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By Matt Handley
Undergraduates have retold experiences of being disciplined for “excessive noise” supposedly emanating from tiny laptop speakers, master keys being used to intrude on couples in bed together, and threats being unnecessarily levelled to warn students from trampling on flowerbeds.
A poll of over 100 undergraduates provided a mixed picture of the disciplinary procedures that can be expected should students step out of line. However, the overwhelming theme that emerges is one of students feeling disengaged and uncertain about the actions of disciplinary committees.
Of the eleven respondents who had experienced meetings with their senior college dean this year, seven had ultimately faced punishments. Of these, only one student felt that they were given adequate chance to argue their case and to appeal their punishments.
Similar discontent was displayed amongst those who had had run-ins with junior deans since the start of Michaelmas. Of the respondents who had faced intervention, 42.5 per cent either disagreed or strongly disagreed that the reason for the junior dean’s intervention was an appropriate one, whilst less than half felt that they had been treated with respect and as a mature adult during their encounters.
There was also concern over the suitability of MCR members taking on disciplinary roles. A quarter of students felt that junior deans were harmful to relations between the JCR and MCR in their college, whilst only 40 per cent felt that it was appropriate for MCR members to act as junior deans.
Students also provided accounts of their own experiences in the anonymous survey. One student at St Hugh’s, who saw his room entered by junior deans in the early hours, said: “The use of the master key is an invasion of privacy in a place that is supposed to be our home. They are far too liberally used.”
He went on to explain: “I was in my bedroom with my girlfriend when the Head Porter and two junior deans used the master key to break into my room, on suspicion that I was smoking inside. I wasn’t. I think this behaviour is unacceptable: they shouldn’t be allowed to break in like that, particularly with no hard evidence that I had been doing anything against college rules. We’re adults and have certain expectations of our behaviour: they should be more accountable for their actions in return.”
A student at Christ Church said, of the Junior Censor, who fulfils a role similar to that of a Junior Dean: “He only ever makes himself known when chastising or cautioning us – this means that he is only ever perceived as ‘kill-joy’, or, at the very least a parent figure at a time when none of us want to be parented.”
A student at Queen’s College claimed that their junior deans had been “at worst, unprofessional, ambiguous in their judgement and unfair, and at best, elusive and ineffective. From day one, students should be made aware of what college considers to be punishable offences and what the punishment is for each offence. This would lead to less ambiguity and more fairness.”
A first-year at St Hugh’s was equally critical, saying: “There are certain junior deans who seem to use their position just for the sake of it. It’s almost as if they go out on a night-time deaning mission and aren’t satisfied unless they fill their quota for doors knocked on and nights ruined.”
However, some were more positive about the impact of junior deans in college. A fresher at St Peter’s said: “They feel more closely linked to the students than the Dean himself – it’s them who come and deal with rowdy people after the bar closes. I almost respect them more than the Dean because they make themselves known to students. The actual Dean seems to be going for the distant master of discipline which I don’t really like.”
Many students recognised the importance of junior deans, but wanted to see more common sense used in their interventions. A student at St Catz said: “I think they can be useful, and can often be much more reasonable than having a more senior member present at events.”
They continued: “However, it’s really about getting the balance right. There are some occasions where technical rules are broken (e.g more than seven people in a room is apparently a ‘party’) where authority feels inappropriately enforced (it shouldn’t be a problem if the eight people who live on the same floor are having a nice dinner together in the kitchen). Junior deans should be responsible for resolving problems, not enforcing strict rules.”
Some respondents to the survey viewed the behaviour of college deans as more problematic. A St John’s second-year said: “Dr William Whyte, our current dean, often, and unnecessarily, sends us emails promising to ‘apply the strictest sanctions to those apprehended hereafter’ and so on. ‘I will regard it as a serious disciplinary offence if [the flowerbeds]…are subsequently damaged whether deliberately or by accident’.
“Like most of my peers, I do not consider myself deserving of this language or these threats.”
A Univ second-year was similarly disillusioned, describing the Dean as “out of touch”. They said: “He won’t even let us have more than five people at once in the JCR! After shaming the College in the national press by sending us on alcohol awareness courses last year (rookie PR error), he banned drinking games and initiations from Freshers’ Week. End the embargo on fun!”