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USenate writes proposal to allow Dec. 23 exams to be rescheduled

Student and faculty senators on the University Senate Education Committee have overcome a persistent lack of bipartisanship in the ongoing debate over the academic calendar and are finally seeing eye to eye.



At Friday’s meeting, the committee announced a proposal stating that any Columbia student with one or more exams on Dec. 23 can submit a request to his or her instructor and the dean of student affairs to reschedule those exams for an earlier, mutually convenient time, provided that a Dec. 23 exam presents “undue hardship.” The period for which exams can be rescheduled isn’t specified in the current draft of the proposal, which will take effect in September pending approval by the full USenate.



The Education Committee has to review the academic calendar every 10 years. This year, the calendar has been the subject of an ongoing, contentious debate, since the tradition of starting after Labor Day forced some students to take final exams two days before Christmas last semester.



“This is a win for students,” student senator Andrew Springer of the Columbia Journalism School said, adding, “The students spoke and we [the Senate] listened.”



Current policy allows undergraduate students to make a similar request in cases in which three final exams are scheduled on the same day. “We’re essentially piggybacking on an undergraduate policy and making it University-wide,” Columbia College senator and Education Committee member Alex Frouman, CC ’12, said.



“This is a guarantee for those who live far or are paying for travel that their needs are met. We need to ease their burden,” Frouman said, adding, “It’s a feasible solution to reschedule finals for a subset of the population.”



Though the exact wording of the proposal requires further revisions, Tao Tan, CC ’07, MBA ’11, and chair of the Student Affairs Committee, expects that a final document will be presented on the floor of the University Senate at its April 30 plenary meeting, “where it will be passed in all likelihood and take place immediately.”



According to Tan, the qualifications a student must meet in order to reschedule his or her exams were purposefully left open to interpretation. “We’re leaving it [the term ‘undue hardship’] undefined so it can be left up to the discretion of the individual deans of the colleges,” he said. “Common sense will win.”



At the plenary meeting earlier this month, the Senate body was polarized between a student council proposal to start a week before Labor Day every two out of seven years and a faculty-proposed solution to hold classes on Election Day Monday and finals over the weekend.



Frouman remarked that the newest proposal is a significant turnaround. “All of us were able to come together this morning and reach a solution,” he said.



News of the proposal generated a negative reaction from student council leadership, though, as some argued that the USenate did not address the problem of the compressed study day and final exam period in years when Labor Day falls particularly late. “I’m disappointed,” Sue Yang, CC ’10 and president of the Columbia College Student Council, said. “This [the proposal] just formalizes and legitimizes what already happens in the status quo situation, where students negotiate with their professors to reschedule their exams.”



Engineering Student Council President Whitney Green, SEAS ’10, agreed. “This is actually increasing compression,” she said, adding, “It should never be a case where a proposal is being imposed on the students.” Green said she feels the proposal “was not alleviating the problem we were looking to address in the first place.”



Frouman acknowledged the difficulties of the compression that will still persist. “This is a proposal that focuses on the 23rd, not on the compression,” Frouman said. Springer added that the current situation of late final exams is more immediately pressing than compression. “We need something right now. This is so students can get home in time for Christmas this year,” he said.



University President Lee Bollinger said in an interview prior to the latest decision that he was pleased students had the opportunity to speak up, but he acknowledged that the option of starting before Labor Day, which is now off the table, would be a hard sell among faculty.



“I think it’s a fact of life that on the whole, faculty do not want to start before Labor Day,” he said, adding that this has to do with many factors, including “the patterns of their lives, the rhythm of their lives … academic conferences around that time ... child care issues.”



Bollinger added of student proposals to change that norm, “You really better be prepared to make the argument and to recognize you are starting from a point of resistance.”
Regardless, students said they appreciated the latest development, though for some, it was not enough.



Shunsuke Hirose, CC ’13—who is from Japan and had to fly home on Christmas Day—said that she had supported the student council proposal. “It wasn’t a blanket idea, it was a compromise,” she said, adding of the Senate consensus, “It’s a trade. If I made the request to reschedule my exams, I honestly think I should be prepared to deal with it.”



Natalie Hernandez, BC ’13, said she appreciated the latest proposal because last December, her academic schedule conflicted with her religious obligations. “I think I went to service right after my exam and got there pretty stressed out,” she said.



Jim Applegate and Letty Moss-Salentijn, faculty co-chairs of the Education Committee, could not be reached for comment.



emily.kwong@columbiaspectator.com

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Anonymous posted on

I cant believe it. The senate actually pulled it off. Great job...

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Anonymous posted on

Whitney Greene is so wrong. This doesn't impose anything on anyone. It doesn't take anything away from anyone. In fact, it gives people more options if finishing on 23 December is hard.

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Anonymous posted on

1. Learn to spell her name. Whitney Green.

2. She's completely right. This means that the responsibility will lie solely with the student to reschedule his or her exams. Ideally, we would like a schedule that doesn't result in exams on Dec 23, so that nobody (students or professors) have to reschedule.

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Anonymous posted on

Umm, so if I'm reading this right, this means I can fly home to Chicago next fall on Dec 22 at the latest. Sounds great.

"This means that the responsibility will lie solely with the student to reschedule his or her exams. Ideally, we would like a schedule that doesn't result in exams on Dec 23"

Well, cry me a f*cking river, we don't live in an ideal world, this works just fine for me, and I'm mature and able enough to reschedule my own exam.

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AT posted on

Well, consider that the days have already been compressed. I wasn't here last fall semester during finals, but I heard there were lesss study days and such, and pushing a final up would make essentially less days for one to take finals in and more to study instead of spacing out finals. That's what I assume the 'compression' is referring to, anyways.

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Anonymous posted on

This is really good news for people who have to travel internationally (like me) !

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Anonymous posted on

Finally the tools in student government deliver on something.

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Anonymous posted on

Prediction: if Whitney and Sue pulled this off instead of the senate, they'd be crowing about how it was a huge victory for students and a wonderful compromise.

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friend12 posted on

Common sense. Have finals a week earlier (like most main stream schools) and shorten the number of class days. That is too easy. I'm sure there will be some other conflict or someone complaining they are not getting every second in class time that they paid for.

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