Lazy Academics

It’s final exam time, and my office is packed with a few of the 520 students in my bigger class. Although I’m pleased by their interest, I ask why they’re spending so much time on my course. The answer is that it’s the only final exam they have.

In their sociology, government and some other introductory courses, the instructor either gives no final exam or gives an hour exam the last day of class. Apparently this is fairly common in some departments, but I am outraged – what a pathetically lazy bunch of faculty! Worse still, their malfeasance imposes a negative externality on me. Because mine is the last (only) final exam for some of my students, even though my exam is early in exam week I’ve gotten numerous requests for an early exam from students who want to go home early. I say no, but why should I have to be the “bad guy” because other faculty are shirking?

VB in NV

Blame your university. Finals should be required and those instructors who don't follow rules should be fired.


I've had the same. Students buy tickets for the middle of finals week, assuming they are not going to have finals. When I was assigned to have my STATs final on the last day of Finals week, a bunch of students asked to to have it the first day of finals, because they did not have any other tests.


I can understand your frustration. My question is whether or not there is research that shows that a final exam is truly a good measure of what the students take from the course? When I got my Ph.D. in Engineering, there was often a final project in lieu of a final exam because the professors felt that it better assessed our higher level understanding of the concepts of the course. I'm not saying that you should have a final exam, I would just like to know if there is research one way or another.

Alyssa Buckley

I agree! What is exam week if there are no exams? I'm thinking about the student side, too. I remember my exam weeks, and it was all about studying for biology, then the next day it was economics, then it was calculus. There's some value in students working hard and proving their knowledge retention in one test.

If faculty stop doing finals, let's just get all the students out early then!


Some adjunct professors (who teach 60% of all classes) in the City University of New York system are not compensated for final exam week (i.e. are not paid.) I don't blame some for not administering a final exam during final exam week, since, of course, they are not paid. Add up the countless hours spent reading, commenting on, and grading final papers (15 pages per student in a class of 30, teaching 4 classes just to make ends meet.. you do the math), grading final exams, calculating grades for the semester, and dealing with scores of last-minute emails, grade grubbing, and students attempting to hand in missing assignments.. well, it's no wonder.


Please, Professor Hamermesh. Rather than name-calling directed at your colleagues following students' claims and efforts to extricate themselves from an exam, find the strength to stand up to your students and explain that, regardless of whether they have final exams in their other classes, your class has one.

In some of my classes I use final exams. They are important for what they help measure. They are not an option students can choose, and I am comfortable telling this to students. In other classes I assign take-home exams or papers that cover material from the last segment of the semester. These are my decisions based on the design of my classes.

"Lazy"? "Malfeasance"? Why should I be required to give final exams in all my classes because a few students whined to you about your exam? Again, please focus on your class, what it requires, and your own authority.



I don't give a final exam in my upper year undergraduate course. It is not because I am lazy. Rather, it is because I don't think exams are relevant to the way we now use information. My students complete term assignments that actually use the skills I've tried to teach (critical thinking, analysis of scientific studies, translation of scientific articles to summaries for a general audience etc). This feels more comparable to the skills scientists use in analyzing scientific publications and the way the majority of the population (including the majority of my students, who will never again see a science article after they graduate) must try to understand the media presentation of science. Memorizing and regurgitating for exams or writing essays under the artificial time constraints of an exam does not mimic the way we use information.
Perhaps you feel an exam is a good test of your students' knowledge, but please consider that your fellow faculty who use alternative evaluation methods may not agree with you and may have dropped their finals for reasons other than laziness. Imagine, we may actually want our students to understand and be able to apply what they have learned!



As a student, my last exam is scheduled on the 22nd, allowing me to fly home the 23rd for a mere 2 week long Christmas break.

Would I be wrong in stating that staff might also be interested in a longer break to do some of their own studies and/or prepare for next semesters' classes??

Sometimes with the academic calendar it can be a stressful time and I'm sure professors are swayed towards finishing their class early as well...


Another question: does this throw off the grades for your final? I always hated when other students seemed to have no final exams but I had two or three -- this meant they could spend 3x as much time studying for their final. If we are in the same course, this puts me at a major disadvantage.

I think universities are broken for the very reason you give -- professors are paid to do research most of the time, not to teach. This makes them 'lazy' with regard to teaching, and students suffer.


I feel your pain Dan, but I think you are missing the bigger issue. You have 520 students in your class! Large lecture courses are incredibly ineffective ways to teach students, and are only created to maximize the student FTE in departments to lower the average teaching load. In most of these classes, attendance is usually about 50% and there are no assignments. Often, there are no recitation or labs associated with the courses in any meaningful way. They are only used for non-major courses, and generally leave the freshman population wondering what happened to their money.

