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Nalsar not to detain students over exams, as Symbi, NMIMS cancel theirs • NUJS refuses student requests

As many law schools have transitioned to online learning, more problems have continued to emerge

Students taking online exams, possibly
Students taking online exams, possibly

Nalsar Hyderabad has - apparently on the advice of the University Grants Commission (UGC) and “recognising extraordinary circumstances” of the coronavirus pandemic - not made students’ advancement to the next academic year contingent on performance in the end of semester exams and has decided not to hold these online.

However, students may still have to sit repeats in July if they fail the exam, so it’s not entirely clear how the system will work in practice.

Other law schools, such as Symbiosis Law School Pune and SVKM’s NMIMS law school have reportedly cancelled their end of term exams.

By contrast, NUJS Kolkata‘s administration has rejected a student demand for similar leniency (see more below).

If any other law schools have also cancelled exams or done anything interesting to try to deal with the disruption, please do share in the comments.

Nalsar fails to find unanimity about online exams

According to an email sent to students by Nalsar vice-chancellor (VC) Prof Faizan Mustafa, the “experiment of doing online and distant education classes can be termed by and large successful” at Nalsar (we had reported on 18 March that a lot of law schools were beginning to move towards online tuition, with varying degrees of success).

However, following discussions with and reservation expressed by the student body, he noted that “similar unanimity is escaping us on the matter of exams”.

“Since it is not possible to declare the results in such a short span of time and this is the promotion semester, recognising the extraordinary circumstances as also the advice of the University Grants Commission in the matter the promotion of students to the next academic year shall not be linked with their performance in the exams and all students will be promoted to the next year,” noted Mustafa in his email. “However, the marks obtained will be entered in the transcript and students who have failed to clear an exam will be required to do so in the repeat exams to be held in July.”

Mustafa told us that several “UGC advisories” had suggested not making exams determine whether a student would pass the year, in part due to the difficulties with holding exams online, and that this could disadvantage underprivileged students or those with worse internet connectivity, for instance.

“I wanted to conduct exam but few students wrote to me about access issues so I first upgraded their internet packs,” he explained. “Since they still felt difficulties I had to postpone exams to June.”

“We will finish our teaching on schedule,” Mustafa added. “I was proposing eight hour online open book exams but some students said elite and privileged students will have an advantage in such an exam and therefore I had to call them off.”

The Nalsar campus is now scheduled to reopen on 25 May, Mustafa had noted in his email. Classes are set to continue online until 20 April.

The decision to try and hold online exams was resolved by Nalsar’s academic council on 28 March, though it had noted that if there were difficulties, regular exams should be held.

Nalsar had also resolved to release all salaries one week early, and to ensure that all outsourced workers would get paid.

Nalsar VC emails students about exams

My Dear Nalsarites,

Hope all of you are taking good care of yourself and your family members.

The NALSAR experiment of doing online and distant education classes can be termed by and large successful. All faculty and students have had to stretch themselves to teach and learn through different means and methods of communication. The materials created in this period will soon be available even to those who could not attend these classes. And we will explore other strategies by which the loss incurred by students who were digitally disadvantaged can be made up.

Whilst the conduct of the classes obtained unanimous endorsement, we have not been able to obtain a similar consensus in the matter of examinations. Whilst some of us felt that we should build on the momentum created by the classes and hold the exams as scheduled, some students and few faculty members felt otherwise. The online classes worked because we were in it together, however similar unanimity is escaping us on the matter of exams.

We could have innovated and thought out of the box for exams but for that it was important that we were all on the same page. This additional innovation even more desperately required that the matter of equality in access to digital infrastructure be sorted out for all students.

Since we neither have that equality nor unanimity on the matter of conduct of examinations as per the authorization given to me by the Academic Council and in exercise of the emergency powers vested in me as Vice-Chancellor to take the following decisions:

  • The online classes will be conducted till the 20th of April or till teachers complete their curriculum whichever is earlier. If required the weekend of that week may be used
  • The students are at liberty to either submit their pending projects and undertake their presentations before the University closes on the 20th of April or within one week of its reopening on 25th of May
  • The University will reopen on the 25th of May and from 25th-29th May teachers will hold personal contact classes in order to address any doubts and difficulties students experienced with the online classes.
  • The end semester examinations will be conducted from the 1st to the 8th of June
  • The LLM Students can submit their dissertations by the 15th of June and their pre-submission seminars can be held in the last week of May.
  • The University will reopen for the new semester from 10th of June.
  • will write a separate mail about the MBA students tomorrow.

Since it is not possible to declare the results in such a short span of time and this is the promotion semester, recognising the extraordinary circumstances as also the advice of the University Grants Commission in the matter the promotion of students to the next academic year shall not be linked with their performance in the exams and all students will be promoted to the next year.

However, the marks obtained will be entered in the transcript and students who have failed to clear an exam will be required to do so in the repeat exams to be held in July.

I have reached the above decisions after closely listening to all of you and do wish to assure you that even when I am disagreeing with you, I am listening to you and we will try that we continue this culture of consensus at NALSAR.

