Leviticus 5:17 warns you that it’s no excuse to say that you weren’t aware the Lord has proclaimed some action a sin. If you do it, you’ve sinned and must suffer the consequences. The succinct maxim is that ignorance of the law excuses no one.

Okay, but that works both ways. Just because you’re made aware of a law, doesn’t stop it from being unfair if that’s what it is.

The University is telling freshers that are just finding out they fell short of their score in their Matrics last September, they cannot make up for the shortfall in a resit and go on with their lives. They have to take an improvised gap year, stop following a program they’ve now sat through for a month and wait a year to start again. And this won’t be a gap year of your dreams backpacking in India. This is a gap year of solitary locked up at home waiting for your life to resume.

The affected students are asking for clemency and to be given another chance at the December exam resits. The University is saying ‘tough’ and – here’s Leviticus – you knew these were the conditions under which you were admitted so bugger off and stop whining.

I’m sorry to say but this is upside down. The class of 2020 has every right to expect to be treated the same way as students in the years before and after. Covid should not be a reason to be tougher on them. Covid itself has been tough enough.

Matriculation exams normally happen in two sessions: in May and September. In May, students take their first shot at grades and if they don’t cross the line they get a chance at a “resit” in September in time for the beginning of the University program in October.

Why are ‘resists’ done at all? Because it is understood that a student’s performance on an exam day is not necessarily the best way to measure the qualities of that student. They say Napoleon had acute constipation when he made such a horrible mess of Waterloo. That may be apocryphal but a student too can happen to have acute constipation on the day of their Physics Paper B.

They can be forced to take another shot a year later – by which time they would have crawled long past their peak because they’ll have been a year out of school – or given one more chance three months after the exam they failed in the hope that whatever threw them off in May does not haunt them again in September.

This is not mollycoddling students. It’s finding a fair way of measuring their aptitude and verifying their suitability for further education. Exams have no intrinsic value. The intrinsic value is in the education those exams are supposed to certify has been absorbed by the student in order to allow them to move on a level up in their growth and learning.

That’s why students get another chance.

The class of 2020 is not getting that chance.

The University says the postponement of the May session to September was not its fault. They had to postpone exams because of covid and surely the University cannot be blamed for that.

Are students to blame for covid then? Because they’re the ones getting whipped for it.

And it wasn’t the first whipping they got this year either. In October 2019 they started their build-up, their preparation and training for the most challenging and important exams of their lives up to that point. Getting ready for your Matrics is like training for a big race: it’s a refined program that requires, no doubt, the student’s effort and commitment but also the experience and visibility of good coaches. But from March – two months before the appointed day for the race – they lost their teachers and were locked up at home to finish their preparations alone.

Then exams were postponed, dragging time through summer and the distractions that inevitably divert your average 17-year-old.

They sat for the September exam and were told to sign up to their choice of a program at University which they would be allowed to start pending the result which would come well after they started their program. And yes, they were told, they’d need to get the score at the first try.

Now, look at this. First exams were held in September. The courses started in October. The results came out in November when students who failed their September exams were told to leave their courses. The resits are due in December and the results for those can be expected in January. But the university won’t wait until January before it fires students that could stay in if they pass their resits, forcing them instead to wait till October next year to start afresh.

The university didn’t mind postponing the first cycle of exams from May to September because of covid. But covid is insufficient reason for the university to postpone from November to January its decision to fire failing students.

Understand this. There was a rule that said exams would be held with a par of two shots in May and September. Those were the conditions in place when students registered to sit for the exams. The University saw nothing wrong in shifting those goalposts because of covid. But it is now waxing melodramatic about what the rule books say insisting students should not complain about the application of the rules they improvised.

I’m sorry. If we are going to argue that fairness dictates that students are judged according to objective criteria and processes, then the criteria and processes that should apply are the ones that were in place when they started their Matriculation program in 2018. Any adjustment for covid should not have a material impact on their chances of passing those exams and halving the opportunities of sitting for that exam by cancelling the effective consequence of resits is very much a material impact.

The University may be citing a law it cobbled together last summer over some zoom call in the middle of August. But the law they improvised has a mean streak of cruelty all over it.

Yes, students knew these were the terms. But that fact doesn’t make these terms any fairer.

One more thing. Your first year at university should be the best year of your life. It should be something you’ll remember with fondness forever, including the insecurities and angst of starting something so overwhelmingly new because what you remember is having survived it. Covid is ruining that for this year’s freshers. They’re not making new friends, they’re not spending hours debating the meaning of life at the common room. They’re not coming together to organise theatre or sports. They’re not campaigning for union elections. Even the lips they would long to kiss are covered in sodden masks all day.

That’s not the University’s fault. But in this context can they have a heart and stop gleefully wielding a scythe chopping people’s heads like they were enjoying it?