Student with depression and anxiety incorrectly withdrawn from Trinity due to admin errors

Despite applying for free fees status on September 25 for the 2017/18 academic year, the Senior Lecturer did not address the case until December 1

A student has been incorrectly withdrawn from College by Academic Services due to administration errors and delays.

The student was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, and in April of this year, applied for a full year repeat on medical grounds. They also submitted a second application for additional tuition fees to be waived as part of the Free Fees Initiative on medical ground also, which is separate from the €3,000 contribution charge. The student’s tutor, Professor Stefan Hutzler of the Physics department, had sent the application to the Senior Lecturer, Dr. Gillian Martin, for fees to be waived on September 25, but was only processed and consequently accepted on December 1. On December 6, the student was informed by Academic Registry that she had been withdrawn from College.

The student first contacted her tutor on April 14 with regards to not completing end of year exams and the academic year, saying: “I’ve recently been diagnosed with depression and have been struggling to cope with college for the last few months.”

Prof. Hutzler informed her that she had qualified for the medical repeat on May 3, and that they would apply to the Free Fees Initiative at a later stage. In order to complete the form, the student needed a certificate of fitness to return to College for the 2017/18 academic year, which was completed by her local doctor who had treated her and returned to Prof. Hutzler on July 26.

On September 11, Prof. Hutzler, informed her that she would need to visit the Student Counselling Service (SCS) to complete the form to apply for free fees, as the certificate from her local doctor was not approved. In the email to Prof. Hutzler, the student stated that she was not informed that she would have to visit SCS to apply for her fees to be covered. “This was something that was never made clear to me,” and said that she was told over the phone that “they wouldn’t be able to fill out this form for me as they have no insight into the grounds for which I’m repeating the year”. However, the SCS said that they would contact the Senior Lecturer, Dr. Martin, about the case.

In a follow up email dated September 17 to Hutzler, after not receiving response on to how to proceed, the student said: “I’m due back to college on Monday [September 25] and if I’m honest I’m completely stressed and upset about where I stand. I’ve absolutely no idea how to proceed. I can’t complete registration without fee payment and I can’t access my timetable without registering.”

On September 20, Prof. Hutzler said that he had received a response from Dr. Martin, which said: “I write to acknowledge receipt of medical documentation stating [the student] is fit to return to full time study in academic year 2017/18. [The student] may register for her year in the normal way.” Prof. Hutzler acknowledged to the student that Dr. Martin’s response did not address her application for her fees to be covered this academic year, and attached a second different form for her local doctor to complete.

By September 25, the student’s local doctor had returned the completed form, and Prof. Hutzler had sent the application onto Dr. Martin on the same day.

By November 9, her application had not been processed. In an email to the student, Prof. Hutzler said: “I just sent a reminder message to the Senior Lecturer’s office. I am not satisfied with this delay, let’s hope it will be sorted soon.”

Despite a reminder email sent to Dr. Martin’s office on November 9 by Prof. Hutzler, on November 17 an email from Academic Registry marked as “urgent” was sent to the student with regards to paying fees for this academic year. The email read: As per College regulations and previous communications, students who have not completed online registration before Wednesday 29th November 2017 will be deemed to be withdrawn and services such as the Library, Blackboard, the College Network and ID cards will be suspended. In such circumstances, students must apply to the Senior Lecturer…for readmission and pay a late registration and readmission fee of €358.”

Prof. Hutzler replied on November 17, and said that he sent her message to Dr. Martin. By November 23, Prof. Hutzler had not received a response from Dr. Martin. In an email to the student, Prof. Hutzler said that Student Cases apologises for “having not yet progressed your application form sent in September 25” and “having not responded to my two emails (Nov 11 and Nov 17) asking about the state of your application”.  Prof. Hutzler said that  “you will NOT be made withdrawn on the 28th of November and there will be NO late registration fee. This is a farce that should not have happened and I have complained about this in strong words.”

Meanwhile, Academic Registry informed the student that she was on a list of students with open cases that would not be withdrawn as it had not been assessed at that point. The student’s case was due to be assessed on December 1, and on December 4, she received confirmation that her free fees for this year had been granted.

By December 6, the student had been withdrawn from Trinity by Academic Registry, despite her application for a medical repeat and free fees being accepted. She no longer has use of Blackboard, her ID card, IT Services, the Library and other College services.

In a statement to Trinity News, the student said: I’ve had a tough enough year personally without having to feel like I don’t matter to anyone who has been dealing with my case. I am fully aware that the administrative services are always very busy, but if this had happened to me at my worst, I wouldn’t be in College today. In my opinion, these services are there to help students and to make sure they get back to College without delay. I feel the opposite has been true in my case as there clearly has been a complete breakdown in communication between the relevant services. I’ve spent the first semester of my repeat year not knowing where I stood or if I was going to have to pay the full fees. I’ve been threatened with withdrawal more than once by the Academic Registry, for no fault of my own.”

The student continued: “Having just received news that I was granted my fees and then to be told I was withdrawn anyway, I am beyond upset. My struggles with anxiety and depression are ongoing and everyone involved knew the reasons for my repetition of the year. I feel the Senior Lecturer’s office had total disregard of this fact and allowed me to slip off their list. It’s very easy to become just a student number to these services. The communication between the offices of the Senior Lecturer and the Academic Registry just seemed to completely shut down with regards to my case which has led me to where I am today; frustrated, upset and withdrawn from my course.”

Speaking to Trinity News, Education Officer of Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU), Alice MacPherson, said: “It is not unheard of for student cases to take a number of weeks to resolve, and slow admin is often cited as the cause. This adds huge frustration and stress to already vulnerable students. It would seem this case has gone beyond that and there has been a grave administrative failure and a total breakdown in communications between college offices. This is unacceptable. The student has been in contact and I will be supporting them and working with them to find out what went so wrong here.”

Prof. Hutzler said, in correspondence with Trinity News: “Following my email to the Academic Registry, it is now being investigated how the various delays and mishaps arose. I have also received an apology for what had happened. What had annoyed me most is that [the student] was put under an enormous stress; being threatened to be made withdrawn, and actually being made withdrawn without one’s fault is bad for any student. It is particularly bad for a student who suffers from anxiety, which was the actual reason why she had to withdraw in 2017 in the first place.”

The Senior Lecturer, Dr. Martin, did not respond to a request for comment at time of publication. Academic Registry refused to comment on the basis of student confidentiality.

If you have experienced similar issues with any aspect of Trinity’s administration, we would strongly welcome you to get in contact with us – please email [email protected]. Anonymity and confidentiality are guaranteed.

Seana Davis

Seana Davis is a fourth year Geology student and News Editor of Trinity News.