The annual timetable debacle is an embarrassment to Trinity

Administrative breakdown continues to hamper the basic functioning of the university

It is not an unreasonable request that students be informed what classes they are taking, where those classes will be held, and what times they will be required to attend the classes. Students have always needed to know this information, right back through the four centuries of Trinity’s existence. College knows, with every approaching September, that it is necessary to publish the timetables for each course before the semester begins. And yet the student body finds itself, as it does every year, having to extract this information from Trinity’s various faculties almost by force.

It is less than three weeks until college begins for the year, and the rollout of timetables to students has been maddeningly inconsistent. Some classes already have their schedules. Some have been informed that they must wait until Freshers’ Week, just one week before classes. Some have been told they will receive them when they register – which is not yet possible if you have supplemental exams. Some courses just haven’t been told anything at all.

The problems are not limited to the basic provision of information either. Those lucky enough to have access to their timetables have found, in numerous cases, that they have class schedules that clash with each other, modules listed for the wrong semester, and others inexplicably missing. I logged into Blackboard this week to find that one of the modules I chose back in May has transformed into an entirely different module with the same module code, without any explanation.. The class I signed up for simply no longer exists.

“This problem would be unbecoming of a primary school; in a university ranked first in its country, it’s a farce.”

This may seem like an unimportant criticism to focus on. But a class timetable defines a student’s life for an entire semester, and they deserve to have this information ahead of time. Students with part-time work commitments likely already have managers pestering them about which shifts they will be able to work over the next few months. Others need to plan commutes, decide which hobbies or sports they can continue this year, or figure out how college will fit around their family commitments.

Even aside from the impact on students, this should embarrass College authorities. Trinity strives to be taken seriously and respected at a national and international level. College puts great stock in how it is ranked against other universities and goes to great lengths to attract students from abroad. And yet it finds itself, year in, year out, struggling with entry-level administrative issues.

I will admit, the idea of coordinating schedules for more than 11,000 undergraduates alone across dozens of faculties and multiple campuses does not appeal to me personally, but that is one of the many reasons I have no plans to open my own university. Not only that, but timetabling is undoubtedly one of the most basic aspects of running Trinity. It is a task that the other third-level institutions of the world complete, without apparent difficulty, every year. There is probably even software available for it. This problem would be unbecoming of a primary school; in a university ranked first in its country, it’s a farce.

And this is just the latest example from a clear pattern of dysfunctionality present in all of College’s administration. The introduction of TEP last year was an unmitigated disaster, and students found themselves left in the dark about how it would affect their course structures and assessments. Even something minor like the question of where bags should be left in the RDS during summer exams managed to become its own minor debacle last April.

“Many of us now just think of this as a feature of being a Trinity student.”

This time last year, while I did have my timetable, I wasn’t actually sure whether I would be allowed to attend the classes detailed in it. Just days before the semester was due to start, not only had I not received results from my supplemental exams, I had been given no information on when those results might become available. When they were finally published, just days before term began, the my.tcd system predictably failed. I had to beg a friend who happened to be on campus to find the School of Engineering noticeboard in the Museum Building and send me a photograph of the results sheets posted there. I found myself squinting at a blown-up photo from Facebook Messenger, trying to decipher if I would be allowed to enrol as a Junior Sophister.

This year was supposed to be different. The launch of the Trinity Live app was meant to bring with it standardisation and streamlining in the distribution of timetables. Not only have the results of this effort entirely failed to materialise, it is not clear if they would have done that much good anyway. Many students only found out about the existence of Trinity Live from their Facebook or Twitter feeds; very little by way of direct communication was even attempted by College. Given that people are receiving their timetables through the app long before they receive them through their online portal, it seems counterproductive to have so many unaware of its very existence.

Given that issues like this affect nearly every student in Trinity, we should expect to see the SU publicly weighing in, and pushing College to get timetables out to everyone well in advance. But it often simply does not occur to students to complain to their representatives or to try to organise collective action on a seemingly minor issue like this. Many students now just think of such things as a feature of being a Trinity student. You might grumble about it to your friends, but you don’t really expect it to change.

I have, perhaps cynically, long given up on the idea of a Trinity that prioritises the welfare of those it exists to serve. But the administrative anarchy, the basic incompetence that this yearly debacle betrays; these are things that the university badly needs to address for its own sake. Little else will be accomplished until it does.

Jack Kennedy

Jack Kennedy is the Editor-in-chief of the 68th edition of Trinity News. He is a Computer & Electronic Engineering graduate, and a former Assistant Editor, Online Editor, and Deputy Online Editor.