The University screws up a national emergency response, again
In anticipation of Cyclone Gabrielle causing major weather disruptions across the Auckland region and beyond, the University announced on February 10 that all Summer School examinations for the week commencing February 13 would take place online. This involved a shift of over 20 examinations planned to take place on campus to online mediums.
The key difference to previous online exam periods? Students with exams on February 13 and 14 would be unable to use campus spaces to sit exams online if their personal environment was unsuitable, with the Vice Chancellor issuing a statement that, “All services that are unable to move to online mode will be closed on Monday and Tuesday. This includes retail outlets, cafes, the Recreation Centre, events and any other physical spaces on campus such as libraries, student commons and study spaces. All buildings on campus will be locked from Sunday evening.”
The response of the University to this unprecedented weather event prompted mass outrage from students across all facilities, who highlighted the lack of equity and empathy towards those impacted by the floods in the process. Once again, it seems that the University just attempted to stick their band-aid of compassionate consideration over the seeping, bloody wound of a national emergency—for those seasoned students among us, this feels very reminiscent of 2020, and students were once again left reeling.
Much like the weather, students flooded to social media to request support from the University, with one student commenting, “What should I do, if I cannot study online due to no power?” The University’s social media response: “If you are impacted by the cyclone and are unable to sit your exam or something unforeseen has impacted your exam preparation or performance, you may be able to apply for an aegrotat or compassionate consideration.” Another student asked, “Is there accommodation for families who are affected?” to which the University responded, “Please visit the link in bio to see what support we have available.” Naturally, we did, and unfortunately for this student, there is zero mention of accommodation support for those impacted by the floods. The closest option was a link to book a nice half-hour visit to the staff at Campus Care, who probably aren’t well equipped to shackle you and your family up in any University accommodation that same day. There’s sure to be a nice cup of tea available though, and maybe the Vice Chancellor has a spare room going at her $5 million mansion? Actually, sorry: that was coincidentally sold off after an Auditor-General report was published regarding its inequity in resource management (seeing a pattern, anyone?)
So what should have been done for these Summer School exams? We acknowledge that this was an emergency, and that the University was under immense pressure to make a quick decision. By all means, a difficult call needed to be made in a matter of a few days. Even in practice and with the power of hindsight, the call still feels inadequate.
For starters, it seems immediately clear that there were other options available—for instance, postponing exams. Craccum reached out to the University for an official response on why examinations were not postponed, and we were informed that, “The situation was constantly monitored in the lead up to and during Summer School exams, including meeting ahead of each exam session on February 13 and 14 with the latest data from Auckland Emergency Management, NEMA, Vector, and Metservice, alongside the number of students unable to access and/or submit their exam to see whether postponement was appropriate at any time. Prior d
iscussions about postponement took into account the impact that would have on students (e.g. consideration was given to the impact on students if exams were postponed including stress and uncertainty, delays getting results impacting future study, and employment and logistical issues for students).”
Of course, alongside logistical issues for students, what goes unsaid by the University is that offering a more flexible response for student exams would have resulted in an intensive few days of reorganising and planning. However, this seems like a fair and reasonable trade-off for a solution that does a better job at achieving equity. Also, we’d think that a three day delay in getting exam results back might not be as big of a deal as, say, a multiple week delay in getting exam results back due to the TEU strikes (caused by the University’s refusal to meet their demands). Where was all this student centred discussion of “stress” and “delays” in November when students were left without marks for almost a month?
Alternative recourse could’ve also included transferring online exams to become 24 or 48 hour take home assignments (as was done in Semester One of 2020, during the Covid-19 pandemic) or assigning essay questions or PILOs in lieu of final exams. Indeed, it seems on a case by case basis, some of these options were taken by individual lecturers—one politics student told Craccum that his exam needed to be sat on campus, and was actually rescheduled for the following week. However, changes were not widespread, with the majority of students still expected to sit exams from home under time restrictions.
So, what does the University want you to do if your flat starts flooding during an exam? Just pop your feet up on your chair at your desk—you’ll barely even notice the small lake in your bedroom is there! If your power goes out? That’s fine, use the non-existent leftovers of your weekly student loan payment to buy endless data and hope that your cell tower doesn’t drop down too. Remember, the University will continue to offer aegrotats and compassionate considerations to students impacted by flooding, so you can always take that C- you got on the mid-semester essay! However, if by chance you failed the only other assessment you’ve had prior to your exam, you won’t be eligible for this, sorry. The good news is that you can cry about this injustice while scooping buckets of water from your flat basement, and you’ll barely even notice the extra water! If things were that dire and you really didn’t want to fail that paper, it probably wasn’t too much for you to don a wetsuit, mount your broken desk, row over fallen trees and houses to your local McDonald’s, and sit that darned exam on their shitty wifi while water seeps in over the top of your gumboots. Remember the University motto: Ingenio et Labore, “By Natural Ability and Hard Work.” This is what is expected of you, as a student at this fine institution.
After all, Summer School student Caden reminded us that there’s always ways to make sure you sit your exam—the University’s number one priority—telling Craccum, “If my power goes out, I’m going to the Vice Chancellor’s house to sit my exam, because she said we need to find a suitable location—where else would be better?”