Students push for elimination of Saturday finals

By Joelle Smith / Staff Writer

According to one University administrator, the elimination of Saturday finals is impossible, but two students have compiled research and met with administrators in an attempt to tackle the challenge.

Student Government Board President Mike Nites and Lauren Barney, a junior majoring in Chinese and political science, have prepared a presentation that includes a sample final exam schedule Nites created and information regarding the ways in which other universities approach final exam periods.

Nites is meeting today with Vice Provost and Dean of Students Kathy Humphrey to discuss his transition to his position as president of SGB, and he plans to address further steps he can take to continue the student-led push to eliminate Saturday finals.

Barney has been working to eliminate Saturday finals since last January and started collaborating with Nites on the project in September. She also campaigned on a platform advocating the removal of Saturday finals during the 2013 Student Government Board election.

Barney said she and Nites met with Daniel Stump, Pitt’s manager of course and class scheduling, several times. They have also “probed a little deeper” by contacting other administrators and departments throughout the University.

“We’ve taken it from a broad scope and a narrow scope,” Barney said. “We’re trying to look at all different facets and all different angles of how finals are scheduled.”

The process

Blocking out final exam schedules is a complicated endeavor. The University Registrar’s Classroom Scheduling Office incorporates the individual schedules of more than 18,000 undergraduates to avoid overbooking students during an already stressful week.

Stump has planned final exam schedules for the past two years.

The Registrar’s Office designates hourly finals, Stump said, depending on a class’s regular meeting time. For instance, all classes — besides those scheduled for departmental finals — that regularly meet at 8:00 a.m. on Mondays will hold their final exams on Wednesday of Finals Week from 4 to 5:50 p.m.

The Registrar’s Office schedules final exam dates within a basic grid related to the class schedule, blocked off in increments of 50 minutes from 8 a.m. to 5:50 p.m.

“We only have so many blocks in that grid that can work,” Stump said. “That’s why we have a Saturday final — it’s just not possible to remove the Saturday finals.”

 The Classroom Scheduling Office started planning final exam dates for the 2014 fall semester at the end of the 2013 fall semester, and the office obtains course information from University academic departments who compile a course catalog.

 Stump said that once the catalog reaches completion, each department must share its plans for offering final exams in its courses with the registrar. The office then develops a list of classes that will proctor finals before or during finals week.

Stump said a department’s choice to require a departmental final — a single exam given to multiple sections of the same course that is taken simultaneously, regardless of each section’s typical meeting time — or an hourly final — an exam schedule according to the time a class meets — determines the time slots for the exams.

 Other systems

Depending upon the university, the approach to finals week differs.

Barney and Nites researched the scheduling systems at other universities — including schools in the Atlantic Coast Conference, such as the University of North Carolina and Clemson University, as well as Temple University and Penn State University, two other Pennsylvania state-related universities — to find a more ideal system for Pitt.

UNC also struggles with complications surrounding Saturday exams.

“We’ve sort of gone back-and-forth on that,” Christopher Derickson, assistant provost and university registrar at UNC’s Chapel Hill campus, said.

The university’s fall semester finals ran from Monday to Monday. The university also instituted reading days, or days that are reserved for studying without scheduled exams or classes, on Wednesday and Saturday during finals week. Pitt does not conduct reading days.

Derickson, who also chairs UNC-Chapel Hill’s Academic Calendar Committee, which arranges finals exam dates each semester, said students’ choices between a reading day versus a Saturday final could alter their term’s end date. Three students have served on the committee, according to Derickson.

“They’ve chosen to have either a reading day or final exams on Saturdays, so that we can actually end the semester a day earlier,” he said.

Departmental exams

Nites said he, Barney and the Registrar’s Office were aware of a collective issue surrounding the growing number of departmental exams assigned during finals week.

Nites and Barney studied the process UNC implemented for courses wishing to turn their hourly final exams into departmental exams, which UNC calls “common hour exams.”

 According to Christopher Partridge, UNC-Chapel Hill’s assistant registrar for scheduling, if the professors of a class wish to engage in a common hour exam, they must petition the dean of their department. The dean would present their claim before the Academic Advising Committee, which includes the University Registrar’s Office. The committee would ultimately decide if a common hour exam is necessary.

UNC’s Academic Advising Committee accounts for factors such as class size. Partridge described how a mathematics class interested in transitioning to a common hour exam had to reach certain size requirements before moving to a common exam time slot during the spring term.

When deciding whether a course should be approved for a common hour exam, Partridge said the committee deliberates based on need.

“Does the department need to have this exam? Is it beneficial to the students? At the end of the day, that’s the question. We’re not here to make life of the faculty necessarily easier. We’re here to improve the service that we provide to the students,” Partridge said.

 Partridge said he would recommend the committee approval system.

“It helps keep our sections clean in the common hour exam,” he said. “I know that these [common hour exams] need to be done this way.”

According to Stump, Pitt’s Classroom Scheduling Office is now investigating the process behind making an exam departmental or hourly.

 “We’re trying to come up with good practice for the departmental exams … Why is it done this way?” Stump said. “Why are there so many departmentals that may not have to be departmentals? That is definitely one thing we’re trying to do, though.”

Barney said Pitt does not have requirements specifying how many students have to be in a course for it to qualify as a departmental final. This leads to departmental exam room assignments that are not necessarily size effective or efficient.

But even if the University Registrar’s Classroom Scheduling Office scheduled departmental finals in appropriately sized classrooms, departmental finals are filling slots that could potentially hold hourly exams.

Nites said a class such as General Chemistry 1, which hosts around 1,200 students from multiple sections, requires a departmental final to accommodate the large class size. Conversely, if there are 150 students in a course taking a departmental final, scheduling may not be as efficient, because the class size does not necessarily require a departmental time slot. The issue arises when a low number of students in a single course are assigned a departmental exam in a time slot that may have allowed a number of courses — and thus, more students — to take an hourly exam.

But not everyone sees a need for change.

Raymond Jones, a professor in the business school, said he respects the process Pitt uses to set up finals.

 “The registrar has a really challenging job in scheduling finals,” Jones said. “[The registrar has] to schedule finals for the entire University based on a limited number of classrooms that are available during the times when students are available to take them.”

The student push

According to Barney, the elimination of Saturday finals could provide a critical competitive edge for Pitt’s attractiveness to students.

Alexandra Savkova, a sophomore majoring in pre-emergency medicine and pre-physician assistant, is one of those students. Sabkova was disappointed to learn that her Organic Chemistry final landed on Saturday during the 2013 fall semester.

Savkova, who had final exams before and during finals week in the fall semester, said she is strongly opposed to Saturday finals.

 “It seems like there are a lot of kids who end up with three finals in one day and finals on a Saturday,” Savkova said.

Since 2010, students with more than two exams on the same day during finals week have had the opportunity to submit a Final Examination Conflict Accommodation Request form with the University Registrar’s Office.

According to Stump, the University accommodation procedure can create additional scheduling issues.

He said without the Saturday finals, students would be more likely to have two finals scheduled for the same day.

But for some students, even these accomodations aren’t enough to sort out the burdens of finals week.

Savkova said she had to reschedule one of her three Monday exams to Saturday. Since she was already scheduled to take one science-based exam on Saturday, she had to take two science-based exams that day, instead.

“Personally, I would not put anything on a Saturday,” Savkova said. “I know students don’t want to take a final on a Saturday.”

Stump said eliminating Saturday finals may lead to a dangerous trend.

“Nobody wants Saturday finals, but if we got rid of the Saturday final, nobody would want Friday finals,” he said.

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