For the past 70 years Harvard professors have had to get permission if they wanted to “opt out” of assigning a final exam for their course. But starting this fall, professors will need to get approval from the entire faculty if they want to test their students at the end of the semester.
According to the summer edition of Harvard Magazine, the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) voted on this new policy a few months ago. In the article, Diana L. Eck, Wertham, a professor of law and psychiatry in society, claimed that students become “affronted” when they are assigned final exams.
Approximately 23 percent of Harvard’s undergraduate-level courses, and 14 of the 500 graduate-level courses, had a traditional three-hour exam this past spring.
Jay M. Harris, Harvard’s Dean of Undergraduate Education, stated that science courses will still have end-of-the-year-exams, but he predicted that the new policy will soon be applied to other courses as well. He also admitted that since there will be fewer final exams during the month of May, they may also shorten the academic school year by “a few days.”
Experts worry that class attendance will dwindle as students will start to slack off at the end of the semester, while others believe this is simply because professors want a longer summer vacation. Here is an excerpt from the National Review article “Harvard Wimps Out on Testing,” which was written by two Harvard graduates:
“What’s really happening, we sense, is that Harvard is yielding to education’s most primitive temptation: lowering standards and waiving measurements for the sake of convenience…Just imagine: Students will be delighted to forgo finals, and instructors will be thrilled not to have to create or grade them. Everybody finishes the semester earlier. (The last few weeks of class don’t really count when that material won’t be tested!) Yet Harvard’s leaders may eventually have to acknowledge that, with fewer test results, they will know less and less about what students are or are not learning within their hallowed gates.”
Historically, Harvard has always been the “trendsetter” for higher education in America, and experts ponder whether other universities and colleges will adopt this new policy in the future.