Vice-Chancellor responds to the statement by members of the Science RAC

05 April 2017 | Vice-Chancellor Dr Max Price

The Vice-Chancellor has responded to the statement by members of the Science RAC as follows:

The intentions of the executive in initiating the review of RAC decisions (rather than waiting for the individual students to initiate the reviews) have been misunderstood – both the context of the decision to undertake the reviews and the motivation. I explained this in Senate on Friday, 31 March, and obtained significant majority support for proceeding. I will briefly repeat what I said there.

First, I and other executive members hold the RACs in extremely high regard and are immensely grateful for the enormous amount of work and careful consideration that the RACs routinely devote to considering the appeals, and even more so this year with the larger number of appeals and the very difficult and emotionally taxing decisions that were a consequence of the protests of 2016.

Second, we have no shadow of doubt about the integrity of the individual RAC members and of the committee as a whole. Neither do we doubt the effort and care that went into ensuring procedures were properly followed.

Third, we see this review as a way of strengthening and defending the RAC process by either validating how they have operated, or by highlighting systemic problems or inconsistencies across faculties that could be corrected through the review process. This will instil greater trust in the process. It must be appreciated that excluded students start off from a position of suspicion of the ability of the RACs to assess the impact of the protests and disruptions and other social and personal factors – so it is necessary to build that trust through transparency and willingness to review and audit.

At face value, the fact that different proportions of students were readmitted by the different RACs begs the question of consistency across the system. On the one hand, we accept that different rates of readmission in different faculties should be expected for reasons of different faculty-specific criteria and circumstances. Yet, while the readmission rates across faculties have always differed, some faculties’ readmission rates have increased substantially compared to last year, while others have not. It would not be surprising if there were differences in the subjective judgements made by committees regarding the extent to which the events of last year impacted on students’ performances. There are almost no mechanisms for the sharing of approaches between RACs until the process is concluded and the Senate RAC Review Committee does its annual review and report. In the absence of a mechanism of cross-faculty consistency checks or standardisation, such differences are definitely possible.

It is, therefore, not inappropriate to review the reasons for the different readmission rates by comparing individual cases that were denied readmission by different faculties. We wish to assure the RACs that any proposal to readmit a student that the RAC turned down will first be discussed with the relevant faculty authority to understand the case in more depth.

Thus the decision to review the RAC decisions does not signal any lack of confidence in the integrity or proper conduct of the RACs but rather a recognition that, this year in particular, there were university-wide factors that could have had similar impact on students across the institution, and that if they did not, this needs to be explained.

I have appealed to the Science RAC, and extend this to all the RACs, to see this review as a positive effort to strengthen the trust in the RAC process. I have requested that they suspend their reactions to the review initiative, and in particular that they should not resign, pending a meeting with the executive once the review is completed and the outcomes known.

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