Much ink has been spilled about the significance of the cheating alleged to have occurred in Harvard's "Introduction to Congress" course. There has been such a run on high moral dudgeon that the supplies must be running short. What does this unprecedented scandal say about the ethics of youth, about their eroding sense of intellectual property in the Internet age, about the blurred line between collaboration and copying?
I don't know what percentage of courses now administer take-home exams rather than sit-down exams or some other form of evaluation (seminars are often graded on the basis of research papers, for example). I suspect there are a great many more non-final-exam-evaluations today than even two years ago. They may well be the norm rather than the exception. And that is because NO EXAM is now the DEFAULT OPTION.
So altogether, there are pretty powerful incentives not to give final exams, and nobody is telling the faculty that they are educationally a good idea in spite of the disincentives.
To: The Members of the Faculty
From: Jay Harris, Dean for Undergraduate Education
Date: May 7, 2010
Re: Change to default policy for Final Examinations given in courses in the FAS
Because FAS policy requires that courses culminate in a scheduled three-hour final examination, the Office of the Registrar currently must schedule a final exam slot for each course unless the faculty member petitions for a substitution. At the start of each term, faculty are prompted to submit a Final Exam Request form to the Registrar. In order to produce an accurate schedule of final exams, the Office of the Registrar needs to hear from every faculty member before the Registrar’s Office can release a confirmed schedule for final exams, causing serious delays. As a consequence, our students and faculty are not able to plan for the end of the term until late into the semester. With the change of calendar, this problem becomes particularly acute in the fall semester when the exam period falls so close to the holidays. In the fall of 2009, our first term under the new calendar, many students who needed to purchase tickets to fly home were forced to wait until November because they needed to know when their exams would be scheduled before finalizing their plans.
The solution to this problem is to post the final exam schedule much earlier in the term, but in the absence of accurate information from the faculty, and with the default requirement that we schedule a three-hour time slot for every course unless otherwise notified, any list of final exams produced early in the term would contain many courses that will not actually culminate in an exam.
On behalf of the College and the Graduate School, I therefore move that, effective July 1, 2010, unless an instructor officially informs the Registrar by the end of the first week of the term of his or her intention to give a three-hour final examination for a specific course, the assumption shall be that the instructor will not be giving a three-hour final examination and no slot will be reserved for that course in the examination schedule.
Should the Faculty vote to accept this motion, Information for Faculty Offering Instruction in Arts and Sciences would be updated accordingly. I enclose, for your review, a red-lined version of the changes that would be made to the handbook. It is important to note that faculty who wish to assign some alternative means of assessment for undergraduates would be allowed to do so, but the alternative assignment (even if it is an exam, such as a take-home exam) could not, according to current FAS policy, be scheduled to take place or be due during the Examination Period. For graduate students, Examination Period may be used for assignments when there is no final examination for the course.