AUC Student Group Threatens Strike: “This Is Just One Glaring Case of Management Not Listening to Students”

By Siddharth Nair

Collage by Sara Serrano

They are students who are ordinary in every way – dressed in casual wear, with notes on how systemic change occurs only through noise and cohesion. They gather in the AB and the dorms to have meetings and discussions on how to bolster student activism at AUC. They articulate opinions voiced by AUC students against the attendance policy on their Instagram handle (@auc.student.action) and publicise the arguments against the attendance policy collected.

On the ground floor of the AB, the student arguments are found on papers alongside information about the attendance policy and another sheet with the words “What do you guys think of striking?” – a rhetorical question that has garnered support from students who think striking must be undertaken “only if it is necessary”.

The reason for the student group’s anger: The attendance policy – a few lines in the academic standards and procedures (AS&P) that exist since AUC took up operation in 2009, but have come under heavy criticism since the policy’s re-enforcement in June 2022.  The attendance policy stipulates that “six absences in one course during the 16-week period will result in an automatic failure of the course” and that “three absences in one course during the 4-week period will result in automatic failure of the course.”

In addition to this, the student newsletter published on 8 September informed students that if they test positive for COVID-19, they would not be allowed to come to class. A zoom link can be requested but “for lecturers it is not always feasible to provide a Zoom link, and it is not obligatory” and any absences related to this will be treated as a “normal absence”.

The @auc.student.action account provides a link in their bio for students to anonymously submit their thoughts on the attendance policy. Some of the arguments compiled from this link against the policy on the @auc.student.action Instagram page state that “the policy is only manageable to comply with if you have zero issues or mental challenges”, “AUC loves pushing students out of their own limits and pushing it under the label of ‘excellence’ – we’re trying our best”, “People who have difficulties coming to class (e.g. mental health reasons) shouldn’t be exempt from higher education” and “The policy discourages me to take a COVID test; if I have symptoms I brush it off rather than taking a test and having to stay at home.” These are four among nearly ten to twelve arguments which the page claims come from individual students voicing their concerns against the policy.

In June 2022, the AUC administration held a question-and-answer session regarding exemptions from the attendance policy. Concerns regarding the nature of the attendance policy were brought up by many students at that time, but no conclusive answers were given regarding immediate action. The management team’s stance at this point was that any changes to the attendance policy would have to come about through making changes in the AS&P to be approved for the next academic year. This has remained largely unchanged, and led to student discontent being expressed in the form of shared group chats and documents that rallied students based on their willingness to sign petitions and join strikes to change the attendance policy. The student group currently threatening strike emerged from this experience of frustration against the management. 

“Last year and this year demonstrate that the management is not interested in changing and when they do have discussions with us they do not show any sign of changing. Instead they lash out in a humiliating way and bring students down when they raise legitimate concerns”, said one second-year student involved in the attendance action group.

When asked why they wanted to strike, the students organising the movement said, “Up until now management hasn’t shown that they’re willing to address student concerns directly. They haven’t involved students in a conversation about the attendance policy.” The overall stance represents growing disillusion at attempting to engage in dialogue with the management due to its alleged rigidity on this front. The group has stated that a strike would be the most effective way to gain meaningful change and “there is no other way of getting management to change things.”

The groups current demands, as stated on their Instagram page, are as follows – “(1) Suspend the attendance policy. (2) Direct involvement of students in improving or abolishing the attendance policy.” A few slides then cover the meanings of the terms used and the implications involved, but the two demands are the overarching demands of the strike itself.

But how feasible is a strike? How many people are required to really get a strike underway? “The threshold to make this feasible would be approximately a hundred people, at least”, stated another second-year student of the group. An important cornerstone of the attendance action group appears to be its student outreach. “We understand if most people don’t feel comfortable joining a strike now. But we feel that as more people sign up to participate in a strike, more would feel comfortable.”

The student action group also outlined that striking would mean that students not attend classes, or choose to attend classes but ask to be marked absent for them. The struggle here would be directed against “the attendance policy only, not studying in general” and they added that “there would be demonstrations and other forms of protest.” So far, thirty-three students have consented to strike as per a document launched in June 2022.

Why do they think a strike is important, despite the deficit in signatures? The student group says, “It would show that we have the ability to do things for our own interest. We don’t want to give the message that we’re passive and do what management wants us to do.” The guiding force of the group appears to be a will to strengthen student activism at AUC and offset precedents that allow student concerns to be ignored by the management. “This isn’t just about the attendance policy. This is just one glaring case of management not listening to students.”

When asked for comment, AUC Dean Prof. Dr. Martin van Hees stated that “with respect to demonstrations, students have the right to express their views and opinions and so we should respect that.”

He revealed that there is “no general policy with respect to strikes.” He also found it “interesting, and also funny in some way” that a strike would be called, given that the attendance policy is “about going to class”. 

With respect to suspending the attendance policy and reworking it with greater student involvement, van Hees responded saying, “We cannot do anything. The AS&P have been approved together with all the participatory governing bodies and we are bound to respect that. What I would propose to do is to take part in this, to discuss this in the AS&P for next year.”

He added that the attendance policy is a part of the “educational mission” of AUC and any discussion related to the attendance policy would also be a discussion about the educational policy.

The Dean also mentioned that the attendance policy was decided in collaboration with participatory governing bodies, the Board of Studies and students. “Our hands are tied. These are the rules we have made together,” he stated. 

Director of Education Dr. Michiel van Drunen declined to comment upon a request from The Herring. The Board of Examiners did not respond to The Herring’s request for comment in time.

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