I have spent the past year and a half trying to extend finals from the current three day exam period to something that is much more conducive to student success. Under the current system, too many students find themselves with three and sometimes four finals on the same day, or they might find themselves with a final late on Friday evening. No other school in the state of Georgia has such a finals period, and I personally believe that it is shameful that we subject our students to such a condensed timeframe for taking, for many of them, the most important exams of their college career.
So I proposed a change that we drop dead day and give students four days to take finals. It’s not perfect in that I still think that it should be a five day final exam schedule, but at least this way there would be no repercussions felt throughout the rest of the schedule. That was nixed by several departments that actually use “dead day” to give exams, which seems to go against the idea of what a dead day should be (but that is beside the point of this discussion).
In order to keep a day for “special exams,” I proposed that we move to a four day final with a “Special Dedicated Exam Day,” which then required a move for the dangling Monday during finals week. That Monday has been the cause of quite a bit of conversation and consternation on a number of committees and with a number of individuals on this campus, and it has ultimately led to some confusion about what the purpose of this has all been.
Let me make this as clear as I can: this is about extending finals week for the students.
To do so and keep the dedicated day, then we need to move Monday to somewhere in the schedule. Do we take it out of Thanksgiving week and the week of Spring Break? This is not very likely. Do we arbitrarily pick a Saturday to convert into a Monday? My guess is that no one will show up. We could add time to the individual classes scheduled on MWF, but that makes times a bit loopy. Who wants a 52 minute class? The only logical thing I could see to do was to start on the Wednesday prior to the typical Monday that we start in the fall semester.
So, if we start three days early, then we have two extra days in the schedule. We can then take those two days and give students back their Fall Break (which they want as demonstrated in the SGA survey) and a full week of Thanksgiving (which they also want). Furthermore, it allows us to add a winter break during the spring semester along with the full week of Spring Break. This happens because the two semesters essentially need to mirror one another, and if we take the Monday out of one, we have to take the Monday out of the other.
And that is the schedule I have been championing. Yes, because of a late start in January, this will have a slight impact on summer (but not as much as one might think), and there is potentially a slight increase in what students pay for food over the course of the semester. But these were discussed with the SGA and included in their survey process last semester, and they still approved essentially the schedule that I have proposed.
Additionally, I provided a survey to the campus that also suggested that a) we need a change (more than 700 voting for change, 400 voting for no change), b) of the six options for change, the majority of over 270 wanted a change similar to what I’ve proposed here, and c) that if the faculty senate came up with a schedule different than what the SGA requested, then we should go with what SGA requested by a vote of 712 to 331. That last set of numbers includes a faculty vote of 140 in favor of going with the SGA proposal over the faculty proposal to 123 against.
None of this has been perfect, and the schedule that is proposed certainly will not please everyone. However, I don’t think that there will be a perfect schedule that does please everyone, but as a university and as a community, we should be able to adapt to changing circumstances so that we can ensure that our students have every opportunity to succeed. This is one of those times. We should be able to give our students more time to take their final exams. Period. We should be able to do so without dropping any classroom time from the regular semester schedule. We should also be able to do so while allowing for a dedicated day for special exam circumstances to be taken into account.
The only argument against this proposed schedule where we start a bit early and have a fall and winter break as well as a full week of finals that I cannot counter is the following: no other school in the state of Georgia has a winter break. Well, if that were truly of concern, we would have gotten rid of our three day exam schedule a long time ago as we are the only school, that I know of, in the state of Georgia that has a three day exam schedule. Precedent can be set. We can set it. But we have to have the will to do so.
And this brings me to the larger point I want to raise here in this letter to the editor. We have talked about a culture change here at VSU since before Dr. McKinney arrived on our campus. We are talking about it now as part of our strategic planning process and the marketing/branding discussion that is going on with outside help. It seems that we want a culture change, yet it seems that anytime something comes up where we can start to alter the culture to better fit with our students’ needs, we balk at it. We say we can’t do it because… well it’s never been done that way before. Or, we say that we’ve always done it this other way. Either way, I translate those statements as, simply, I don’t want to change.
So, my question to the university community is this: do we want to change? Do we want to grow our numbers? Do we want to be taken seriously as a first choice school in our region? Do we want to be the world-class, globally connected, student-enriching, life-changing, 21st century university that sets precedent and values engaged innovation? If we answer yes to any of these, then we have to find the will to change our culture.
A change to the schedule alone will not do this. Giving our students more time to take exams will not do this. But these actions are a start. Ultimately, I don’t care if it is my schedule or a different schedule that is approved as long as the students have a better opportunity and more time to succeed. I do care as to whether or not we have the will to make the necessary changes so that all members of our community have an opportunity to succeed. I believe we do. I hope you do too.