Oriel common room to hold scholarly debate

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Oriel is holding a JCR-wide referendum after a motion to stop Scholars and Exhibitioners from having priority the annual accommodation ballot was proposed at a recent JCR meeting.

The motion, proposed by JCR Accommodation Officer Innes Taylor, polarised the meeting.

In a lengthy debate, some argued that the college should encourage academic performance by rewarding those who do well in exams.

Chris Frost, a third year Historian at Oriel, agreed. He commented: “It seems reasonable to me that Scholars get an advantage in the room ballot, especially as it encourages people to work harder.”

A document distributed to the JCR outlining the pros and cons of the motion stated in support of the status quo that, “in terms of how we are perceived by the outside world, [the current system] shows academia is a priority for Oriel”.

Although most third years live in a separate annex in Cowley, James Mellon Hall, Scholars at the top of the ballot have the choice of living in college. This is generally in what is known as the ‘Finalists’ Staircase’. This system allows high achieving students to choose rooms that are closer to the library, hall and other facilities.

However, those opposing the motion claimed that the factors that go into receiving a First are often arbitrary, and that it could be unfair to allocate accommodation based on the 70 percent benchmark. Critics of the system complained that performance could be impacted by exam difficulty, issues in a student’s personal life, health conditions and even teaching quality.

There was also said to be a lack of consistency across subjects. Subjects with small numbers of students, such as CAAH, and those without preliminary exams in first year, like Classics, do not make students Exhibitioners.

Whilst it was emphasised that rewarding academic achievement in this manner could be elitist and unfair on students who may have been unable to achieve these marks, Frost remarked that this does not discount your chances in the ballot:

“Even if you can’t get a First, you can just make friends with likely Scholars and get them to pull you up the room ballot… that’s what I did.”

Not all colleges, however, use the Oriel system to allocate rooms. Stratis Limnios, a PPEist at Somerville College, where there is no priority for Scholars, said that he liked the equal balloting but that it “probably didn’t matter which way it was done, as long as room allocation was not means-tested.”

‘Scholars’ at Oriel are second year students who achieve the average of a First in their first year exams. This entitles them to wear a Scholar’s gown, and receive  £200 a year from the College. This status is reviewed each year, depending on their academic performance.

Exhibitioners are those who did not quite make the grade in their exams, but are allowed the privilege of wearing a Scholar’s gown and receive a reduced monetary reward: £120 for their hard work over the course of the year, awarded at the discretion of their tutors.

The motion was amended so that implementation was delayed a year, preventing those who were already Scholars from voting in their own interests. It passed on the condition that it first be voted on in a referendum.

It was intended that the referendum be held prior to the Wednesday after the meeting. However, JCR vice-president Mark Johnson later issued an apology, stating in an email that holding a vote so soon did not meet constitutional requirements for the notice that must be given for a referendum, which include a minimum of five days’ notice.

Stating that this mistake had caused “hours of emotional trauma”, Mr Johnson told students: “[I]t has been decided we will discuss and explore the proposal with College Officers, before bringing it to referendum in the very near future, giving the JCR due notice… I know there will be many sad people around College this week” .

Alongside the main motion, a similar proposal was put forward by Jess Collins, which suggested reversing the second year ballot positions for the third year ballot, putting those previously at the bottom at the top.  Miss Collins said that she “just thought it would be a good idea to have a debate about the room ballot generally just to gauge JCR opinion”. The second motion passed narrowly at first, and then fell after a recount.