Advisers enforce policy of no testing before finals week
Teachers and students shouldn’t expect to skip town early during finals week anymore.
An often-forgotten university policy states no finals should be given before finals week.
Although the policy is not new, it hasn’t been followed in the past, including the fall semester, very strictly. Jim Allen, associate provost for academic programs and a professor of history, said he doesn’t think faculty members are purposely ignoring it — they just need to be reminded.
“Either they don’t know about it, if we have a fair amount of turnover among faculty … or there’s just the habit of paying no heat to it and thinking it would be acceptable to hold finals the week before finals week when it’s not,” he said.
The policy dates back to before April 1981, when the Faculty Senate approved a resolution to remind teachers of the policy. Allen said since 1981, several provosts have attempted to remind faculty of the policy with a memo.
Provost John Nicklow is the most recent to do so.
Nicklow said he wants to emphasize the policy to lower students’ stress levels.
“The literature demonstrates that providing a cumulative final during a set-aside period like finals week strongly correlates to better student learning outcomes,” he said in an email.
Nicklow’s memo states finals during the last week of classes are likely to interfere with students’ other obligations, such as attending classes and completing papers and projects that are due the week before finals week.
Allen said the purpose policy’s is to give students more time to study for their finals. He said he had to wait ten minutes past his class’s scheduled time last semester because the previous class was trying to finish up final exams the last day of class.
“I had to walk in there and kick students out while they were finishing final exams in their class because they were doing their damndest to get done and do their best on exams,” he said. “And here comes another class right on their heels.”
The class should have taken its exam during finals week so students could have been given the full two hours to do their best, Allen said.
“It’s an important matter. When I see students freaking out and they’re really stressed, it bothers me as an instructor,” he said. “I care about my students.”
Patrick Dowd, an undecided freshman from Bartlett, said he thinks the policy should be followed. He had friends that were stressed out from finals given early, Dowd said, and it would be fairer to have them all during finals week.
Sierra Dolwick, a sophomore from Woodlawn, Tenn., studying theater and English education, said she had finals early but didn’t find it stressful.
“I felt like it actually made finals week a bit easier because I didn’t have to worry about having all my finals in one week,” Dolwick said.
Some students may benefit from the policy, she said, but teachers should know their students well enough to be able to tell if they should take the exam a week early.
One concern raised by Holly Hurlburt, an associate professor of history, was whether every class has to have a final. She said while she understands why the policy would be implemented, the memo seemed a bit general about the matter.
Another concern was what would be the best way to assess students at the end of the semester. She said she thinks introductory level courses should have final exams, while upper level courses should lean more toward papers and projects.
Allen said he agrees. Not every class must have a final exam, he said, and courses such as studio art, musical and theatrical performances and independent studies may find it more appropriate to assign a paper, project or performance, which would be reserved for finals week as well.
The policy states teachers must turn in a hard copy of their syllabus to their director at the beginning of the semester. If a teacher thinks it appropriate to make changes to a final exam schedule, or even have no exam at all, the department’s chair or director must approve it.
If the change is found unacceptable, the chair must report it to the dean, who will then report it to the provost.
Pam Walker, a lecturer in foreign languages and literatures, said she thinks the chain of command method is micromanaging.
“I feel like people that are teaching here have, at the least, a master’s,” she said. “Most of them have a doctorate, so why in the world would you have to control that much how they handle their class?”
Walker said she thinks it’s a waste of energy and funds on the university’s part.
“My dean has much more important things to do than check what I’m teaching,” she said.
Hurlburt said she thinks the idea a department chair has to decide whether a teacher is doing his or her job is stressful for the teacher.
However, the syllabus is also part of university policy, Allen said. It is in the interest of students so they can keep up with assignments, tests, grading and more.
“Are we infringing on the academic freedom of an instructor by telling them they have to have a syllabus? I should think not,” Allen said. “It’s so foundational, so fundamental to the working relationship between instructor and student.”
He said finals should be the same way. They should be included in the syllabus as are all other assignments, Allen said.
Hurlburt said she knew about the finals policy previously and always took it seriously.
Walker said while she follows the policy, she doesn’t necessarily agree with it.
“I think that’s a ridiculous assumption that one week makes that much difference,” she said.