Saturday, January 4, 2014

The lesson is: never try.

Hey, no one told me when I signed up to contribute to CM that I'd be assigned the office on the busiest hall in the building!  You know, the one without a window?  Sheesh!  And what's this about having to get Academic Monkey a banana every day?  That wasn't a part of the job description.

After many years of lurking, through the Great Transition, even gaining posting rights a few years ago and promptly never actually posting, I thought I'd email my misery a few times this past fall.  It was a mostly pleasant experience (despite the constant hazing..."ThankyousirmayIhaveanother!).  

I teach in the Humanities at mid-sized, Master's-level public institution.  Earned tenure a few years ago and still feel pretty green even though I'm no longer the youngest TT in my department.  I weathered a storm in which a number of colleagues received termination notices (due to the economy, but later almost all rescinded) and even managed to successfully propose a program that has grown to roughly half the student population in our department.  

That pretty much made me the target of the old guard, who even went so far as to suggest that I teach a certain course because it would be good if, you know, I taught "majors."

Ok, enough with the Katie-ing.

I thought I'd waste my very first official(tm) CM posting on a classic tale of woe from just a few short weeks ago.

It was finals time and a snowflake in the course I subbing in for (a two week sub job that turned into half the semester) asked if they could take the final early.  I sighed and said yes, I'd offer a time a few days earlier as an alternate time.  

It was a large lecture and I didn't feel like having to come in a dozen times immediately before Christmas to proctor individual finals, so I decided on a time and emailed it to the class, indicating that students may choose to come to either, but there would be no exceptions.  

I got an instant response from the flake, which included the line "I was wondering if I could take the final exam on Monday afternoon instead of Tuesday as I have finals all day Tuesday and will be out of town right after my last final on Tuesday."

It is important to note that the final for my class was scheduled and published as being on Thursday, with the alternate I proposed scheduled for Tuesday.

My response indicated that their last final was actually Thursday (!) and that they had to stick with the schedule.  Back and forth the negotiations went, and I finally relented and said that I'd provide a copy of the exam to our department office staff for the student to take at their convenience.  

Part of the exam required extra technology, however, and this was unavailable in the proposed scenario.  I made it clear that the flake would be choosing to sacrifice this portion of the exam, which caused another round of negotiations.  I was exasperated at this point and actually called the Dean's office in anticipation of some sort of appeal. 

And then the flake did something that caused me to utterly cave, I'm ashamed to admit.  They said, "Please, please, please Sir could the Office manager or a staff member there please let me (do the technology) part?"

The flake was so pushy throughout the negotiations that I knew that they would hound the office staff relentlessly if I said no, so I said that I'd simply recalculate the grade minus the part in question.  

I felt a sense of resignation at having essentially totally given up because the flake had found the weakness in the last remaining stand I had taken, by invoking the possibility of office staff abuse.  

So my question is...what tactics (if any) have proved successful against you when finals time rolls around?  

--post script--

Imagine my surprise when the flake strolled in to the alternate final time that I offered.  When I asked why they were there, the flake responded, "Oh, I just switched my other final."

32 comments:

  1. I just don't offer an alternate time. At all.

    My reasoning is that 1) they are assigned a final time when they sign up for classes; if they had a family vacation planned then they should have thought twice about signing up for the class, 2) the final time, like class time, is set by the university, and I'm not changing that, and 3) most selfishly at all, I'm not wasting my precious time creating an entirely different final, or proctoring an additional exam.

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    1. I do offer an "alternative"--that also serves as a deterrent for missing a midterm or final. If you miss the test for some reason other than illness or funeral attendance, you may write a 20-page research paper on a topic of my choice to make up the grade.

      No one misses the test.

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    2. I use this too--write a paper as a make-up for quizzes and tests. Hardly anyone ever takes you up on it, but no one can complain that you didn't offer an alternative.

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    3. It's funny how sometimes those supposedly non-negotiable travel plans suddenly change when flakes are offered a research paper option. "Oh, you've already bought your plane tickets? Well, that's okay, Tyler. You can email me your paper from Bermuda."

      *Two days later, Tyler shows up to take the final*

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  2. No crazzy, blurry graphics. How can I be expected to read a pots without crazzy, blurry graphics? Get me another botlle of bourbon. This is to overhwelming.

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    1. Drink, dear one. The RGM is on it, I'm sure.

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    2. Are we moving the compound to New Mexico? It's about time. The food is way better there than in Utah.

      But I can't help with moving the heavy stuff.

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  3. Our finals are virtually all scheduled centrally, with one exam time per class. If someone misses that with a good reason, then we have to allow some sort of replacement, but there's no requirement that it be exactly the same format. I usually make it clear on the course outline that missed exams will almost always be a different format and almost always a series of essay questions. As everyone else notes, that sort of thing keeps the absences down.

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  4. That's a good story. Somehow, my micromanaging dean helps solve problems like this.

