UPDATED: Finals schedule change stirs anxiety, professors ignore rule
UPDATE: In the wake of this report, two representatives of SF State’s chapter of the California Faculty Association said the university failed to square the revised Academic Calendar Policy with the union.
Professor Larry Hanley, a CFA representative for the SF State chapter said that the union sent a letter to the California State University administration on July 25, requesting to meet and confer with regard to the change in working conditions effected by the policy.
But because the CSU administration ignored the letter, professor James Martel, CFA-SFSU Chapter president, said faculty, likewise, have the right to ignore a school’s finals week policy.
“Some of you have been told that you have to have your class meet during finals week based on a new ‘Course Syllabi Policy’ which requires a statement to this effect on everyone’s course syllabus,” Martel said in an email to faculty obtained by the Xpress. “I am writing to let you know that you don’t have to do this.”
A crackdown on rules around final exams is causing frustration among students and fear of reprisal among instructors.
Many exams will be held on Saturday, Dec. 22, for the first time in recent memory, impacting thousands of students and leading some of them to lose out on income.
Photojournalism major James Wyatt has two finals scheduled for Saturday afternoon.
“It’s kind of annoying because I work Friday, Saturday and Sunday because those are the days I have off from school,” Wyatt said. “And I’m a server at a restaurant, so when I [can’t] work Saturday, which is the big money day, I’m probably gonna lose out on 250 bucks.”
The entire CSU system requires professors to hold class at their assigned finals time whether they plan to administer a final exam or not, based on a 1975 policy that was reaffirmed by the Academic Senate in fall 2017.
That’s because the calculated instructional time includes the scheduled final exam week.
Professor Venise Wagner said the Academic Senate had recently emphasized this policy to faculty, requiring them to uphold the senate’s contract for the required number of instructional hours.
“Monday courses took a hit this year [because of] Labor Day, Veteran’s Day, then Thanksgiving, not to mention the cancellation of class because of the fires,” Wagner said.
But she said weekend finals were rare in the past.
“It’s unusual for there to be a final on a Saturday. I’ve been here 18 years and this is a first,” Wagner said.
Many professors haven’t adhered to the finals week schedule in the past. For some classes, traditional final exams are not used, others opt for online or take-home exams, and others administer finals early.
Several students reported that professors were not requiring class during finals week. But students were asked not to talk for fear that professors would suffer punitive measures. Those students were unwilling to speak on the record for the same reason. The Xpress reached out to half a dozen instructors who were reportedly ignoring the rule, but none were willing to comment.
When asked what penalties professors might face for ignoring the finals week schedule, administration had mixed answers. Academic Senate Chair Nancy Gerber said she wasn’t sure what a punishment for such an infraction would be, or even who doled it out, despite it being the Academic Senate’s own policy.
University spokesman Brian Sharber of Student Affairs suggested that Xpress reach out to the Dean’s office.
“The answer may vary from college to college,” Sharber said. “Based on my experience as a recent graduate, I believe that faculty are permitted to eschew the final exam schedule provided that the course syllabus reflects this intention.”
Gerber said that class sessions during finals week provide necessary instructional hours, and SF State’s somewhat aberrant academic calendar adds to the challenge of ensuring classes fulfill these requirements.
The problem is exacerbated by the fact that we are only one of two CSU campuses that do not hold classes the Monday and Tuesday of Thanksgiving week,” she stated in an email.
Gerber was unable to explain why classes can’t just meet at regularly scheduled times during the last week of the semester.
She added that there’s a working group at SF State that includes representatives from Housing, Registrar, HR, Bursar, Academic Planning, Academic Resources and CEL, that is currently considering finals week scheduling, and other academic calendar issues.
“I believe that by doing so we’ll develop a much better calendar for the whole campus,” Gerber said.
There’s a lot of red tape when it comes to changing something as all-encompassing and inter-connected as the academic calendar.
“There are policies at both the SF State and CSU level and the Collective Bargaining Agreement that address the number of work days for faculty, the number of direct instructional hours and other issues that are part of an academic calendar,” Gerber said.
On a micro-level, it creates hardships for students during the most important part of their semester, though.
Wyatt is already taking the week after finals off work to visit family over the holidays. Then he had to request an additional day off for his Saturday final. And while his boss was understanding, his financial situation will be less forgiving.
“There goes a little bit of my spending money [on vacation] and my [financial] bubble for when I get back,” Wyatt said. “That’s another stress, then I can’t spend the money I wanted to on Christmas and stuff.
“It’s kind of wild,” he added. “It’s just one day, but it’s more stress than I wanted.”
The 2018 finals schedule has eight different class day and time slots designated for Saturday finals, nearly three times as many as in 2017.