Update: Preferred name system change on hold

We received info (via twitter, third-hand, because why would the university ever contact its students directly) that the changes to CECIL’s naming system that would allow staff to access only preferred names over legal ones has been put on hold due to staff protest.

Dear all,

We have received lots of feedback on concerns for Cecil changing to show preferred name rather than legal names. It was never intended to cause problems for our teaching staff, therefore, we have put the change on hold for now, as further impact analysis and discussion is required to work out the best approach forward.

The original request came from the Equity Office to address issues on showing and using legal names when preferred names should be used, particularly on class rolls and the impact that this has on those students who are transgender.
The original proposal was for Cecil to only receive Preferred names from the central identity system (ie. https://iam.auckland.ac.nz), so we would not be exposing legal names in the wrong places.
You have raised a lot of concerns for this approach (thank you for those who has taken time to read the email and provide feedback constructively) and we will collate them and work out what would be the best way forward.
Thank you.”
What seems to be happening is that ease-of-use for staff is being prioritised over student safety.
I have contacted Sally Eberhart, who these emails are coming from, outlining that this is a matter of student safety and the importance of this, but have yet to hear back.
It needs to be very clear that, for staff, this is a minor hassle, whereas it provides a massive amount of safety and peace of mind for trans students.
Update: apparently the issue lies around the entering of final marks:
“they took it back because they didn’t realise what kind of impact it may have on final marks. They were going to change names basically at the same time we were going to enter final marks. That could have been chaos.”
While mildly more understandable than staff throwing up a hassle due to it just being too complicated, surely there is a way around this. This absolutely needs to be implemented before the start of the summer semester, and I’d imagine it shouldn’t be all that hard to change it soon without causing chaos.
Update 2: Got a reply from Terry O’Neill, head of student Equity:
“Yes, the Equity Office has been working with others to achieve a change in the preferred name issue. However, it does seem that the original timeline was slightly ambitious given the relative complexity of the systems and process changes which are required. The slight delay in implementation is, categorically, not a result of staff resistance. On the contrary, university staff have been – in my experience – uniformly supportive of the need to make this change.”
Worth noting that in our – that is, the community’s experience, staff and lecturers are not always supportive and often leave us lacking. Also worth noting that Sally’s email seems in direct response to staff concerns and resistance.

3 thoughts on “Update: Preferred name system change on hold

  1. Hi Jennifer,
    Thanks for keeping an eye on this. I am not sure my comment will put your mind at peace, but I hope so. There has been a discussion on the staff social chat network trying to explore the implications of the preferred name change, and the discussion has raised some valid issues regarding the implementation of the change. My reading of the discussion (and it is my interpretation) is that teaching staff are not against having the changes go ahead and see value in actually having them go ahead. The concerns are, however, around consistency in the names of students which is crucial for us to be able to do our jobs well and ensure that all students get the right marks at the right time. One question centred around consistency – which from the email we were sent was not clear. The email implied that when the names of students did not match we would have to use the students’ ID#. For example, I myself raised the issue to Sally that for people that are dyslexic (as myself) this is not a reliable option and would therefore require support staff to double check my grades if I could not rely on the names on my roster. In other words, and this may have been an error in which the email was crafted, it did not seem that staff would “only” have access to preferred names, but rather that we would have access to both, but not in the same place (and that it was up to us to negotiate those differences). For small courses this is not an unsurmountable hurdle (negotiating the discrepancies in names) but many staff are dealing with thousands of students at any one time and a lack of consistency has the potential to lead to the introduction of errors which will have an effect on students. Unfortunately, if we don’t get this right the students that will be most impacted are those which will be using a preferred name since those will be the cases where inconsistencies show up. As you say, there has to be a way around it – and I think that what is being discussed is ensuring some level of consistency that will avoid confusion and mistakes. The equity office has raised good reasons for why this change should take place, and the change has the support of many staff members. The issues (as far as I see them) are about consistency to ensure a fair process and timing (that is to not create confusion mid-semester). Be assured many of us see the arguments behind the need for change and support them.

  2. Heya,

    Yeah, we’ve been discussing these issues amongst ourselves for the last few days and can see why certain issues have been raised, but I’m still determined that this needs to be of the utmost priority, and the feeling we’re getting is that it’s not.

    As for inconsistencies – basically every trans student I know, and I’m sure many, many international students and other students who use preferred names – are already submitting their assignments under their preferred names. Changing this system would solve this inconsistencies and mean there wouldn’t be any more in the future – getting through the brief inconsistencies this semester seems worth it if no more students are put in danger at the start of the summer semester.

    Thanks for bringing up the point around the ID numbers, though – they have been suggested as a way to identify students as opposed to names, and your criticism of that is totally valid. I would 100% support using ID numbers and bringing up support staff for situations like this, but with the way the university is cutting the admin staff numbers sadly that doesn’t seem likely.

    1. thanks for your response J,
      I would not assume that the hold up is a proxy for deprioritisation. With any change you will have naysayers – and so the system needs to assess the risks. In this instance the major risk is the potential of getting the grade assignments for students wrong. As a teacher, I can tell you fixing this once marks have been submitted is not an easy process. If the implementation of the change does not consider these risks, you run the risk of having those who opposed it present good arguments against the change, and usually that is followed by reverting to the status quo. With non-priority changes this is not a major issue. But in this case, as you say, the issue is important enough that the last thing we want is to go back to the status quo because that would mean you will never get the change you wanted long term. Once you revert, re-implementing is harder.
      So, one way to look at it is to think whether it is worth delaying to make sure that those naysayers are left without an argument to ask for a reversal. Minimise the risk so whatever issues arise can be tweaked with rather than give the system the opportunity to say “we tried but it didn’t work”.
      I understand that students already sometimes use their preferred name – and even in a small class of 25 students that has meant hours for me trying to match names/preferred names etc on the marking working sheets I need to use. If my class was bigger I would not be able to allow it (other people’s brains might deal well with those issues, mine doesn’t and we are all individuals with different abilities and needs – and we all need to be accommodated).
      So, all I am trying to say, is to not get discouraged. Sometimes high priority issues need to be slowed down to get them right, because the price of getting it wrong is too high (as in this case). To try to see this as an opportunity to work with all those who are affected by the change to make sure the change has the broadest support possible so that it is successful, and to keep the lines of communication open between the groups you advocate for, the equity office and the system (cecil, teachers) so we can all feel comfortable around how the changes come about.
      Please feel free to contact me through the University email if you want me to help you get some more teachers’ perspectives so that we can make sure we are all working together rather than against each other. And looking forward to getting the right balance in place.

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