Early finals: an enduring CSUC problem

retired Chico State University journalism professor and frequent contributor to the News & Review

With the semester closing, we see Provost Scott McNall has sent his usual end-of-the-term memorandum to all Chico State faculty urging them not to give early final exams, which they do to allow themselves a head start of a week or 10 days on summer vacation. The memo says in part, “Each semester students and faculty complain that a few individuals violate the injunction against holding final, comprehensive exams during study week.”

The memo goes on to explain that in March 1985 the Associated Students government urged the Academic Senate to ban exams during study week because the three-hour comprehensive tests require a lot of study time during a hectic period in the term. The memo further states: “The … Academic Senate supported the intent of this dead week (renamed study week) proposal, but felt a rigid prohibition would needlessly infringe on faculty rights [italics added]. After much consideration, the Academic Senate passed a resolution that faculty be ‘advised not to use the last week of classes for exams and tests,’ unless there is no scheduled examination during finals week (e.g., laboratory classes do not meet during finals week).”

After urging the faculty to “please support” this action, McNall’s memo closes with the statement, “Campus policy, directives from the Chancellor’s Office, and accreditation agency (WASC) standards require a full sixteen-week semester. This means that all regular classes are to meet during the appointed finals week hours and that comprehensive final exams be scheduled for the appointed finals week slot.”

The 1985 Senate action didn’t do the job, and the twice-yearly reminder memos began. Then, on Feb. 18, 1998, President Manuel Esteban sought to hold faculty accountable via an executive memo. Citing continuing student complaints and the 16-week semester requirement, Esteban emphasized, using bold type for this one sentence, “All classes are required to meet for one two-hour period during finals week for instruction or examination.” He warned that the university would “rigorously enforce the final exam policy beginning with the current semester.” Enforcement meant a letter of reprimand might be placed in a violator’s personnel file or formal disciplinary action taken, depending on circumstances.

McNall’s current memo does not reference the Esteban memo and thus seems to leave faculty accountability hanging. It’s important that students are being discomfited by the actions of an unknown number of instructors. Equally important is the administration’s apparent inability to effectively deal with this long-standing faculty compliance problem.

Suggestion: Why not update and substitute the Esteban memo each term with instructions to department chairs to advise all faculty that chairs will follow through with look-in checks on scheduled final exams? The president’s memo specifies that requests for exception “must be in writing and approved in advance by department chair … and college dean,” so pleading faculty rights wouldn’t help unexcused absentees.

In the private sector, heads would roll, but not at Chico State.