Lecturer who called students ‘idiots’ removed from committee role

Cardiff asks Helen McCarthy to stand down from extenuating circumstances chair ‘to retain student confidence’

January 15, 2021
Source: iStock

Cardiff University has asked a lecturer caught calling students “idiots” in an online video to stand down from her position as chair of an extenuating circumstances committee.

Helen McCarthy, a senior lecturer in biosciences at Cardiff, was recorded referring to students as “idiots” in a conversation about students asking for a “safety net” exam policy in a video accidentally uploaded to the student portal.

Following the incident, Dr McCarthy was asked by her head of school to stand down as chair of the School of Biosciences’ undergraduate extenuating circumstances committee.

A university spokesperson said this was because the institution recognised “the importance of retaining student confidence in that procedure”.

“Dr McCarthy is no longer involved in extenuating circumstances considerations,” they said.

In the previous academic year, many universities offered safety nets to students in the wake of the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, such as allowing degree classifications to be based on fewer credits, as was the case at Cardiff.

A number of petitions have been launched by students at UK universities asking for their institution to enact similar policies this year. In a statement, the Russell Group of research-intensive universities said the “no detriment” policies were only an emergency measure and would not be necessary this year because universities have redesigned their teaching and learning plans and assessments to ensure that students do not lose out.

In the video, Dr McCarthy can be heard referring to a petition at Cardiff as “ridiculous”.

“Students have graduated for hundreds of years without the bloody safety net policy. How do you think we all got here?” she can be heard saying. When another staff member on the call mentions student absences, Dr McCarthy says, “What are they doing? Protesting with their absence? Idiots, absolute idiots.”

In response to complaints about her comments, Dr McCarthy said in an email to students: “I apologise if some students felt offended by my statement as it appeared in the edited video, it was certainly not my intention to cause any hurt to anyone.”

She added that she was not referring to students who signed the petition as “idiots” but “regretted the way” she articulated her feelings. “I believe that non-attendance of lectures does have a negative impact on your learning, as you miss out on precious teaching time,” she said.

The university also issued a statement, in which it said “such comments do not represent the official view of the university or the school, and we apologise for any offence that has been caused. We are currently reviewing the policy and support that makes up the university approach to [a] safety net.”

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

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