How to lose a year – and pay for it

 
 

Conor Murphy shares his experiences of UCD’s sprawling bureaucracy and how it has stolen a year of his academic life

I’m told that a good comment article relies on being impersonal, dealing with the ‘you’ and not the ‘I’. I’m afraid that in this case, that rule goes out the window.

When people ask me what year I’m in, I tell them I did First Year last year. I phrase it like this, because I don’t know what I’m doing now.

I failed a major project-based module in the second semester of last year. I appealed the result in July, on the simple grounds that I suspected the grade had been wrongly inputted. In the meantime I repeated, doing some Second Year modules to pass time, following advice given to me by UCD. I received the verdict on my appeal at the start of February: I had passed.

After repeating a month of the module, after taking out a lease on a year’s worth of accommodation, after losing a year of my academic life, and after nearly seven months of staring at an incorrect grade, UCD tell me, ‘Actually, that’s fine, go home and come back in the autumn again.’

What was involved in this process? UCD received my letter of appeal, got a response from my school (which shall remain nameless, out of a respect they do not return), read the letter, and made a decision. This took almost 200 days – and now I’m left with a door slammed in my face, having wasted my parents’ money and a year of my life.

At this point I’ve paid my €1500 registration fees and a €230 repeat fee. I go to the Student Desk to ask for this back; I’m told I’m still enrolled in the course. I go back to the school to be taken off the list. Four meetings, two letters and two weeks later, I sit at the Student Desk, insisting that the poor lady there call my school and have my name removed, telling her I won’t leave otherwise. Completely by coincidence, I am disenrolled on the spot, allowing me to ask the now defensive and grumpy lady about my fees.

“Well, why would you get anything besides €230?” she asks me. I carefully and calmly point out that the huge incompetence of this college has just created, robbing a year of my life. “But you did do other subjects…” she shrewdly reads off the screen. “Yes,” I say, “in a year that shouldn’t have existed, taken on the advice of UCD officials.”

“You’ll have to take it up with those officials, then,” she replies. “It’s nothing to do with us.”

Yes it does, I think. You are part of UCD. You can take some responsibility for an organisation for which you are the student liaison.

While this quandary was becoming murkier, I was also dealing with my school, asking if I could take a learning exercise anyway, preparing in advance for next year. Three weeks later, I still don’t have a straight answer. Letters have to be sent, apparently, and words exchanged – between people who work in the same building.

Although the appeals board agreed with me that substantive irregularities occurred in my course – i.e. that my school was wrong – and though the school have changed their procedures due to what happened – i.e. that they were wrong – nobody has apologised, sounded sad, or even set two minutes aside to ask how they can help (aside from one person who has done everything he can, even calling me to offer condolences in the summer. My thanks to him; it has meant more than he can know.)

All this has shown me the arrogant and coldly dismissive attitude that an institution like UCD can have. Thousands of students feel this when their grants are delayed by mechanical, pointless inputs to fill up a mechanical pointless form, while they live below the poverty line. People’s lives are pushed aside like words on a page, and nobody seems decent enough to help out for even five minutes.

I genuinely hope that UCD staff realise what they are doing when they fob people off to other departments for the sake of their own ease. Taking seven months to read and reply to two letters, but not taking five minutes to call a colleague about a student’s future, is simply wrong. When staff are too arrogant to apologise for wasting a year of my life, and delaying a decision about whether I failed a module for inordinate amounts of time, it’s time to either consider their career choice of helping others, or reconsidering their mindsets in doing so.

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