I know that not all of these large courses are created equal, but the huge courses are often ignored by departments and left to the adjunct workforce to teach. Large lectures are the cash cows of the academic world. Sadly, the milk from cash cows often taste bad.

Faculty are generally not lazy, but they don't view teaching as something that deserves their focus or attention. Promotion is almost entirely base don research performance, not teaching. Without metrics, reward, or penalties, why would they spend time on such frivolous activities.


Admiral Akbar

My college required an exam for all classes, but as an English major I often just had papers that would be turned in on exam week, and only one or two proper finals.

Asking for early exams is the wrong way to go. The best parties I ever went to were during finals week because so many other students were done early, or just had one exam they were waiting on at the end of the week.


As a current college student (with only one final this semester) I can say that the student population wholeheartedly supports the idea of there not being a comprehensive final for a class - but I speculate most don't think about any ramifications other than how it affects when their break begins and when they get to go home. I think Steven made a god point in post #3 that some research into the idea could better inform the decision to or not to administer an exam, as statistical data is probably more valuable than opinions in a matter such as this.


I attend a large state university and all 5 of my classes have a final exam. The students still ask to take the exam early and the professors still complain loudly about it.


blame the administrators who follow the corporate money; you see the shorter the more studentsts can work to equal the extra $$$$$$$$$$$$$ to pay the exorbitant fees and tutiions imposed on them and the shoddy wages given to part time instructors makes them give back due labor for due work assigned (ala standard union practice.)

ps: can any one remember when a highplaced administrator took a significant pay cut in the midst oft this sshamful coporatization of higher education?,

it realy immoral.


What makes you think the other faculty are lazy? Perhaps they've found better, more relevant ways to assess their students' progress, instead of falling back on the old stand-bye of a final exam. Maybe you give a final exam because you don't want (or, rather, your TAs don't want) to read 520 papers?


I agree with #3. In any engineering-type course especially, learning is far better measured by a project, or series of projects, that require the course knowledge to be used, rather than simply be regurgitated on demand. Especially these days, when the range of knowledge needed is so broad, and the references so numerous that I've sometimes remarked that I never learned anything useful in school, I just learned where to look things up.


I wouldn't worry too much about being the "bad guy." Usually that title goes to the professor with an exam on the very last day of testing. If you tell your students there is a final exam and give an approximate date (non-negotiable) in the first week of classes, there should not be a problem.

Final exams should be a must as it gives bad students a chance at redemption while good students should not have much difficulty. For me, the only problem was that tests were often grouped together, sometimes within hours of each other even in the same department. Why? For God's sake, speak with other faculty and space them out.


I have to agree with Jenn re: adjunct professors. The way I look at it when you pay people an insignificant wage (compared to their job skills, training, education, and development) then those people are bound to start cutting corners whenever possible.

Around here adjunct professors are paid between $1600 and $2200 per class. For those not in the system, this per class is not a weekly or monthly salary. It means that you are paid that amount per class for a semester's worth of work. One of my co-workers once calculated that he is making about $11/hour under this system. (I think he figured something like 10 "contact hours" per course per week...lecture time, class preparation, office hours, etc.) I'm not sure about those numbers...but when you include administrative duties, faculty service, the lack of benefits (no health insurance, no office, no parking discounts, not having full access to library services, etc.) it does seem like adjuncts are getting shafted.

As another shafting....many of the adjuncts around here are working for multiple colleges because each college will only hire an adjunct for 1 or 2 courses to teach. If they are hired for more courses at one college, then that college would have to hire them as full-time. So, rather than hire one person to teach 4-5 courses at a decent salary + benefits, a college will temporarily save money by hiring 3, 4, or 5 people to teach. Argh.



My experience as a recent student is that final exams are more common in math/science classes while final projects/papers are more common in the humanities and social sciences. As an economics professor, you're in a math heavy department that tends to draw more social sciency students.


While I came up under the "Final Exam" standard, might I ask what is really gained by having one, big, final exam that could not be equally accomplished by simply giving smaller tests each week?

Consider that for many students, the final exam is simply a recitation of many facts from months before. Facts that, as soon as they are written on the test, may well escape into the atmosphere.

Is anything really gained but a brief sense of accomplishment by the professor and the student? Does the student now really know more, retain more, by having a final exam over having many short exams throughout the year?

Again, I'm old school. My professors indeed had final exams. But I cannot be sure that I retained more by doing that. That is, what I retained from those courses was not because of the final exam, but because I had been learning all along.