only received “two actual lectures.” According to one student, the complaint has made its way through the first stage of the official complaint process. Another student said that upon hearing that there were complaints, Dr Stokes said that the class were “suffering from group autism”. Students have reported that there have been several instances where Dr Stokes has employed an inappropriate tone when addressing the class. 

Dr Stokes sent an email to the class, wherein he addressed the issues voiced to the school, referring to the “torrent of complaints” he had received. There was a decision made to open a hotline where students were free to call within a specified hour time period to discuss any issues they might be encountering. Dr Stokes said that this decision was made as a result of the “shit storm this has brought down on me personally”. The same email was concluded by Dr Stokes discouraging students from availing of the service, stating that he was “look[ing] forward to hearing from as few of you as possible”.

The head of the School of Sociology, Associate Professor Iarfhlaith Watson, a listed tutor for the module, told The University Observer that the query had been passed onto UR (University Relations). It has been over eight weeks since the initial complaint was submitted, and students have noted that the issue has yet to be resolved, and that there was a group complaint meeting on March 23, with no solution being offered. 

When asked by The University Observer how the school is handling the complaint, a student said: “They basically have acknowledged it and just essentially told us to get on with it”. They also said that the “School of Sociology just brush it under the rug.” As stated on the UCD Student Engagement, Conduct, Complaints and Appeals page, students are assured that they should “feel free to raise concerns, express dissatisfaction and seek resolution to any problems encountered.” While students are encouraged to direct complaints to those at a school level, which would be Associate Professor Watson in this case, a student said that while the School of Sociology was "made aware, but offered no help.” 

With regard to a student voicing a complaint, it should be raised at a local level first, and in order to submit a formal complaint at University level, it must be done within 15 days of the issue occurring. UCD has stated that they “endeavour to respond to formal complaints within 30 working days”. This time has elapsed for the students who complained about Dr Stokes, and they have not yet received a resolution nor an indication as to when this resolution is likely. Faculty are also advised when dealing with students issues to “treat complainants courteously and professionally” and to “offer an apology, where appropriate.” 

On the module information page, there is no indication of what the course will cover, the module description is currently “Wild things.” The only information students have access to before registration is the proposed time where the lecture would take place, which is suggested at twice a week. Students received an email from Dr Stokes “saying to read a few pages from his book as a replacement for a lecture”. Out of a potential 20 lectures so far this semester, students have received two. There was also an instance wherein Dr Stokes threatened students who shared recordings of lectures, saying that they would be “breaking the terms of service with UCD and [would] get in a lot of trouble.”

Students have been notified that their GPA will not suffer as a result of the module, and are still expected to do a 2,500 word final essay, despite not having received the submission date. On the lack of clarity, a student said that they are expected to submit an essay for "a course that we haven’t been taught”, and that “if UCD do nothing I think it’ll be a disgrace especially given the way he has treated students.” 

All students wished to remain anonymous, one expressing their anxiety over Dr Stokes being aware of vocality on the issue, for the fear that “he targets me because of it.” 

Dr Stokes did not respond to a request for comment.