(And we’re off to the races, everyone! Some of you are moving into end of the term. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we have another month or so before graduation. Regardless, I’d like to talk about a pesky issue that plagues many, many faculty at this time of the year… the scheduled vacation around finals time. And I’m not talking about the faculty’s fantasy trip to the Caribbean!).
“I need to take the final early,” Student said. “I bought plane tickets.”
My colleague, who teaches at another college, told student, “Put your request in writing and I’ll have to take it to the department.”
For the purposes of confidentiality, I’m going to leave the department type out, but I will say that the final is one that is common for all students in that particular discipline.
So student writes an e-mail:
I need to take my final early. I bought plane tickets and will be gone on the day that I’m supposed to take the final exam. You know how much air travel costs these days, so I had to get these tickets when they were on sale. Thanks for working with me.
Apparently, the department considered the request. What to do? What to do? Here were the Mental Olympics that the department considered :
-Allow the student to take the final early and possibly risk the integrity and security of that final. A no-go.
-Allow the student to take the final early and set a very negative precedent for other students. Why have a finals schedule established at the beginning of the term and why not just let all students take the final whenever they want? Heck, why not tell all students about the airfare sale and encourage them to go on vacation?
-Create a new exam for the student to take. Um, can we say “enabling”?
-None of the above. Tell the student that they have to be there or lose the points and possibly risk their standing in the class.
What did the department do, after their deliberations?
That would be the last option: No concession for the student whatsoever. There was just no way to go about it with fairness to the other students, or by maintaining integrity over the process.
So what’s the communication lesson here? (Didn’t you miss this over the past week or so? I did!)
I’d love to tell you that I have magic words to get what you want in a situation like this, but I don’t. When you sign up for a class, the college-wide finals schedule is typically posted. I realize your argument might be, “But, but faculty change finals times… why can’t I?”
My counter-argument to that is that we are not supposed to change finals times because doing so could negatively impact the pre-scheduled time of another class. If this happens, then you do have the right to alert the faculty that there is a conflict, and if that doesn’t work, let a department/division chair know.
But let’s get back to the student who wants a good deal on airfare: I totally get that. Faculty are in the same boat. We want to go on vacation at the same time as everyone else, and, of course, airlines jack those prices up because it’s always spring break, or summer, or Groundhog Week, or whatever!
But the truth is, you made a commitment to sign up for a class, you made a commitment to the entirety of the schedule that goes along with that class… and it includes your final exam time. And guess what? Faculty made that same commitment. So, we are both bound by what we signed up for… and we have to accept the ramifications of it.
Just because you have a final exam doesn’t mean you can’t still leave the same day and possibly still get the great airfare. There’s nothing wrong with saying to your professor, “Can you give me an idea of how long the final typically takes most students?” This might be particularly helpful if that final is your last or only one of the day. Now you know your prof won’t have a crystal ball to know how long the final will take you, but if two hours is scheduled for the final (at my college, that’s the timeframe, but our departmental final takes students, on average, about 30-40 minutes), at least you’ll know.
Bottom line? Tell your traveling companions: “Hey, I’d love to go to Bora Bora with you on May 18th, but I have a Bio final that day at noon. Can we leave in the evening? The airfare is a little more, but my head will be clearer knowing I’m totally done with school. There’s just no way out of this final without me risking my academic standing and I’ve worked too hard this term for that to happen.”
Anyone who supports you and your education is going to stand by you… and get on that plane with you a little later!
Faculty, how do you handle the “Can I reschedule the final?” issue? Students, are you struggling with an end-of-term issue? Tell me about it! E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.