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Exam Proctors React to Job Cuts

In tough financial times, FAS eliminates an ubiquitous part of exam season

By Wendy H. Chang and Manning Ding, Crimson Staff Writerss

One by one, they exit Science Center C Lecture Hall. It’s lunchtime on the first day of final exams, and they are relieved for the welcome break in testing.

No, these are not exhausted students. The departing individuals—with their brief cases, lunch bags, and name tags—have just finished counting hundreds of exam booklets, carefully matching each one to names printed on an attendance sheet, checking the spelling of each to make sure that all were accounted for.

These exam proctors perform their duties with care. And this morning, some do them with a hint of nostalgia, as they’ve just been told it will be their last exam season.

“I’m sad that they’re ending the program. It’s not because of the money, it’s just that I won’t be able to see a lot of these people again and I won’t be able to be around students,” said Robert “Bob” Leathe, one of the exam proctors filing out of Lecture Hall C.

Leathe, a retired federal worker, has been proctoring exams at Harvard for over a decade. “The best part is just seeing the students and being able to help them—not just in taking them exams, but also if they get sick and have to go to the infirmary,” Leathe said.

END OF AN ERA

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences Registrar’s Office announced last week that they would eliminate hiring temporary examination proctors beginning fall 2009 in order to trim budgets as part of $77 million in cuts made across FAS. Instead, “existing faculty, graduate students, and staff will proctor exams,” according to a May 11 announcement on the FAS planning Web site.

“The registrar [aerry S. Kane] looked at the expense associated with hiring people to proctor exams and he found that he could achieve some savings by asking professors to proctor their own exams while not making a serious impact on student’s experience,” said Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds.

Registrar Barry S. Kane did not return request for comment on how much was saved by the change. But according to Leslie Oliver, a retired teacher from Cambridge Ridge and Latin and a sixth-year exam proctor, the head proctors receive $12 an hour, and the assistant proctors are paid $10.

Most students interviewed said that this part of the budget cut will not have a significant impact on their academic lives.

“It seems irrelevant to me,” said Yvonne A. Yang ’11. “I’m not too concerned about it, because students will perform the same on exams regardless.”

James W. Danz ’12 said that exam proctors are notorious among students for being clueless retirees. “Honestly, from a student’s perspective, those jobs have always seemed pretty unnecessary, because the proctors never seem to know what’s going on,” said Danz. “Eliminating exam proctors seems to be one of the most logical cuts, in my opinion.”

STANDARDIZED TESTING

The exam proctors, who are trained annually before the final exams begin, say they believe the elimination of the proctors will threaten the uniform nature of the test-taking experience.

“I think there’s something to be said about the standardization. There’s same testing conditions everywhere, A student can go into a test knowing what it will be like,” Oliver said, “I’m not sure if there will be the same sort of standardization next year.”

The cutback has already had an effect. Pam Moffat, who has proctored exams at Harvard for the past five years, said she had always attended a three-hour training session at the beginning of each exam week. But this time, proctors said, Harvard did not offer returning Proctors training.

Instead, according to first-time proctor Lynn R. Gettman, new proctors were introduced to the process in an hour-long session and given informational pamphlets.

Biology Professor Charles Marshall said he welcomes the end of rigid testing rules that have, on occasion, obstructed his goals to educate.

Marshall said that during one exam, he had wanted to mark the exam of a student who had left 45 minutes into the test, but was prohibited due to rules that the exam cannot be touched by anybody while testing was in progress.

“I was told that I shall not touch the exam. A little bit like Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings—‘You shall not pass!’” Marshall said.

Professor and former Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby said he welcomed the elimination of exam proctors as it did away with a physical manifestation of Harvard’s emphasis on exams.

“Harvard can often overemphasize the final exams as part of the evaluation of students’ work,” Kirby said. “I simply believe that there’s no need to stand guard over our students. I don’t know of any other place that has paid proctors for final examinations.”

NO MORE NEXT YEARS

For the exam proctors who will no longer return to Harvard’s campus for exam periods, the cut marks an unfortunate end to a gratifying experience. Many proctors are former schoolteachers and nurses, and they said they have enjoyed the opportunity to work with students in their retirement.

“I enjoy working with students,” said Moffat, who has administered exams for five years, “I also volunteer with the local school system. When you’re retired, it’s nice to have something you enjoy.”

“And it makes us feel younger!” said Joan Danieli, who has been an exam proctor of 10 years.

According to Danieli, the camaraderie between proctors contribute significantly to her job satisfaction. “These people have become very dear friends. People who’ve been here a long time feel especially emotional about not getting to come back. We always used to say, ‘See you next winter!’ or ‘See you next spring!’ and now we won’t have that.”

—Staff writer Wendy H. Chang can be reached at whchang@fas.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Manning Ding can be reached at ding3@fas.harvard.edu.

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