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By Ian Cheong
Jesus College has introduced new academic regulations requiring students to get permission from their tutors if they want to get involved in extra-curricular activities. The change to the Academic Bylaws was made by Jesus’ Governing Body, despite strong student opposition.
The change has worried students who view it as part of a trend to improve Jesus’ academic standing – and become more “Merton-esque” – at the expense of other activities and interests. Despite assurances that it will only be used in exceptional circumstances, many worry that it will be used to limit high-achieving students as well as under-performers.
Since the appointment of the new Senior Tutor Dr. Alex Lumbers in 2009, the College has tried to toughen its academic and disciplinary standards. Discontent among students led the JCR to pass a motion last year to wear black armbands as a form of protest mourning the “death of fun”.
Students were informed about the changes in an email from the Senior Tutor, which states: “Students wishing to undertake a substantial extra-curricular activity must seek their tutors’ approval … Students who are not working to the best of their academic ability … may not be allowed to take on such commitments.”
Jesus JCR President Danielle Zigner said: “Though the student working group objected to this particular change, we were assured by the Senior Tutor that any ban on students partaking in extra-curricular activities would only happen in exceptional circumstances, where the student’s academic work was at serious risk of falling below the acceptable standard.
“Despite this, many Jesubites are of the view that these changes are too vague and there is a worry that tutors will use this to begin forbidding students of relatively high academic levels from partaking in extra-curricular activities in the hope that they will knuckle down and get a 1st.
“To my knowledge though there have been no instances of the sort since the changes were made and so the worry is, as of yet, unfounded.”
Vice President Oliver Capehorn said “the measures are disconcertingly vague. Jesus has a strong history of supporting extra-curricular activities, and has maintained its high position in the Norrington Table whilst still producing top-class athletes, dramatists, musicians and hacks.
“You’d need a pretty good relationship with your tutor in the first place to broach such an issue. And surely tutors should assume that students will engage activities outside their degree (this is Oxford, after all), and should only step in should the academics suffer, not before.”
However, student Sarah Coombes was left unconcerned following the changes: “This is not a further ‘death of fun’ innovation, it’s merely a reminder that we’re here primarily to work, and while we should be able to do other things, we should perhaps re-think doing so if it is going to impact negatively on our academic work.”
However, a post on the Jesus College Facebook page about the email they received led to the voicing of some discontent. One student wrote “Er, what is “cultural activity”? Doesn’t sound much like our sort of thing anyway, to be honest. Does it involve mural-painting? Charity mince-pie-baking? Ukulele-playing? Reading? What IS this alien entity? Please do confirm so that in case it includes any of my daily activities I can promptly strike them out of my routine and focus on “standing” “academic(ally)” instead.”
The Senior Tutor at Jesus declined to comment, and the Principal could not be reached.