University has become separated from its students on the Class Lists issueLouis Ashworth

Let me be clear. I don’t think anyone should be forced into displaying their grades at Senate House. It is appalling that this practice, which amounts to some kind of institutionalised hazing, is thrust on the unwilling.

In this respect, then, it is admirable that the University wishes to abolish them. But in another respect, we should be concerned – because it is by no means obvious that total abolition is the best solution. On a rudimentary level, both CUSU and the University ticked all the boxes in the consultation department. But when you zero in on the details, there are good reasons to doubt the legitimacy of the University’s final position.

Most alarmingly, the decision to campaign against Class Lists was adopted by CUSU without offering the other side the chance to make its case. Not only did the email sent by CUSU inviting students to attend the relevant Council not specify when or where the discussion would be taking place, but it arrived in the inboxes of many students – including mine – hours after the meeting. There are questions worth asking as to how representative any vote of CUSU Council is – it becoming rightly known as the most unsafe of safe spaces – especially for journalists, members of certain cultural minorities and overseas students, the latter being disproportionately likely to support class lists. But that’s beside the point. In this case, however unintentionally, the vote wasn’t advertised properly, and I know dozens who would have attended otherwise.

This wouldn’t be so worrying if it weren’t for the fact that all available evidence points to students supporting a solution totally different from that put forward by CUSU Council on 9th November 2015. The most recent CUSU consultation found that 70 per cent of students believed in the right to opt out and 66 per cent said they “liked” the publication of class lists. Polling by The Tab suggests that there is still strong support for Class Lists. The other evidence we have to go on is the ‘Our Grade, Our Choice’ petition signed by 1300 students – but this petition was explicit in asking only for an opt-out. It is a travesty that the views of these 1300 students were misrepresented by University officials in the drive to abolish Class Lists.

Not only have the views of 1300 students been misrepresented, but the voices of students with anxiety or mental health conditions who benefit from Class Lists have been systematically silenced and their lived experiences invalidated. A friend of mine said: “My whole time at Cambridge I struggled with both mental and physical health issues, intermitting in my second year and ultimately achieving a third. But I never once questioned the existence of the class list; the fact that I couldn't hide my results from my peers has been vital preparation for my life after Cambridge.” The suggestion that the mental health of all students is harmed by Class Lists is infantilising and disrespectful for the many, many students who have spoken up to suggest exactly the opposite. It was profoundly disturbing to see a Cambridge activist mock the lived experience of a suicidal student who had had a positive experience of Class Lists, writing: “I can’t tell if this is a spoof.”

The discussion surrounding class lists has not only been exclusionary, but misinformed. The £350 million claim in this debate is that Oxford fully abolished its Class Lists in 2009. On the contrary, this was the year that Oxford decided to make participation in class lists voluntary, as well as delegating to colleges and faculties the right to make their own choice about the display of Class Lists. You can add to that the claim that everyone who you want seeing your grades will still be able to access them; unaffiliated supervisors, for example, won’t be able to see their students’ grades, nor will a number of firms who use the class lists to headhunt talent.

As you can tell, there’s a range of reasons why people might want to make their grades public – jobs, for example, or wanting to suffer or celebrate with our friends – as compared to alone, in our rooms, in the grim company of CamSIS. But, regrettably, opponents of Class Lists have opted to dumb down the debate by insisting that this is a grand showdown between mental health and “tradition”. It’s not. I am – like many other supporters of Class Lists with an opt-out – thoroughly non-traditionalist and don’t believe for one minute that keeping class lists for the sake of tradition is cogent in any way. But I also believe that opposing class lists because they are a tradition is just as irrational. Those who believe in all-out abolition need to go one step further and say why those students who benefit from class lists should not be allowed to choose to do so. The only answer to this question I have heard – offered at the original CUSU Council – was that students would take the time to see who wasn’t on the Class List, before – I presume – shaming such students for having elected to opt out.

Such an answer betrays a total failure to grasp the decency that characterises the vast majority of Cambridge students – and points to why we need a referendum.

Progressive, genuinely left-wing student policy values choice. And I believe that, if it’s not too much trouble to the University, that includes the choice to make your own grade public. But choice has – in this instance – been trampled on by a cabal of fellows more concerned with making their mark than listening to ordinary voices.

Now is the time for these voices to be heard – in a referendum.

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