Oxford University votes against elitist gowns at law debates

By: PTI | London |
Published:November 15, 2017 10:31 pm

The prestigious Oxford University has voted to lobby for a ban on students in the Law Faculty wearing elitist gowns for debates as part of the course work. Oxford Students’ Union (SU) passed a motion with 38 votes in favour of working towards a ban on the wearing of scholars’ gowns which distinguish high-performing students from the more average ones at moots, or mock trials staged by students.

The union branded the practice as “damaging” because it creates an “unconscious bias” among examiners, according to the university students’ newspaper ‘Cherwell’.

The motion, passed last week, has mandated the Oxford SU vice-president for Access and Academic Affairs Catherine Canning to petition the Law Faculty to change their policy on wearing gowns in moots, which are mock law cases that all law students are required to take part in to complete their degree at the university.

“As with viva examinations, the fact that you are judged in person in moots means that the gown worn may have more significance or lead to unconscious bias. This issue should be distinguished from scholars’ gowns in written exams where examiners do not see the candidate,” said Canning. The motion was proposed by Thomas Howard, a second-year law student at Magdalen College, Oxford University.

According to the motion, “judges, sometimes from leading law firms and chambers, may have unconscious bias based on the gowns worn”. Howard argued that it seemed unfair to differentiate between participants of a moot, as there is no direct correlation between exam performance and oral argumentative ability.

“This is damaging for those in a commoners’ [outfit] and can be for the scholars too since the judge may expect more of them,” he said while speaking about the unconscious bias. The Students’ Union had organised a student-wide consultation about abolishing scholars’ gowns across the board earlier this year.

Many who were in favour of the change criticised scholars’ gowns for creating “an academically hierarchical environment”. But the consultation had revealed that 63 per cent of students were in favour of keeping the current scholars’ gown system, therefore a more wider ban on wearing of the gowns during examinations was dismissed.

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