As Tech students shake off the fire and brimstone of Hell Week, two obstacles stand between them and freedom: Finals Week and Dead Week. Dead Week is governed by the Week Proceeding Final Exams (or WPFE, pronounced WOOP-Fuh) Policy passed two years ago, which governs what assignments may and may not be due during Dead Week.
Like most undergraduates, I’ll be spending Dead Week preparing for my exams, pretending to get started on my papers and wrapping up the sundry items I’ll have outstanding as the semester comes to a close. I’ll also be taking a test and giving a presentation, in violation of WPFE Policy.
I actually don’t mind taking the test and giving the presentation, because the test is non-cumulative and will be my last obligation in the class, and the presentation is a convenient halfway point for my final research paper. WPFE Policy would force my class and professor to either do these assignments before Dead Week or during finals—an artificial requirement that goes against both of our wishes.
The purpose of WPFE Policy is to prevent insensitive professors from giving students trying to prepare for final exams and projects too much work. However, the annoyances that it creates by limiting classes’ options in the final weeks of class and not truly releasing students from obligations so they can study outweigh any benefits it delivers.
What students really need is time between the end of classes and the beginning of exams to digest the material they’ve learned over the past semester and wrap up work on final projects without the pressure of attending classes or dealing with other obligations. Some universities call these free days before exams “Reading Days.”
Everybody gets what they want with Reading Days: Students get the free time they need, and professors get an extra few days where they can give assignments and projects with impunity. Reading Days also remove a source of potential conflict between students and faculty that comes from the grievance process over WPFE violations. Here’s the best part—the administration can create Reading Days by changing the school calendar. The Faculty Senate does not need to sign off on the change like they did for the WPFE Policy and the Student Bill of Rights.
The fact that we have the WPFE Policy illustrates a larger problem in student-led academic policy change. Oftentimes, those working with faculty and administration to reform polices (normally SGA) limit their efforts to either contorting an existing policy to fit the new problem by tacking on exemptions and caveats (see the WPFE Policy) or slapping a new coat of paint onto an old policy and calling it a day (see the Student Bill of Rights from last year).
To be fair, SGA did consider Reading Days while developing WPFE Policy, and in fact considered it to be a “much more optimal” solution in a press release. Yet they have given no indication that they are attempting to implement this better solution.
Moving forward, student leaders should seek to solve policy issues with elegant policy solutions. To do that, they need to first identify and define the problem at hand using hard data. Then they need to determine what type of policy will fix the underlying problem, not just the symptoms. Sometimes a publicity campaign will suffice, sometimes only a tweaking of an existing policy is needed and sometimes we need a wholesale reform of the system. Finally, they need to follow up on the policy with monitoring of enforcement and the commitment and humility to revise the policy as time goes on.
Policy making is a process that deserves careful attention from conception to execution. As big changes, like the potential switch to a trimester system, head our way, the student body needs people who understand this fact and are ready to advocate and craft the policies that will best serve its needs. Only then can we get long-lasting, effective solutions.