In Trinity I have learned to expect the worst

Considering the cyclical pattern of issues Trinity students have been subjected to, it is hard to believe that this year will be any different

Reflecting on the organisational disasters of Trinity’s last academic year, it is difficult to approach the oncoming term with any hope. The consensus on the 2018/19 year was unanimous: Trinity’s implementation of the Trinity Education Project, or TEP, was woefully executed, and led to a year-long string of issues that primarily affected Sophister students. Study periods were reduced and exams were piled on top of one another, leading to an enormous increase in pressure for those completing their final assessments. Long-standing assessment formats were thrown out the window, leaving students confused and uninformed on what to expect. The week before the brand-new April exam period commenced, pandemonium erupted as the library closed its doors early for the Easter weekend. To top it all off, Trinity surprised its already overstressed students with extensive queues at exam centres for a cloakroom they had never previously been warned about.

Upon looking back even further, it becomes apparent that Trinity’s wilful mistreatment of its students is a repeated and identifiable pattern. Trinity’s Erasmus administration has been plagued by issues and complaints for a number of years. In the 2017/2018 academic year, organisational failures caused huge problems during the Schols exams, leaving students without seats and with incorrect exam papers. That same semester, college infamously proposed supplemental examination fees in a brazened attempt to exploit and monetize its students. However, the students mobilised, rebelled, and we #TookBackTrinity – or at least that was the plan.

At the heart of the problems with Trinity’s introduction of TEP, and with Trinity in general, is the lack of communication and co-operation with its students.

The difference between the supplemental exam fees and TEP is that while the fees represented a clear-cut, single change that could easily be opposed and reversed, TEP has been presented as an inevitability; an unavoidable series of fundamental changes to the way Trinity “delivers its education”. The changes proposed under TEP are not necessarily an issue, but their execution and implementation most certainly is. Last year, the first year of TEP’s implementation, was a disaster across the board. From the very beginning of the academic year until the very end, students raised issues with Trinity surrounding the implementation of the changes under TEP, but were by and large resoundingly ignored.

At the heart of the problems with Trinity’s introduction of TEP, and with Trinity in general, is the lack of communication and co-operation with its students. Much like the Campanile and the Book of Kells, miscommunication and disorganisation have become Trinity’s most salient features. The recent revelation that Trinity rejected plans to implement an online feedback form for students on the grounds of it being “too expensive”, epitomises the dismissive attitude that appears to be held towards student opinions and wellbeing by College. Rather than working with its students, Trinity at times seems to openly pit itself against them.

It is accepted among students that capital and profit occupy the top spot on Trinity’s list of priorities, with reputation and international rankings closely following, and staff and student wellbeing to be found somewhere far down the bottom. Expecting to be at the top of the Provost’s list of priorities is too much to ask for a lowly undergraduate like myself, but at the very least, as students we might hope that Trinity’s profit-driven machine might yield some actual benefit for us as students. Year round, campus operates as a money-making machine, with the Book of Kells bringing in hundreds of thousands per year and the Perch coffees costing more than most local cafes. In the summertime, Trinity’s profiteering is ramped up, with a flurry of Summer Series concerts, increased tourism, and even filming taking place in the library. Students are notified that “Financial contribution from this filming will be invested in supporting the College’s academic mission.”

Vast amounts of capital are brought in through Trinity’s various revenue ventures, and yet students still sit on the steps in lecture halls and on the floor of the arts block due to lack of space.

Considering the cyclical pattern of issues and disorganisation that Trinity students have been subjected to over the last number of years, I have begun to question what exactly Trinity’s “academic mission” is, and who it is actually benefiting. From the student perspective, it appears that Trinity’s mission is to earn as much money as possible, to be invested in projects that will hopefully raise Trinity’s position in the international rankings, and help to attract more international students and, by extension, further increasing their revenue intake.

While Trinity’s students and staff continue to suffer, battling with woeful administration and  poorly planned systemic changes, the powers-that-be continue on their money-crazed crusade for QS rankings glory. Vast amounts of capital are brought in through Trinity’s various revenue ventures, and yet students still sit on the steps in lecture halls and on the floor of the arts block due to lack of space.

It is true that Irish universities are facing a funding crisis, however this doesn’t provide justification for the array of organisation mishaps that Trinity students are subjected to year after year. There are a wide range of staff members involved in the organisation and planning of TEP, Trinity’s examinations, and the Erasmus programme;  yet large-scale errors continue to occur on a repeated basis.

With TEP entering its second year, it is impossible to predict the difficulties that students will once again be subjected to as part of the “teething process” of the new systems. Fortunately, students will have two weeks of study period before next year’s Hilary examination period instead of one: this is not due to any sudden change of heart on behalf of Trinity, but rather, an organisational mishap that has been largely overlooked by the student population. Despite the impression given last year that one week’s study period was the “new norm” under TEP, it was in fact an anomaly: for the coming years, Trinity had always planned to give two weeks of study. Last year’s single study week was just brutally unfair on the specific students whose final year it was.

You could say that last year’s Sophister students simply fell victim to bad luck and unfortunate timing. However, to blame these issues on “luck” negates the years of repeated problems and complaints that have become the new norm for Trinity students and staff. As Sophister students brace themselves for final year, it is difficult to have hope that it will be any better than the last.

Hugh Whelan

Hugh Whelan is the current Comment Editor of Trinity News. He is a Senior Sophister English Literature and Film Studies student.