Class Lists are displayed publicly outside Senate HouseLouis Ashworth

Regent House, the University’s highest governing body, has voted to retain publicly-displayed Class Lists, rejecting the recommendation submitted to it by the University Council and the General Board of the Faculties.

1,241 votes were cast on the Grace proposing the abolition of the Lists by members of Regent House, with 514 voting in favour and 727 against. The Grace has thus been rejected.

There were 5,486 members of Regent House recorded in its most recent roll, meaning that the votes cast on the Grace represent around a 22.5 per cent turnout of members.  

The vote protects a tradition of results being posted outside Senate House that has existed since 1748. Then, the public lists were introduced to reveal the grades of those taking the once-compulsory Mathematics Tripos. By the 1960s, students taking almost all the Triposes of the University could see their results published via the Lists.

The result reflects the wishes of the student body, who last month voted to support the continued publication of Class Lists, with the condition that the system for opting-out of having results displayed be simplified.

It marks a striking defeat for the University’s central governance. An internal consultation on the lists found that out of 37 stakeholders which responded, mainly faculties and colleges, all but one favoured abolition of public lists. However, some senior members expressed unhappiness that a decision on the lists was being “handed down from above.” 

Speaking to Varsity about the result, a representative from Save the Class List, a student campaign in favour of the Lists, said: “We are delighted with this result, and confident that it shows a willingness from Regent House to listen to students' understanding of their own priorities. Like the student vote, it is a convincing majority - vox populi, vox dei.”

Keir Murison, former President of Student Minds Cambridge (now Schools Officer and Senior Member), who campaigned for the abolition of the Lists, acknowledged to Varsity: “while it's not the result we wanted, it's the one we expected.

“It is now up to CUSU and the save the class lists campaign to make sure we get an opt-out system. I will continue to work to make sure this happens and keep all yes campaigners to the promises they made in the referendum. Simply put, if we don't get the system we voted for then we must reconsider the issue,” he continued.

The vote forced the over 5,000 eligible Regent House members, primarily senior staff and academics, to balance arguments in favour of tradition, and the notion that lists breed solidarity and healthy competition, with claims that they are damaging for the welfare of students. In the build-up to the student referendum, there were impassioned arguments made for and against the lists.

Before the vote, Classics Professor Mary Beard spoke to Varsity about the challenges of the decision.

“Part of me says that these are what we used to call ‘public examinations’,” she said, “And my experience has always been that those who did less well than they hoped were actually supported by the public nature of the results. But part of me feels very iffy about people learning what they got from a Senate House pic on Facebook. It isn’t simple.”

The outcome brings an end, for now, to a saga stretching back to May 2015, when the student campaign ‘Our Grade, Our Choice’ set up a petition calling for a system in which students could opt-out of being included on Class Lists entirely on the basis of personal preference.

The campaign thrust the issue of Class Lists into the spotlight, and by the end of 2015 both CUSU and the General Board of the Faculties – the University body responsible for making academic and educational policy – had examined the issue, the former backing the abolition of the Lists while the latter launched a review of the matter.

In April, a freedom of information request by Varsity revealed that the General Board of the Faculties had proposed to the University Council that the public display of Class Lists be abolished, exceeding the demands of the Our Grade, Our Choice campaign. In July, the University Council approved the proposals and a Grace was submitted to Regent House. 

It seemed that the University had called time on Class Lists, since a Grace submitted to Regent House is considered to have passed unless 25 members formally register their dissent. However, 55 members of the governing body – which comprises over 5,000 senior academics and administrative staff – did just that, necessitating the final vote on whether or not to scrap Class Lists.

The debate was further complicated by a petition launched by the Save The Class List campaign calling for a referendum of the student body on whether CUSU ought to drop their pro-abolition policy in favour of supporting an easier and less stringent opt-out procedure. A referendum was triggered in July after the petition garnered the requisite number of signatures.

In last month’s referendum 55.23 per cent of students voted to change CUSU’s policy, mandating the student union to push for the retention of Class Lists. The eventual fate of Class Lists, however, always lay with this afternoon’s result.

The vote caused consternation among many senior members of the University, who expressed fears that being unable to access results could impede the ability for colleges to compare themselves academically. The University compiles its own internal ranking, the Baxter table. In the voting guidance issued to members of Regent House, it was promised that the sharing of data with colleges would “continue as before”.

In guidance issued to the Senior Tutors’ committee, many members of which backed abolition, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education, Graham Virgo, said that there would be a Working Group set up to discuss the future dissemination of results, regardless of outcome.