Friday, October 16, 2015

Quandaries 101; or, why I wouldn’t reschedule an exam because of a ballgame

In the news: a University of Illinois professor rescheduled a student’s midterm exam so that the student could attend the Cubs’ wild-card game. Here’s a Washington Post article with the details. The student-professor e-mail exchange went viral, and everyone is happy. The student got to go to the game, and the professor is, of course, a cool guy. Win-win. Also: #myprofessorgetsit .

Elaine and I began talking about this scenario while walking. (What good subjects we happen upon when not listening to podcasts.) We agreed that if we were placed in this prof’s situation, we would not reschedule an exam. Here’s my reasoning:

1. I would invoke a remembered-from-a-philosophy-class version of Kant’s categorical imperative. If I reschedule an exam for this reason, I must, if I am to be fair to all students, be willing to reschedule exams for other reasons as well, reasons that involve not emergency or tragedy or university activity but pleasure. (If going to the game involved a university activity — say, interviewing a player for a journalism assignment, rescheduling would be appropriate.) A concert, an art exhibit, a chance for a road trip with friends, a family vacation: each might seem to a given student a compelling reason to plead for rescheduling. If just five or six students were to request rescheduled exams, a nightmare of planning and exam-making could ensue.

2. To hold some sort of line by discriminating among occasions — Vermeer, yes; One Direction, no — would place me in the inappropriate position of judging what the student alone should be free to judge — the attractiveness and urgency of a particular opportunity. That’s not for me to decide.

3. A practical matter: in the case of the Cubs’ game, it might be possible to go to the game and take the exam. Fly back after the game instead of spending the night in Pittsburgh.

And now I remember a beloved professor from my undergrad days, both joking and serious: “I don’t care if they’re staging the Last Supper with the original cast, the exam is scheduled for,” &c.

Seth, Stefan, don’t hate me.

[I wonder: did this student read How to e-mail a professor? He wrote a rather respectable e-mail.]

comments: 9

Elaine Fine said...

I would ask the student to pick priorities. S/he could gracefully and easily drop the course and take it again the next semester, when the baseball season wouldn't interfere. The student would then have the chance to decide what is more important. In the case of this student, he could discuss the matter with his family. He could also take a failing grade for the exam, and get a lower grade for the course.

stefan said...

No hating here, Michael. I'm on your side, at least for the playoffs. But if the Cubs were to reach the World Series--the youngest person to remember a Cubs World Series appearance would be over 75-years-old--I might really struggle to hold the line. If the student were willing to take the exam early, I might accommodate him or her.

Michael Leddy said...

Stefan, I think you should hold out for a ticket. Make that two tickets.

If the student offered to take the exam early, I too might lean to reconsidering. (But a big “might.”)

Seth said...

Sounds like I'd be getting an F on the exam. Go Cubs!

Michael Leddy said...

Seth, you’d already have an A for the class. No worries.

Seth said...

Being married to the prof's daughter has its privileges.

Michael Leddy said...

: )

Diane Schirf said...

I don't know what you'd have done with me. I scheduled a flight home for after all my finals were done. Except I'm notoriously day/date impaired, and scheduled it for *before* a history exam. The professor considered for a bit, took pity on my plight (he thought I was a good student, although I really wasn't), and gave me an early exam — he pulled one from several years before so it wouldn't matter if It got around (not that it would have). I can't tell you what anxiety that caused me.

Michael Leddy said...

That sounds like an emergency to me. I too would give an early exam in such a situation.