College May End Senior Honors Hourlies

Administrators Say Hourlies Result in Inadequate Commitment to Coursework

Under a proposal to be considered by the Faculty Council later this spring, the College would discontinue the practice of offering "honors hour examinations" for second-semester seniors, beginning in the spring of 1992.

The current policy allows second-semester seniors who are honors candidates in concentrations requiring general examinations to take an hour-long examination in place of a course's final exam. The honors hourly exam in such cases, taken in addition to the general exam, serves as a substitute for the final exam.

The only requirements seniors must fulfill in order to take an honors hourly are that the class lie within the field of concentration and that students obtain the course instructors' consent. Not all professors offer the option of senior honors hourlies.

The proposal, which may be brought before next month's faculty council meeting, would eliminate the option of a senior honors hourly for all classes, said Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Education Jeffrey Wolcowitz. "The new policy [will be] that all seniors will take all exams and there will be no special provisions," Wolcowitz said.

According to Wolcowitz, the original purpose of offering the option of honors hourlies was to prevent the repetitive testing of course material on both final and general exams.


"Honors hourlies were put in place so that students would not need to take a previous [final] exam that tested the same material as a general exam," Wolcowitz said. "It cleared the desk for students so that they could devote time for theses and prepare for their general examinations."

However, Wolcowitz said, the nature of concentration requirements has changed over the years, so that senior honors hourlies no longer fulfill their original purpose.

"What has changed is the nature of concentration credit," Wolcowitz said. "General exams no longer cover the same materials as honors hourlies. The notion of clearing the desk for students no longer applies because the information [in coursework] is not being tested in general exams. Thus, students exempting themselves from final exams [by taking honors hourlies] are missing an important part of the course."

Wolcowitz said most faculty members who would be affected by the proposal to ban the hourlies agree with it. "Dean [of Undergraduate Education] David Pilbeam raised the question [of eliminating hourlies] with the head tutors of all 17 concentrations eligible for honors hourlies, and did not sense that they were concerned [with the proposal]," Wolcowitz said. "He also wrote to 42 faculty members who opted to offer the option of honors hourlies in the last two years, and the overwhelming sense was that [the proposal] was just fine."

Pilbeam, who could not be reached for comment, also discussed the elimination of honors hourlies with student representatives in the Committee on Undergraduate Education, Wolcowitz said.

"The Committee on Undergraduate Education asked [itself] what purposes the hourlies served, and it was determined that they did not serve any of these purposes," Wolcowitz said.

Paul Pierson, head tutor of the government department, echoed these sentiments. "The government department has discouraged [instructors] from exempting thesis students from their normal requirements," he said. "General exams in part build on course material and are not considered a substitute for them."

Pierson, who teaches five tutorials and seminars this semester, said he has never exempted students from taking final exams in his classes. "General exams are not a substitute for individual coursework, they, are a supplement to them."


In addition to the changes in concentration requirements that have negated the benefits of honors hourlies, Wolcowitz said that, in addition, offering such hourlies is inherently unfair.