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February 26, 2024
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February 26, 2024

Finals week exists for a reason: Professors should use it

A+student+works+on+assignments+at+a+computer+in+the+Healey+Library.
Josh Kotler

A student works on assignments at a computer in the Healey Library.

During my years in higher education—which are more numerous than I generally like to admit—I have, as you might imagine, developed quite a few pet peeves regarding the way things are done at colleges and universities. Obviously, I believe strongly in higher education; if I did not, I would not be here now. I have the highest respect for educators as well. Yet the supposed logic behind many decisions that administrators and faculty make is often questionable and tortured.
As finals week rolls around, I am beginning to confront one of these frustrating decisions yet again. It is one that has come up for me and my fellow students many times over the years; professors assigning final projects to be due before finals week begins or before classes even end.
There are two forms of this, with one worse than the other. The first and less disruptive form is when professors either begin assigning the material from a very early part of the semester or have the material and instructions up for the entire semester. Then, they set the due date before finals week. This is pretty reasonable, as it ostensibly gives students a chance to get a head start—but it’s still a somewhat problematic strategy.
Let’s think this through. Generally, professors will lighten the workload for the last couple of weeks of classes in order to make room for students to work on their projects. Projects that are assigned in parts with regular due dates throughout the semester are easier in this regard since professors generally balance the rest of the workload accordingly. Working on a final project that hasn’t been formally designed as a semester-long assignment isn’t really a great substitute, as it leaves you fighting to find the time to work on it.
Even with those semester-long projects, problems can quickly arise. Most obviously, inconsistent due dates for final projects, and even tests, are just unnecessarily confusing and often lead to incredible stress. Accidentally handing in late work is a real risk. Imagining a world in which all final assignments and tests are due and held within the span of the very last week—Monday through Friday—then becomes quite appealing. In short, it would mean less confusion, more structure and less stress.
It seems that many professors think consistent due dates across courses would cause more stress, not less. They use this as a reason to assign due dates for final projects well before finals week. The belief is, evidently, that having everything due at once overwhelms students and, as such, professors want to help stagger due dates so as to not pile them all on top of each other.
I think this is well-meaning but unfortunately nonsensical. I once heard from a professor that he wanted to save us time at the end of the semester for working on our other finals. Apparently, his thinking was that we would drop everything to power through his final project all at once, and then leave it behind after the due date in favor of other projects.
We as a class explained to him that a lot of us do not work that way—that we work best by doing a little bit of work at a time for each assignment, up until their respective due dates. “More time is more time,” I said. “It’s never a bad thing. Those who wish to complete it ahead of time are still free to do so.” Somehow, he could not understand this, but he did eventually acquiesce, nonetheless.
Another fault in this sort of reasoning has parallels to highway accidents. Okay, hear me out. You’ve probably heard of the idea that if everybody thinks other people will call 911 or stop to help with the accident, then nobody will call 911 or stop to help. Think about it; if every professor thinks they are giving students a break by staggering due dates, then all the due dates will come at the same time anyway—days or weeks before the end of the semester. How are professors supposed to know what their students’ other due dates are if finals week is never used as intended?
This is especially problematic within the second, more egregious form of the pre-finals week due date—assigning a final project or releasing the required material and instructions with only a few weeks left in the semester. I had this happen to me multiple times, and every time it is like a punch in the gut. In my view, it doesn’t make sense to release the material for a final project so late in the semester and not take advantage of the full amount of time students have available to them.
I do understand that professors wish to get a head start on grading before the break. This is probably why tests tend to be scheduled during finals week, while larger projects tend to be due before. But if this is such a major concern, why are professors so willing to extend their due dates when pressed? I’ve even had professors decide to extend due dates multiple times, seemingly without any prompting from students.
This latter practice is particularly irritating. What’s the point of stressing students out if you’re just going to give them a break at the last minute? Of course, it’s better than no extension and certainly comes from a place of kindness, but it ends up just seeming like torture.
If professors are going to commit to being consistent—which they should—there are still compromises to be had. For example, professors could assign two due dates. Students who submit between the earlier one and the later one could receive bonus points, encouraging early submissions for those who feel they can meet the deadline. At the very least, professors should set their due dates early in finals week, like on Monday or Tuesday. Doing so would let students have a whole weekend to put the final touches on their project.
The bottom line is that students have the potential of an entire extra week to work on final projects, but don’t often get to use it. This is, in my view, a waste and a shame.
So, if professors aren’t going to make their final projects semester-long assignments, I believe they should give us a darn break and utilize the time specifically allotted to us at the end of the semester. There are no classes during this week for good reason—to allow students to focus on their finals without the added stress of regular assignments. What is the point of finals week if most of our finals are due before it?
To the students—advocate for yourselves! I regularly make my opinion on assignment due dates heard, and when I do, the professor usually acquiesces. It goes even better if the whole class joins in support, just like in my earlier example. Professors aren’t doing this because they want to torture us; they just need to hear our perspectives! So, make yourself heard, and advocate for the utilization of finals week.

About the Contributors
James Cerone, Opinions Editor
Josh Kotler, Photographer