Around the same time last school year, the Boston University community — along with the rest of the world’s college students — was facing an unforeseen transition to remote learning. Adapting to this new classroom format came with a host of accommodations: a Credit-No Credit grading policy, extensions, asynchronous lectures and, most importantly, understanding from our universities.
But the summer seems to have washed away the remnants of this supportive culture. As we entered Fall semester, there were virtually no accommodating policies in place across the university, despite student calls for Credit-No Credit. This Spring, we have dealt with even less support, as Spring Recess vanished from our schedules and we were given a mere two Wellness Days.
BU students — and students at every grade level for that matter — have had to trudge through daily life pretending as if everything was normal, as if the world isn’t falling apart at the seams. In accordance with typical U.S. societal patterns, we have slapped an expiration date on hardship.
Institutions abandon their accommodations under the impression that we should be used to “unprecedented times” by now. It’s old news, and therefore it should no longer have an impact on our lives. Some of us may even internalize this sentiment, unable to ask for help or extensions because we can’t pinpoint an exact reason for why we’re so drained and unfocused all the time.
Of course, most of us know all too intimately this is not the truth: The pandemic and online learning continues to interfere with our lives and mental wellness.
Finals season is now approaching rapidly — the last stretch of the semester that no college student looked forward to even prior to the pandemic.
It will be a massive strain on our energy and mental health, the cherry on top of a year’s worth of stress. The University must step up and take some pressure off of its students.
Ideally, Spring semester would have come with an opt-out option for students to choose whether to take their finals or not. Similar to the Credit-No Credit option implemented after finals last Spring, students should be given the power to decide based on their current grades. If they’re comfortable with their academic standing and are overwhelmed or burnt out, they can opt out of finals, but if they need a GPA boost and are able to allocate time for studying, they can continue to take their exams.
Even final projects — though they may already be in the works — could benefit from an opt-out policy.
One might argue that this would send the wrong message that BU cares more about student’s grades than their learning. While this may be true under regular circumstances, an opt-out policy during the pandemic would only demonstrate genuine interest in and prioritization of its students’ mental health.
In some public high schools, similar policies are common, allowing students to be exempt from final examinations if they meet a threshold grade or number of absences. By doing so, students also have additional incentive to do well during the school year preceding finals.
However, implementing a University-wide policy such as this may require more time than the few weeks we currently have.
A perhaps more realistic solution would be for the University or its individual colleges to allow for a more flexible final exam time. Instead of a rigid scheduled date and time, which may also come at the detriment of remote students in different time zones, classes should allow students to choose when they take their exams by setting a 24-hour exam start period.
This would be especially helpful if a student had multiple finals back to back on the same day.
Individual professors, separate from the school’s policies or lack thereof, should also be more amenable to extensions and such accommodations.
Without Spring Recess and our traditional learning environments, something has to give. Whether that be an option to drop an exam grade, extensions, flexibility in taking exams or the choice of when to take them, there are endless ways to be sensitive and make a change.
The administration only needs to listen to its students.