Over the past few months, students in the Faculty of Arts & Science (FAS) have been subjected to various inconveniences. At the beginning of the winter semester, marks for several courses from the fall semester were not available on ACORN, with some marks not posted until as late as January 17. Students in CSC236, CSC324, CSC411, STA347, JAV200, and ARC251 were particularly affected by this.
The FAS did not offer a satisfactory explanation or an apology. Instead, Deborah Robinson, Faculty Registrar and Director of Undergraduate Academic Services, excused the delay by stating that most students had their marks by January 11.
More recently, “technical issues” caused a delay in the release of the FAS exam schedule. Some students did manage to access the schedule after refreshing the page several times, creating a situation in which only a small handful of students were able to access what should have been available to all.
Though the exam schedule was eventually released online after a couple of days, the FAS failed to fully explain what the exact nature of the problem was, let alone issue any kind of apology. They released a GIF of a cheerful student when the exam timetable finally became available.
Both of these delays may seem like mere inconveniences, but they can, in fact, cause real problems for students. The delayed first semester grades resulted in a great deal of uncertainty: some students found themselves unsure if they were able to apply to a certain program of study, if they had fulfilled necessary prerequisites, or if they needed to retake any classes to obtain a credit or improve their marks.
And while it is fortunate that the exam schedule was posted shortly after the scheduled release date, one can imagine the many potential problems that can come from not knowing your exam schedule. Deferring exams, or rescheduling them due to conflicts, can be an onerous process in and of itself, while uncertainty in the schedule can also delay students’ ability to make summer plans.
After these delays, the best the FAS has managed to offer its students has been to thank them for being patient. What they should have done instead was explain what was going on and clarify any technical issues while also telling students how those issues were being addressed, even if they were unable to specify a timeline.
It’s also important for students to know if these delays are merely flukes in a system that generally works well, or if they are symbolic of larger technical or organizational problems in the FAS. Students have a right to know what’s going on, especially with so much at stake. The consequences of grade delays can be very serious — they can even impact the educational and career tracks of students who need their grades to apply to graduate programs or jobs.
Incidentally, technical difficulties at U of T do not just occur within the FAS. In May 2017, thousands of U of T email accounts were inaccessible for days after access was meant to be restored. However, in that instance, there was a clear explanation: the accounts had been temporarily deactivated to facilitate their transfer to a more local data centre. The lack of access was obviously frustrating, but at least we all understood the source of the problem and knew that it was unlikely to happen again.
Hopefully the posting of the exam schedule signals the end of the FAS’s technical issues. If not, I hope that student frustration will at least encourage the FAS to be more open about the causes of any future issues as they take steps to fix them.
Adina Heisler is a third-year student at University College studying English and Women and Gender Studies. She is The Varsity’s Student Life Columnist.