When the Academic Board met, and voted on the proposed extension of the Academic Safety Net back on 16 June, they split it into three separate components:
- Vote 1 – Component A: The Satisfied Faculty Requirements (SFR) provision, whereby a student could convert all of their passing grades to a blanket ‘SFR’ grade.
- Vote 2 – Component B: Withdrawing fail marks from your transcript completely.
- Vote 3 – Component C: Unlimited supplementary assessments.
With a considerable lobbying effort – and against the official recommendation from the Board’s Education Committee – the five student representatives managed to salvage Components B and C, which received a 56% and 70% yes-vote respectively. However, Component A was discontinued, with only 25% of board members voting in favour to extend it.
At the time, we saw it as sacrificing the limb to save the body; opposition to the Academic Safety Net’s extension was centred almost solely on Component A, so it made sense to focus our efforts on passing what we could.
At the time, this was a major win. The meeting and votes came after Lockdown Four: the state was officially at COVID Zero, and Semester Two was on track to be a similar experience to Semester One, with classes, labs, events, and activities flourishing on campus. All of this came into serious doubt the moment NSW’s outbreak spiralled out of control, and cases started emerging in Victoria.
Now we find ourselves in an indefinite lockdown: a race against time to get as many jabs into as many arms as possible, with 246 new locally-acquired cases today and an official admission from the state government that COVID Zero is no longer achievable.
For many, this is crushing. Whilst we have abundant supply of AstraZeneca and increasingly more Pfizer vaccines, it will be at least two months until Victoria hits 70% double vaccination rates for 16+ year-olds at current estimates, and weeks on top of that to hit 80%, the points at which the government may consider gradually easing some restrictions in line with the National Plan and Doherty Institute modelling.
Unfortunately, this translates to at least two more months of hard lockdown, by which point Victorians will have experienced almost 300 days of some form of lockdown since March 2020, and by which point the University semester will be over.
It’s fair to say that almost everyone bar a small minority is feeling the effects and impacts of Lockdown Six, from those struggling the most, to even the most stoic student. The cumulative effect of six lockdowns, the very real sense of burnout, ‘Zoom fatigue,’ anxiety, anger over the slow pace of the vaccine rollout, grief, and the feeling of missing out on another year of milestones and in-person study combine to decimate motivation, study habits, and irrevocably impact mental health. Not to mention those who are now unemployed, can’t work, can’t study, or who live in fragile circumstances.
Everyone is missing milestones, everyone has family or friends overseas or interstate they likely cannot see until next year, and everyone feels like the best years of their life are being robbed from them.
But the purpose of this piece is not to discredit lockdown: I, and the general population of university-educated students recognise the importance of curbing the spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19 until the population is vaccinated against it. The purpose of this article is to argue the unequivocal and objective need to reinstate Component A, the SFR provision, of the Academic Safety Net in light of the completely changed and extenuating circumstances we now find ourselves in.
Monash University cannot end the pandemic, but they can ensure their students feel adequately protected and supported during what are unquestionably unique and troubling circumstances.
Over the course of my term, I have averaged two or three direct messages a week from students I do not personally know, enquiring about academic policy or the Academic Safety Net. Since late July, this has increased to almost two dozen a week. The student unions, which are more visible with their online presence, are reporting even higher levels of inundation related to this matter.
Whilst the continuation of Component B (the withdrawal of fail grades from the academic record) as well as aspects of Component C (allowing students to sit as many supplementary assessments as they qualify for) provide some form of protection for students, it’s clear now that additional measures are needed to further support students at this extremely difficult time.
Components B and C are effective in that they provide coverage for students who fail one or more subjects, or qualify for one or more supplementary assessments, but they do not help students who see a uniform decrease across all of their subjects. The SFR Component, along with Components B and C, works in conjunction to provide the most comprehensive safety net possible.
There are grounds for a revote on the SFR-specific component of the Academic Safety Net. There has been a flurry of meetings between the student representatives on Academic Board, the presidents of the MSA, MONSU Caulfield, and MONSU Peninsula, and senior ranking members on the Academic Board such as the President, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor Education, and the Pro Vice-Chancellor Academic, as well as Steering Committee of the Board. These meetings, as well as our student report, have led to following vote at Academic Board 6 on 8 September:
That Academic Board:
- approve in principle the ability of students to convert passing grades to Satisfies Faculty Requirements (SFR) for semester 2, 2021 and associated teaching periods, and
- delegate authority to the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education) to devise and approve a specific set of arrangements (including limitations as to eligibility) relating to amendment of results as necessary in order to implement the Board’s in principle decision.
This is the best possible outcome, one which satisfies everyone; the University, and students alike. By delegating authority to the Deputy Vice-Chancellor Education in this manner, it negates the very real concerns harboured by some as to the detrimentality of the SFR policy to the minority who may opt-in to it against their best interests, whilst ensuring the policy is available to the overwhelming majority of students who need it.
Last semester, 1796 students utilised the SFR provision of the Academic Safety Net. If 1796 students elected to opt-in to this policy in Semester One, one can only imagine the overwhelming and unabating need for it during Semester Two and its associated teaching periods, given the aforementioned circumstances the student population are in.
We believe we have a real chance to influence the board, and sway the votes necessary to make this change. Over the course of the next few days, student representatives on the board, in the MSA, and in MONSU Caulfield and Peninsula will be contacting each of the 75+ members on the Academic Board, making the case for SFR’s reinstatement, but we need your help.
If you’ve used it, plan to use it, know someone who needs to use it, or just believe that it’s the right thing to do, join the student campaign fighting to reinstate this vital academic policy by adding your voice to the growing chorus here: msa.monash.edu/asn. Your submission, no matter how long or short, will make a huge difference – for everyone.
Reinstating the SFR provision of Academic Safety Net is crucially necessary, and we call on all members of the Academic Board to vote in students’ best interests – for it is the right thing to do.
James Desmond is an elected undergraduate student representative on the Academic Board.
Image adapted from Monash University on Flickr.