With lots of love and best wishes

faizan

NUJS: No such luck

At NUJS, meanwhile, a group of 90 students had sent a petition to its VC, Prof Nirmal Kanti Chakrabarti, yesterday (2 April), arguing against the decision to conduct online examinations.

However, Chakrabarti had rejected the request, arguing that the decision had already been made on 16 March by a joint meeting of staff and faculty, and that it would not be reconsidered.

We have contacted Chakrabarti for comment earlier today.

According to the email written by a student on behalf of 90 fifth-year students by final year student Gatha G Namboothiri, attaching a longer petition with detailed arguments (see PDF below):

We believe that the University’s decision to conduct online examinations in the times of COVID-19 pandemic is unjust and unfair. We are being asked to prepare and appear for exams in spite of threat to physical and mental safety and unequal access to resources including internet, study materials and notes. The attached petition enlists each of these aggravating factors in detail and proposes that the University cancel the scheduled online examinations and de-link promotion with passing in examinations.

As an alternative system of grading, we are proposing that the University shift to a pass/fail model, in line with the decision taken by several leading international institutes.

Furthermore, there are various colleges such as Sybmiosis and NMIMS - similarly bound by BCI and UGC regulations – that have cancelled their end-semesters and are planning to opt similar such models.

Please find attached a petition signed by 86 students of the Batch of 2020. We hope that you grant us the relief we have requested for in these trying times of a pandemic.

Chakrabarti responded in the negative to the request this morning (3 April), with the following email:

Dear Students,

We are not canceling the scheduled online examination to begin on and from 9th April 2020. We will also not adopt pass/fail system in the final year 10th semester examination. Those will not be able to appear in this online examination we will arrange offline examination in June 2020.

Vice Chancellor

The students responded earlier today at around 1pm to the VC with the following request:

Dear Sir,

While we respect your decision and would love to put our faith in the University to be just and fair in the steps to be taken, we refuse to acknowledge your simple no to our request without even bothering to address the real concerns pointed out in our petition.

Sir, this is the first time any of us are experimenting with online exams. This is an option that no university has, so far, opted for. Given that it is our last semester to improve our grades, we feel that such an experiment can only detrimentally affect us due to factors beyond anybody’s control.

To illustrate, we have repeatedly raised the concern that online exams inherently go against equitable treatment and opportunity. When students sit in a classroom and write an exam, the conditions for all students are broadly the same. However, with an online examination – while on one hand, one student is sitting in a comfortable air-conditioned room with high speed internet, multiple tabs open for research and possibly people assisting them with basic research etc, on the other hand, another student might be sitting with a weak hotspot connection in a noisy, uncomfortable and generally stressed environment struggling to even download the question paper in a timely manner let alone efficiently search for answers.

Hence, we request you to once again go through our petition (reattached herewith) and provide us point-by-point redressal to the concerns raised therein. Nothing else will reassure us of the fairness of online examinations being thrust upon us in the times of a pandemic.

We are also apprehensive of the disparity that will be created between students who will give the exams now and the ones who will write regular exams in June (as suggested by you in your previous email). We hope you can clarify that too.

Warm regards,

90 students of the Batch of 2020

The VC responded after around an hour, with the following:

The decision of online examination was taken unanimously in the joint meeting of students and faculty members on 16th March 2020. You were also present in the said meeting and not raised any objections.

I have given options to students, those need early Provisional certificates and mark sheet may sit online examination now and others will sit in June offline examination.

We had declared online examination on the same day i.e.,16th March 2020 by a Notice.

Prof Nirmal kanti Chakrabarti

Vice Chancellor

The students’ counter-responded to the VC with the following:

Dear Sir,

It is disheartening and disappointing, to say the least, to read your reply.

With all due respect sir, on 16th March, 2020, in the joint meeting in Room 107, we did not unanimously decide to have online examinations. We had suggested an option that NLUO was planning then to implement which would include: scaling up of internal components marks, take home assignments, projects, and having exams online as per the schedule or on postponed days.

On that day, we were dealing with what was only a State Government Order to suspend classes and exams for 15 days. However, today is the 10th day of a national lock down. An unprecedented event in unprecedented times. With an extraordinary change in (evolving) circumstances, we appeal to your conscience and humbly ask you to reconsider your decision again.

Also, so far you have provided no redressal to our specific concerns faced by a large number of students as explained in detail in our petition. These are: (i) safety at home, (ii) no access to internet and laptops in some cases, (iii) no access to reading materials and class notes, (iv) mental health concerns, (v) difficulties in daily life owing to lockdown and (vi) inability to meet performance expectations.

We urge you to address each of these concerns specifically.

Your email on giving us option to take the exams now or later in June has also confused the batch tremendously. We were wondering if we can take the regular exams in June as fresh candidates and if we will have internet facilities available then too in order to ensure parity. We are also wondering if University will bear travel and accommodation expenses for the duration of the proposed June exams.

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