March 13, 2020

Students Urge Administration to Alter Finals Procedure in Face of Coronavirus

Mandatory in-person finals are not only dangerous, but unfair to the students most impacted by UChicago’s response to coronavirus.

As the students of the University of Chicago, we write to implore the University administration to reevaluate the current final exam procedures in light of the COVID-19 response on campus. At present, inconsistencies in final exam procedure and insufficient policies are placing an undue and dangerous burden on students and faculty. 

Several departments are continuing to hold in-person final exams because there are no administrative instructions to do otherwise, a decision which threatens the health and safety of students, faculty, and the campus community at large. The University suspended “University-sponsored events and gatherings of more than 100 people effective immediately through April 15” on March 10, urging “social distancing.” In an email sent March 12th, students were ordered to evacuate housing by March 22nd “to prevent and slow the spread of the virus.” The University’s COVID-19 Response Page further directs to a recommendation by WHO to “maintain at least 1 metre (3 feet) distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing.” Despite these cautionary measures, however, the University has not canceled in-person final exams, which will require that students from across campus be in close proximity to each other for at least two hours. With regular exam policies, a single exam room may include up to 200 people sitting side-by-side. By failing to issue a statement prohibiting in-person final exams, the University  leaves departments to hold in-person exams as scheduled, and so contradicts its own safety measures and the recommendations of WHO. Having in-person final exams will only facilitate transmission of the virus and endanger vulnerable members of our community, such as those who are elderly, immunocompromised, or with pre-existing conditions. To protect the health of its students, faculty, and community members, it is vital that the University mandate immediately that final exams may not be taken in-person.

It is further imperative that the final grade deadline, established by the administration, be extended from March 24th, 2020 to March 30, 2020, to allow students and faculty to respond to the various pressures of the University’s response to COVID-19. Although it may be necessary to prevent the spread of the virus, vacating student housing has placed students in unprecedented difficulties that will exacerbate regular exam stress, with first and second year, low-income, and international students disproportionately facing harm. In addition to the pressures of final assessments and exams, these students face financial uncertainty, housing and food insecurity, visa complications, and the stress of a global pandemic impacting family, friends, and loved ones at home. It is unreasonable to expect these students to study as usual under such unprecedented pressure, yet several departments within the College have indicated that they cannot extend deadlines to meet the needs of the students impacted by housing closure, as they must submit grades by the March 24th deadline. To allow both students and faculty enough time to navigate these circumstances, we request that the University extend the final grading deadline by one week to March 30th.

With these concerns in mind, we write today to ask the administration to implement the following immediately: 

- Inform all departments that in-person exams are prohibited in the manner of other University-sponsored events and gatherings of more than 100 people.

- Extend the final grade deadline to March 30, 2020 with the recommendation to faculty to extend deadlines as needed to accommodate student requests.

- Encourage faculty to offer optional and altered final exam/essay access where possible, including, but not limited to: re-weighting course grades, offering online or take-home exams, and altering exam due dates.

President Robert J. Zimmer and Provost Ka Yee C. Lee stated in a recent email concerning the transition to remote learning that the University of Chicago was defined by a “collective commitment to the highest aspirations and standards in research and education and all that this entails.” Such commitment must necessarily extend to protect the health and safety of all members of the University community. In such uncertain and challenging circumstances, it is vital that we as colleagues, neighbors, and members  of this community take all reasonable steps to prevent the spread of the disease in a way that does not perpetuate further harm, particularly to already-vulnerable individuals.

We therefore request that the University of Chicago recognize and act on the steps outlined above, and so affirm the intellectual life and fundamental values that we all hold dear.

Over 2,000 people have signed the petition, which may be found here.

Charlie Gallagher, Olivia Reeves, and Carolyn Zhao are undergraduates in the College.