Eliminating Finals Week Defeats the Mission- A Letter to the Editor
The opinions reflected in this OpEd are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of staff, faculty and students of The King's College. In addition, this opinion piece was written by several students who have signed the bottom of this letter.
Yesterday afternoon, an email from the Provost’s Office announced the establishment of a new schedule that eliminates finals week beginning in the Fall 2019 term. Each semester will be cut by one week, with finals held during the last week of classes instead of during a separate week.
We fear that eliminating finals week demonstrates a lack of institutional commitment to the King’s academic mission.
Those of us writing this letter are seniors. Most of us will graduate in May and will experience no consequences from this change.
We are worried, however, about the future of the school we love. It concerns us that this decision was made with an apparent lack of meaningful input from students and faculty, the primary groups affected by the change. We discerned from conversations with multiple professors that they felt their opinions were not taken seriously; to our knowledge, not a single student was consulted.
It may be argued that this policy will merely make the last week of classes a de facto finals week, and that professors will simply use final class sessions to administer exams. This is a misconception. Many, if not a majority, of upper-level courses, especially those within the PPE, RTS, Humanities, MCA, English, and Philosophy programs, end with large research papers or take-home exams, not in-class tests. All courses are required to meet once for three hours during the final week of the semester, whether or not a test is given. This means that classes ending with tests will give up one or two lecture days and meet for an exam, and those ending with a paper or take-home exam will meet for two lectures in one three-hour block.
Finals week, then, will be an intense amalgam of final tests, final papers, and final lectures. We think this creates a perverse incentive structure. The authors of this letter have derived great value from writing 20-page research papers and studying for comprehensive, famously difficult exams in courses like Constitutional Law. Reflection and time are needed to turn in excellent products. The new combination of expectations is not conducive to writing the very best research papers and turning in the best exams, impairing in particular students who wish to attend graduate school or law school.
Indeed, students who attempt to conform to the academic expectations of semesters past will face difficult choices about how to allocate their time. The opportunity cost of writing an excellent paper is attending class or studying during class in a compressed end to the term. Those who wish to concentrate on class will likewise face the tradeoff of having fewer hours to edit and memorize, which in turn diminishes the quality of the work produced.
Meanwhile, professors who administer exams on the final day of classes will give up one or two days of lecturing. Anyone who has taken courses with Dr. Brand, Dr. Bleattler, or Dr. Parks can testify to the meticulous level of detail professors put into class structure. If the last lecture or two are filled with absent or distracted students, or if an entire lecture is cut, professors’ time is wasted and the course devalued. For their part, students will learn less class material despite the fact that tuition rates are being raised for the 2019-2020 academic year.
We also cannot overlook the fact that most students at King’s are encouraged to take on external responsibilities. Attempting to cram lectures, papers, and exams into a week likely to be crowded with jobs, internships, and volunteer commitments only increases stress and anxiety.
The upshot is that students will have fewer days in the semester to learn and to produce the kind of work that has been earning King’s a reputation for academic rigor, and that professors will have a shorter time frame to teach the ideas that transform our minds and our habits. We write because we think class days ought not be traded for the sake of efficiency, and because we think the school should not encourage students to choose between attending class and studying for a final.
King’s is an educational institution. Profit and growth should only ever be means to the goal of helping students build intellectual and moral character. At King’s, we have learned that moral transformation is possible, that justice is real even though it’s not guaranteed, and that the City of God is here if we’re willing to see it. We want students to continue learning these truths for all the years the school opens its doors. Our fear is that the changes to the academic calendar may reflect a willingness to allow administrative or financial considerations to override King’s most fundamental purposes.
For these reasons, we, some members of the Class of 2019, oppose this decision on the part of the administration.
Agree that finals weeks shouldn’t go? Sign your name here (seniors, non-seniors, and staff and faculty members welcome).