Academic Senate Approves Revision of Policy Governing Final Exams

For some time, Tech students have expressed concerns about inconsistent practices among faculty members related to finals week and the week preceding exams. The Academic Senate took a significant step toward resolving those concerns at its Nov. 17 meeting by approving several changes to the General Catalog.

Utmost among the students' concerns prior to the policy change was the absence of a comprehensive policy regarding what types of assignments could be given during the week preceding final exams. Some students had complained of "a handful" of faculty members assigning large-scale, unanticipated projects at a point when there was virtually no time to complete the assignments let alone prepare for the final exam.

The new policy establishes the following provisions:

For courses with a traditional final exam, taken in class during the designated examination period:

  • Homework and projects are allowed during the week preceding finals, and a single final exam is allowed during finals week
  • Tests, quizzes, lab reports and lab practicums are not allowed during the week preceding finals, and no additional assignments beyond the final exam are allowed during finals week

For courses with an alternative assessment rather than a traditional final exam:

  • Homework and an alternative final assessment (one project or lab report/practicum) are allowed during the week preceding finals or finals week
  • Tests, quizzes, additional lab reports/lab practicums and additional projects are not allowed during the week preceding finals, and no additional assignments beyond the alternative final assessment are allowed during finals week

In addition to new language related to the week preceding final exams and finals week itself, the changes to the General Catalog also pull in existing policies from the Faculty Handbook and the Student Academic Bill of Rights to ensure that all related information is in one place and easily accessible to faculty and students.

Modifications in the existing language from the Faculty Handbook include the requirement that students "receive a graded performance evaluation returned prior to the last day to withdraw from classes (Drop Day). This is to allow students to evaluate whether to change the grade mode for the course or withdraw from it," were an important part of the commitee's goal to better organize and clarify related policies.

"The bottom line is that we want students to be able to make good, informed decisions," said Registrar Reta Pikowsky, who as a member of the Academic Senate's Student Regulations Committee to craft the revised policy. "We want to make sure that faculty members provide a syllabus at the beginning of the course that includes all the course assignments and the time frame for when those assignments are due."

"This new policy is much more detailed than what we've had in the past," said Jimmy Williams, the Student Government Association's vice president for Campus Affairs, who also participated in the faculty's Student Regulations Committee's work on developing the policy. "The distinction between courses with traditional finals and those with an alternative assessment is especially helpful."

"This is a policy that we are very comfortable in supporting," said Joseph Hughes, associate chair of Electrical and Computer Engineering and a former chair of the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee. "This policy addresses legitimate issues and represents a reasonable balance between students' concerns and the Institute's administrative requirements."

Some Senate members expressed concern that the policy will not be as effective as it should be unless the Institute adopts a "reading day" or "dead day" between the last day of classes and the first day of finals. Anderson Smith, senior vice provost for Academic Affairs, said that a faculty committee is currently considering the possibility of adding two reading days per semester.

The Georgia Institute of Technology is one of the world's premier research universities. Ranked seventh among U.S. News & World Report's top public universities and the eighth best engineering and information technology university in the world by Shanghai Jiao Tong University's Academic Ranking of World Universities, Georgia Tech’s more than 20,000 students are enrolled in its Colleges of Architecture, Computing, Engineering, Liberal Arts, Management and Sciences. Tech is among the nation's top producers of women and minority engineers. The Institute offers research opportunities to both undergraduate and graduate students and is home to more than 100 interdisciplinary units plus the Georgia Tech Research Institute.