Harvard no longer needs exams, they just know their kids are smart!
File this under lazyness and lax standard at America’s institutions of higher learning.
At its meeting on May 11, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) adopted a bland-sounding motion that henceforth, “unless an instructor officially informs the Registrar by the end of the first week of the term” of the intention to end a course with a formal, seated exam, “the assumption shall be that the instructor will not be giving a three-hour final examination” and no slot will be reserved for it in the schedule.
No need to give exams, they just know that their students are smart. Giving an exam might hurt the self-esteem you know. So how are professors going to know if their students have learned anything during a semester?
I know the students will love it. Students don’t like tests, they tend to bring down ones grade. Students like easy, high point value busy work that requires no thinking what so ever. It seems like that is what they are getting at Harvard these days.
James Engell, Gurney professor of English literature and professor of comparative literature, rose to suggest that the trend toward fewer exams was not a trivial matter. Last fall, the English department (he is chair) had just five courses that ended with exams. Whatever the merits of requiring just a long final paper, he said, it meant that perhaps nothing beyond the paper itself was being used to evaluate what students were learning. Given that many departments—English, history, classics, for example—have also given up senior-year general examinations, it is increasingly unclear how to answer the question, “How are we assessing students?”
So remember that, the next time someone tells you that so and so is smart, he went to Harvard! In reality that doesn’t mean jack shit.