Exam timing conflicts with commencement

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Exam timing conflicts with commencement

CW/ Emma Junck

CW/ Emma Junck

CW/ Emma Junck

CW/ Emma Junck

Keely Brewer, Contributing Writer

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With nearly 6,000 degree applicants for the spring commencement, producing a graduation schedule to accommodate all graduates is no simple feat.

The University of Alabama must account for the students and their families, the workforce responsible for maintaining the venue throughout the weekend of graduation and the members of faculty, staff and administration who will be in attendance for the ceremonies. Coordinating a schedule that meets the needs of every individual is impossible, but one substantial conflict went unnoticed.

Alison Varner has spent the last four years working toward a degree in electrical engineering. She will walk across the stage to receive her diploma during the first commencement of the spring on Friday, May 3, only hours after taking her final exam.

Varner’s discrete mathematics exam will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on May 3. She must line up for graduation at 3 p.m., just one hour after her exam time ends.

While Varner did acknowledge that the allotted time for exams typically exceeds the amount of time students spend testing, she pointed out the in-depth nature of the assessments for this particular class. She commented on her worry of rushing through an exam that counts for 40% of her final grade, especially on the day of graduation.

“Even just taking the exam and making it to graduation on time would kind of be difficult, but in addition to that, I wouldn’t get to enjoy the day or see my family at all until after the ceremony,” Varner said.

To make the situation worse, President Stuart R. Bell’s reception for graduates at the president’s mansion will begin at 1 p.m. and come to an end at 2 p.m., the same time Varner’s exam time ends.

Varner, along with other students similarly affected by this schedule, expressed her dread for the day of graduation.

Over her four years at the University, Varner said the vision of graduating pushed her through long nights spent studying for rigorous tests. When schedules for exams and commencement were released, it was apparent that this day would not unfold as Varner anticipated.

“I’ve stayed up more times than I can count studying for tests,” Varner said. “I’ve been doing that for four years. I work for the engineering department, I give tours and I’ve done so much. I was happy to graduate, but this whole situation just makes me unhappy to graduate from here, which is so sad.”

Varner is not the only student concerned. Several of Varner’s classmates have found themselves in similar situations. Abby Rein, another electrical engineering major, will be taking the discrete mathematics final with Varner in addition to one at 8:00 a.m.

“I actually have two exams on that Friday,” Rein said. “It’s just frustrating. That means I have to get ready for graduation at 6 o’clock in the morning when I need to be preparing for those finals.”

In the midst of getting dressed for graduation, taking two finals and fighting the traffic of graduation day, her family will be arriving from Kansas City.

After recognizing the conflict, Varner and Rein both contacted their professors, proposing potential alternatives. Varner offered to take the exam at 8 a.m. or during dead week to avoid being in an exam immediately before graduation. The professor declined her requests for a number of reasons.

“[The professor’s] concern is that if he gives me the same exam that I’ll tell someone else what was on the test,” Varner said. “And I would be willing to sign an honor statement or something like that and be condemned if I did. He doesn’t want to make a different test for me and the two other girls in my class. His concern is that if we do poorly on the test, he won’t be able to tell if he made a test that’s too hard or if we didn’t prepare well enough, which I understand, but, if I could get this fixed, I’d be willing to take whatever grade I get.”

The Division of Strategic Communications’ department of ceremonies and events is responsible for scheduling commencements. Presently, the ceremonies are divided by college, with one ceremony on Friday afternoon, three at different times on Saturday, and the final one, along with the law school’s, on Sunday.

This particular schedule arose after a devastating tornado hit Tuscaloosa at the end of April 2011, forcing the University to reschedule Spring commencements for the Fall. The schedule used at that time remained in effect until 2017 when the department moved the 6 p.m. Friday ceremony to 4:30 p.m. to provide families more time together after the ceremony.

Luoheng Han, the associate provost for academic affairs, provided insight to the situation but not before expressing his sympathy for the students finding themselves in this situation.

“As a parent myself, I do share your concern,” Han said. “I think it’s very legitimate.”

Han noted the efforts made by the Division of Strategic Communications to minimize the number of students impacted by this decision by assessing the exam schedule. The 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. time slot is for classes that meet Monday, Wednesday and Friday at noon, which they determined to have the least impact on graduating seniors.

Moving the Friday afternoon ceremony to Sunday, or even Monday, would remove the risk of conflict with exams altogether, but Han was unsure if this has been considered in the past. Varner proposed alternative solutions, including requiring professors to allow affected seniors to take the final during dead week or adjusting the final exam schedule in order to conclude earlier in the week.

Despite the numerous suggested solutions to this problem, it is one with layers of complexity. These layers include time constraints, parking and hotel availability for those in attendance, the time between ceremonies for workers to prepare for the next ceremony and countless other factors that are taken into consideration when building the schedule.

Although it is too late to make major adjustments for this year’s graduates, Han encouraged students to continue voicing the problems they face so that the University recognizes the changes they need to make.

“I think overall, from an academic affairs point of view, I would definitely look into possibilities of how to improve this,” Han said. “[The problem] is not easy, but we need to look at student concerns.”