South Park Self

How I Failed Ethics

Oh, joy, 'tis the season, fa-la-la-la-la. Not, in fact, the thrice-dratted Xmas season, although of course it is, and promptly with the dawning of November supermarkets have blossomed forth in all the usual seasonally-inappropriate merry snow imagery in the midst of African summer, glitzy Northern Hemispherical Christmas trees, and the usual quotient of bad syrupy R&B covers of hackneyed Christmas carols given additional terror by the robotic brassiness of autotune. (How Much I Hate Auto-Tune, a rant in 56 parts. I'm saving it.)

No, the season to which I refer is exam season. Lectures ended on Friday, exams start on Wednesday, and the 5 student consultations I've held in the last three hours are all logged in my logbook with "fail fear" in the "Notes" column. They're all about to fail some or all of their courses this semester. This will variously prevent them from graduating, lose them their funding or doom them to academic exclusion. I have patiently strategised a variety of responses with a variety of desperate students whose affect ranges from fatalistic through resolved to extravagantly miserable. Three of them were in tears.

To the various individual woes (mostly anxiety/depression with a side order of death in the family) is added the very general woe of, yet again, student protests. Some lecture disruptions last week, lectures suspended for a couple of days. The bulk of our departments have thrown up their hands and given up on lectures in the last two weeks of term, electing to examine an incomplete syllabus. (Some of them, cunningly predicting just this, front-loaded their syllabus and devoted the last two weeks to revision, thus neatly dodging the protest upshot). We are supposed to have delivered the rest of the semester by "blended learning", which is the VC's favourite buzzword and which is frequently deployed in a talismanic sense which utterly disregards the realities of the situation, viz. a proportion of academics utterly unable to deliver it to a proportion of students utterly unable to access it owing to a failure of both skills and technological infrastructure.

But the crowning glory is the tent. The protesters are apparently hell-bent on disrupting exams. They spent chunks of last week disrupting tests as well as lectures. Security in riot gear, with shields, have been lurking in rows outside the main exam venue all last week. The VC's somewhat bizarre response to the exam disruption threat, which he has implemented apparently in the teeth of disagreement from the entire senior leadership group and the council of Deans, has been to hire a large tent, which has been constructed on the rugby fields, and in which all exams will take place in a "controlled" environment. I think the idea is to use the rugby fields because you can completely surround and cordon off the tent, although quite why you can't do that to the Sports Centre is not entirely apparent. The Sports Centre, at least, has solid brick walls. Threats to burn down the tent apparently popped up on Twitter within an hour or two of the relevant press release.

Last night's usual Sunday dinner featured three denizens of my Cherished Institution, and we ended up rather drunkenly strategising ways to burn down the damned tent, now, ourselves, before protesters do it on Wednesday when exams start. The plan involved layers of diversion and archers with fire arrows, probably deployed from the roof of the nearest res. Its advantage is that the conflagration will happen when there aren't actually any students in the tent, because frankly we're beginning to worry that escalating protests are going to inevitably lead to grievous bodily harm and/or actual death. And you have to ask yourself: at which point in all this management fuckwittery does your own dutiful attempt to comply with management's more deranged directives actually become complicity? At which point do you simply refuse to take part? If a student is badly injured and you told them they should go to the exam, are you in some way responsible? It's not a happy thought.

My subject line is the title of my third-favourite track on the new Magnetic Fields album.

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