Administration Debates Evening Exams

Students could see evening final exams and a shortened exam period if a proposal discussed at Wednesday’s Committee on Undergraduate Education meeting comes to fruition.

Top College administrators at the meeting also voiced support for a plan to announce tentative exam dates before the semester starts but nearly unanimously struck down an Undergraduate Council proposal to introduce a new senior seminar program modeled on the popular freshman seminar program.

At the meeting, Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris outlined a possible plan for a restructured exam period, which would last six days rather than the current eight but include three exam slots each day—morning, afternoon, and a new evening time.

Harris said students would never have to take three exams in a single day, but they might be scheduled for two exams on one day more often.

Computer science professor and former Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 expressed support for the proposal.

“I think it would be great to shrink exam period by two days, even if it meant that there was a little less study time between exams for students—just to resolve the enormous compression that I think exists, especially at the end of the fall term,” Lewis said.

While some committee members voiced concerns that students and faculty might not want to take or administer exams in the evening, Lewis pooh-poohed them.

“This is not inhumane pain and suffering to have to take an exam at night or to take two exams with two hours in between,” he said. “Of course [faculty] wouldn’t like it, but what do they pay us to do here?”

College administrators and the Undergraduate Council will solicit student feedback on the proposal next fall.

Harris, who chairs the committee, also outlined a proposal to list two possible exam dates for each course so that students can make end-of-the-semester travel plans earlier.

UC President Danny P. Bicknell ’13 called the proposal, which will likely take effect this fall, “a huge improvement.”

Some committee members expressed concern that students might select their courses with an eye toward crafting the perfect exam schedule rather than an enriching semester-long academic experience.

Lewis dismissed this objection as well.

“If a student’s going to decide on their Harvard education on that basis, either we should be talking to make students understand what the point of getting an education is, or we should just let them do it,” Lewis said.

But UC Education Committee Chair Samuel F. Himel ’12 said he thought student reaction to a restructured exam period should not be taken lightly.