Josh Byrne delves into how well UCD have handled, or mishandled, their responsibilities surrounding the Covid-19 Pandemic
During a sermon in 1958, Martin Luther King Jr. remarked that “the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy”. Over 60 years on, the great man’s words remain as powerful as ever and especially relevant to the unprecedented circumstances in which we now find ourselves. Any rational person would acknowledge that a flawless response to the pandemic was not a reasonable expectation. As such, the relentless government-bashing by armchair critics on Facebook and Twitter has been largely unwarranted and certainly unhelpful. It is fair to say, however, that once the dust settles, there will be those who have distinguished themselves and those who have damaged their reputations.
Leo Varadkar and Dr. Tony Holohan undoubtedly fall into the first category. Particularly impressive was Varadkar’s rallying cry from Washington. The speech bore similarities to the wartime addresses delivered by Winston Churchill, certainly insofar as both men attempted to unite their nations in tumultuous times. The steady leadership he exhibited through the darkest days of the pandemic says everything about his character. A stark contrast is provided by Gemma O’Doherty and her disciples, who elected to rebel against measures adopted for the benefit of public health. With the new academic year fast approaching, it is worth considering where UCD falls on this spectrum by assessing how the university hierarchy dealt with the challenges posed by the pandemic.
The ambiguity surrounding the implementation of a no detriment grading policy seems to have been the main source of frustration for UCD students.
The ambiguity surrounding the implementation of a ‘No-Detriment’ grading policy seems to have been the main source of frustration for UCD students. Almost as soon as the closure of colleges was announced on March 12th, a rigorous debate erupted as to whether it would be possible to adopt a GPA neutral semester. There are merits to both sides of the argument. Students who are entirely reliant on-campus resources faced near-insurmountable hurdles when attempting to complete their coursework. At the same time, UCD retained an obligation to uphold academic standards. It is fair to assume that there were going to be substantial knock-on implications regardless of the eventual decision.
The main hang-up with the handling of the situation is the lack of communication and clarity. For the purposes of analysis, the timeline of events is of vital importance. On April 28th of this year, UCD students received an email from Joanna Siewierska, the then UCDSU president, stating that a ‘No-Detriment’ policy had been passed following approval by university management. According to an article previously published in The University Observer, Siewierska addressed student queries about whether the policy meant their GPA could not go down by replying "in essence, yes". Since then, the only email that students received from the SU concerned the announcement of newly elected Sabbatical Officers. Subsequently, it emerged that the ‘No Detriment’ policy was not going to be applied across the board and many students were left disappointed by an unanticipated drop in their GPAs. A clarification from university management is long overdue.
In a call a few weeks ago, Anderson explained that the SU is restricted in its ability to email students, especially during summer months. In this writer’s view, this is an area that should be reformed, particularly if, as demonstrated this year, the SU is to play an integral role in disseminating important information to students. To his credit, Anderson acknowledged that more of an effort might have been made to convey the evolving issues as they arose. While statements were issued on various social media platforms, it is evident that a considerable portion of students remained in the dark. For the avoidance of confusion, email should always be the first port of call when addressing a matter that affects the entire student body.
Thus far, it appears that a happy balance has been struck between, on one hand, complying with public health guidelines and, on the other, facilitating optimal student access to a vibrant campus learning environment.
With respect to preparing for the return to college, UCD performed significantly better than other third-level institutions. Over the course of the seemingly endless summer, there was widespread uncertainty as to what impact government restrictions would have on college life. During this period, UCD frequently contacted students to update them on new developments and to request their input on structuring the new academic year. Thus far, it appears that a happy balance has been struck between, on one hand, complying with public health guidelines and, on the other, facilitating optimal student access to a vibrant campus learning environment. Contrastingly, Waterford IT has faced significant backlash in recent weeks for electing to revert exclusively to online learning. This decision has come too late for some students, many of whom have already organised accommodation for the coming year.
Overall, UCD handled the challenges posed by the pandemic reasonably well. The university is not in any danger of being corralled into the same category as Gemma O’Doherty, at least not in my view. At times, UCD excelled at communicating with students but there were also instances where transparency was lacking somewhat. In the future, clear and timely correspondence is the key to maintaining the trust and confidence of students.