If the proposal passes, the class lists will be safe for the foreseeable futureLouis Ashworth

Students will soon have the choice to remove their names from the class lists both in print and online through a simple tick-box option, Varsity can exclusively report.

A proposal was passed yesterday morning by the University Council, which is chaired by vice-chancellor Stephen Toope. If approved by Regent House, it will end doubts over whether the publication of the lists could legally continue, and mean students graduating this summer will have the option of easily opting-out from class lists.

In a statement, Graham Virgo, pro-vice-chancellor for education, told Varsity: “Following a recommendation by the General Board, at a meeting of the Council on 11 December it was agreed that, in future, any student will be able to opt out from having their name published in a class list outside the Senate House and in the Reporter, without needing to disclose reasons for the opt out.”

Class Lists The story so far

The public display of Class Lists, in which Cambridge students’ exam grades are posted outside Senate House, has been a point of contention for several years. It was the subject of the campaign ‘Our Grade, Our Choice’, which in 2015 gathered over 1,200 signatures for a petition calling on the University to introduce an easier opt-out system.

That campaigning issue was picked up by CUSU, and in late 2015, a poorly-attended meeting of CUSU Council saw opposition of the Lists enshrined in student union policy. Abolishing the lists became a key lobbying focus of CUSU President Priscilla Mensah. Around the same time, the University was launching its own review, seeking to address the issue of “the future of Class Lists”.

In April 2016, Varsity revealed that the review – led by Professor Graham Virgo, the pro-vice-chancellor for education – had been completed, and that the General Board of the Faculties had recommended that the Lists be abolished, a recommendation which was subsequently passed by the University Council. The review called publication of the Lists “undesirable, unnecessary, and without benefit to the proper business of the collegiate University”. Documentation showed Mensah had told the review that students backed abolition, based on the CUSU Council vote. A Grace was published in July which, if left unopposed, would have meant the end of the lists.

At that point, however, there was a reversal. Members of Regent House – Cambridge’s sovereign governing body of academics and senior staff – blocked the Grace, triggering a vote on whether it should pass. Additionally, a student campaign, ‘Save the Class List’, had gathered enough signatures to force CUSU to hold a referendum on its own policy.

In November 2016, students voted in a referendum to change CUSU’s policy, reversing its position almost a year after it had first been set, to instead campaign for the lists to be maintained. In December, Regent House voted, rejecting the Grace. With the Lists’ fortunes totally flipped, the University began a new review into their future, and the possibility of a simplified opt-out.

Those discussions were derailed, however, by news of incoming EU data protection legislation, which University administrators worried could make publishing the lists illegal. Since then, things have been quiet as the University seeks legal advice on if it can even proceed in publishing the lists, let alone in creating a simplified opt-out. Today’s news suggests the University has taken a cautious legal approach, and has taken steps to implement the result of last year’s referendum on CUSU’s policy.

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The proposal now only needs to pass through Regent House, which will likely happen at the end of Lent Term. No vote will be held unless there are objections from enough members of Regent House, the sovereign University body comprised of academics and senior staff.

“It is anticipated that this new opt out process will be available for the main examination period (commencing 21 May 2018), once systems have been updated,” Virgo said.

Last year’s referendum on class lists mandated CUSU to campaign to keep class lists, but to lobby for an easier opt-out process. If passed by Regent House, the new proposal will reflect the demands of that vote.

Speaking to Varsity, Martha Krish, CUSU education officer, said: “I am so pleased that this issue that CUSU has been campaigning on for many years, in many forms, is finally one step away from being resolved.”

It is the latest twist saga lasting over two years, which divided the student body and led to a vote overturning both CUSU and University policy. During the past year, incoming data protection regulation has forced the University to seek legal advice over the continued publication of class lists.

Yesterday, Varsity revealed the University’s administration was close to a decision, having narrowed down its options for continued publication of the lists to four options. The University has settled upon the second option, a full simplified opt-out.

The proposed changes mean that student simply tick a box on CamSIS to opt-out from both the Senate House and Reporter lists. No medical evidence or permission from academic or pastoral staff will be required.

If a student has won a prize but has opted-out, they will be contacted to ask if they would then like to be included. If there is no response or a negative response is received, their name will remain omitted.

Under the current system, students have been required to undergo a lengthy process to opt out. Applications are currently only considered in “exceptional circumstances” with medical evidence that publication “would be likely seriously to endanger a student’s health or mental well-being.”

This opt-out has also only ever applied to the printed lists outside the Senate House, and never to the lists published in the Cambridge University Reporter, which is accessible online to any member of the University with a Raven login.

Krish insisted that resolving the class lists issue would boost student welfare, saying, “The history of students appearing on both physical lists and in the University Reporter without an accessible opt out option has caused distress and harm to countless students.

“The proposed change is a massive improvement on the previous system where the ability to opt-out was in theory available for anyone with a 'genuine need' but in reality the bureaucracy involved meant that this was not the case.

“This is a fantastic victory for all of the CUSU sabbs and students who have fought hard for student choice and the ability to make the decision that is right for them, no matter the reason behind it. It has been long anticipated and I am so proud to have sat on the committees and been involved in the conversations that finally brought about the change that students demanded.”