Head of the English Department releases statement on exam paper loss

The Head of the English Department, Professor David Attwell, has issued Vision with a statement regarding the loss of a dozen exam scripts by the Department.

Yesterday we reported that 12 students faced writing an additional 2500 word essay over the summer to compensate for the loss of their exam papers after the scripts were posted to an examiner in London, but never arrived.

Professor Attwell has supplied Vision with the following statement:

“The scripts were not sent by the departmental office. They were sent by a member of staff acting on their own initiative entirely. This colleague did not consult with the Chair of Examiners, the HOD, or the administrative staff in doing so.

“If they had discussed this matter with the department, we would have reallocated the marking, or made sure that the most secure courier possible was used, which is indeed our normal practice on the rare occasions when essays or exam scripts are sent elsewhere (as is the case, for example, when scripts are sent to external examiners).

“The circumstances were these: a senior colleague had to go to London to look after a son who had had a bike accident. Another colleague (as I say, acting on their own initiative) sent the scripts to the colleague in London for marking, by registered post with Royal Mail, in what was a private arrangement. (If you ask me why this decision was made, it would be, I would assume, that the colleagues in question thought this was the most collegial option, rather than asking other colleagues to step in. It was a well intentioned decision on their part, although it has turned out to be a serious miscalculation.)

“The 12 scripts were lost by Royal Mail, although they were sent by registered post. Exam scripts are often sent around the country, by most universities, under particular circumstances, using a variety of postal services, without incident. This has never happened before (one colleague says, ‘not in the forty years I have been at York’).

“We have taken advice from the university’s Standing Committee on Assessment on how to approach the marking of this module, for those twelve students whose scripts went astray. We are required by the university to have a mark that relates specifically to the work done on this module, which rules out using an average of marks achieved on other modules.

“Under the circumstances, the fairest solution is to ask the students to write an essay on the module, on a topic of their own choosing (the practice which is standard in several other modules, and well liked by students) but with suitable guidance on the choice of topic. We will be as generous as we can with the deadline for this essay.

“This is better than a repeat exam, which had indeed been put to us as one possible solution.

“This situation is completely awful for the students who have been affected. I am going to arrange to see them collectively, to explain to them in person what happened and to apologise. They have already been sent personal emails, and we will follow up with this meeting, attended by me as HOD, and the Chair of the Board of Studies, Jim Watt.

“We will also invite these students to arrange to see the course convenor, or the Chair of Examiners, or their supervisors and tutors, if they need further individual help or advice. The department is under no illusions whatsoever about just how frustrating and inconvenient this development is.

“In conclusion, let me say that this development has come at the worst possible time for the English department. We are extremely mindful of students’ concerns around assessment, and we have been working hard on our assessment practices and procedures, and with the help of our student representatives, we have also been working hard to improve our communication with students.

“If the gods have been asked to devise a cruel instrument to punish us, under these circumstances, they have fulfilled their mandate.

“Above all, we are concerned for our students. We are aware of the high cost of their fees, and of their raised expectations. These 12 students do not deserve what has happened to them. By the same token, we are humanitarians, teachers of literature who are devoted not to mammon, but to the greater cause of higher education. We have our students’ interests at heart, absolutely and unconditionally. We are very sorry this happened and will do whatever we can to ensure that nothing remotely like it ever happens again.”

1 Comment

  1. Kate
    11 June 2015 - 12:58 GMT

    ‘If the gods have been asked to devise a cruel instrument to punish us, under these circumstances, they have fulfilled their mandate.’

    Is he taking the piss? Sounds like this is just one big joke to him…

    How is the VC letting them get away with this? His silence is telling…

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