What to do when it's the lecturer who's missing classes

July 8, 2005

"How would you deal with a lecturer who keeps missing classes and does not seem to know much about his subject?" the student representatives at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen were asked.

Tackle the academic in person, they answer.

Let him know that students' attendance has plummeted and many are worried that they may be examined on parts of the course they have missed.

But what if the lecturer says: "Yes, I'm aware of that. My wife's dying of cancer."

How do you address the issue then?

The students look disconcerted. It is a good point made with maximum effect by Duncan Cockburn, former student president of Aberdeen University, now development adviser for Student Participation in Quality Scotland (Sparqs).

It proves a memorable example of one of Mr Cockburn's key messages - that it is not a class rep's duty to get involved in individual disputes.

They are seen as having a major role in quality enhancement, and Mr Cockburn wants them to be as effective as possible. The answer in this case is to go to the course leader or head of department, seek cover for the lecturer if necessary, and perhaps get the exam suspended or agreement that certain material will not come up.

"You must be impartial and unbiased by your personal agenda. You're there to represent the views of your class, which are not necessarily your views," Mr Cockburn said.

"But it's the class, not individuals in your class, because that would be an unfair burden. And the job is not supposed to take all the time in the world."

Already students at RGU have demanded, and got, improved sports facilities and an onsite nursery.

John Harper, vice-principal of RGU and convener of one of this year's enhancement committees, said that students could be incredibly mature and supportive.

But he warned: "What frustrates them is if they're asked their views but nothing happens."

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