    We have centrally scheduled finals and the deans have the only authority to change the time of a final. He never let's faculty change the time, which is a pretty good rule. He also never approves of a student's request. He just likes making the decision. In this case, we actually come out ahead.

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  5. These banana deliveries are far and few between.

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  7. As I was subbing on this lecture course, I felt that an alternative testing time would alleviate the psychological wedge that some flakes use, pitting one professor against another. In the end only 13 showed for the earlier time, so I'm not sure I'd do it again even under the same circumstances.

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    1. I have missed something important. I don't understand why you offered an alternate time to begin with. Was it simply because they asked you to do so?

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    2. Remember, CC: Everyone has to learn to temper their generosity. We learn quickly, but sometimes only by making terrible, terrible choices.

      (and by ignoring Beaker Ben's advice: never care more about their education than they do)

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    3. Oh, I wasn't trying to criticize. I just thought there must be more to the story. If it is simply that he decided to offer an alternate time b/c he thought it would be nice, then SHAME on the students for proving that they will suck every bit of generosity out of you until you are left dry and cracked and broken.

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  8. Give 'em an inch, they'll take a mile. Always. So, a good prevention strategy is to never give them the inch in the first place.

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  9. At my U we're required to offer an alternate final time if the student has three finals on the same day. They're centrally scheduled, and the prof with the last (third) final on the same day is the one who has to reschedule.

    A studnet sent me an email the week before finals saying he had three on the same day, including mine. I just sat on the email for a few days without answering, then replied asking what his other final were (since it seemed unlikely mine would be the last one.) He responded saying "it's OK, Prof X is giving me an alternate final." Good.

    So this works: waiting a few days to respond. And I don't offer alternate dates (or makeups) if not required by the rules. It's on the syllabus.

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    1. What's a "studnet?"

      Seriously though, they know there are finals. They know how much the finals are worth, usually. WHY THE GAMES?

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    2. We have this same policy for students who have three finals in one day, but students are required to make the arrangements for an alternate time through the dean's office two weeks in advance of the final scheduled time. Those that do not simply have to take the finals when they are offered.

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  10. I blame the powers above me, "I'd love to help you, but the Dean says....."

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  11. I teach a one-night-a week class. The way my syllabus/calendar is set up I usually have three weeks (three class meetings) after Thanksgiving including Finals Week. The last in-class presentation is the week after Thanksgiving, the next week is for presentation overflow and review (I give a comprehensive final), and then the final.

    This year we only had two weeks after Thanksgiving. Aaaand the college was closed due to weather on the night of my class the week after Thanksgiving. My solution was to have them come by my office and take the final at their convenience anytime during normal business hours during finals week (I had a place to put them so I could keep an eye on them) and do presentations during the meeting period scheduled for the final. Oh, and I had to contact them individually the afternoon of the closure to tell them the "plan."

    I was able to reach all but two of them. Everyone else came by and took the test during the week. Those two had to take the exam after all the presentations ended that night. Did I mention that it was the latest Final on the last day of Finals week?

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  12. I don't give many finals (final paper, or sometimes reflection on final paper as take-home final), but I'd prefer the system Ben describes, since, come the last week or two of school, a significant number of my students start skipping my class, claiming they have early finals in other classes. Some of them may be prevaricating, but I suspect at least some of my colleagues are scheduling finals at their convenience (which, of course, not only messes us others' schedules, but encourages snowflakes to do the same, and to regard finals that actually take place, as scheduled, during finals period as an unreasonable imposition).

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  13. Here, the university schedules the final exam time, all classes are required to use it and the 'flakes cannot reschedule except by petitioning the registrar according to a finite list of excuses that do not include "I had plane tickets." The downside is that if they do that, the registrar then "requests" that the student be given an alternate time; but on balance, thank God for the administration, say I.

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  14. I usually just say "no," and then there is no negotiating or ingratiatingly false behavior on either of our parts. In 15+ years of teaching, every single student who has claimed to have something really important keeping hir from making it to the final, was able to miraculously make it to the final exam when I didn't negotiate.

    Did they hate me for it? Probably.

    Did the other students, who came at the scheduled time without wanting to leave earlier appreciate that I didn't let someone take the exam early? Damn straight!

    Do my colleagues hate me because I offer early exams and cut out early? Nope; because I don't.

    This doesn't mean I sometimes have to offer an exam at an alternate time, but I let the dean's office (whose job it is on our campus) handle that and simply live by whatever edicts they hand out to me, which is usually to have the student take the final exam earlier or later, but the dean's office also finds a proctor and all I have to do is provide a copy of the final.

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    1. Maybe I'm cheating, but I'm a big fan of the "Final Project" rather than final exam. A final project can be due on the last day of class, or electronically submitted during the final exam slot during exams week. No need to administer the 8am exam on Friday when your colleagues and half your students have plans to be gone already. Submit from Cancun for all I care.

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    2. We are required to be present during final exam week because a few faculty members were doing their finals electronically from Cancun. Sigh. Now our chairs are actually required to check who is here for finals week. It's ridiculous!

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