In response to a white student, active in local protests & passionate about that work, exhausted by it, & frightened by white supremacists in the street & SWAT teams on the roofs nearby, asking that, in consideration of the enormous strain students are under, and so that they can focus on what’s important right now, I cancel the final exam for the whole class.
I appreciate your sincere and heartfelt words, and I do take them seriously. We need your passion and commitment if crucial changes are going to be made to our unjust, unequal society.
For reasons I’ll try to lay out briefly here, I’m not going to cancel the final. But I can offer you the same accommodation I offered to BIPOC students in our class.
If you feel unable to write the final next week, we’ll have you make it up at another time. That may mean taking an Incomplete (K grade) and getting the work to me after the quarter is done. The make-up would be a short critical essay (1000 words) on ONE of the final essay topics. I’d be reading and grading this essay as finished essay, not as in-class writing, but if you are taking the P/NP option, you wouldn’t need to stress about that.
So why am I not cancelling the final, though it would mean a lot less work for me?
We’re in four simultaneous crises right now: pandemic, economic downturn, systemic racism, and fascist upsurge. You’re out on the street fighting the third. I’m insisting on these standards as resistance to the fourth.
One strategy of fascists, whether they’re on the rise or actually in power, is to attack independent institutions – universities especially. One kind of attack, and this can begin well before a state has become fully authoritarian, is to make it more difficult for us to conduct our business. Instructors, departments, administrations, students too, are put in positions where they have to cut corners, compromise; or just where it would be easier to.
And cancelling the final exam would be a compromise, because it would degrade your education by a little. Studying for an exam, writing an exam, helps students consolidate their learning over the course. Remove the exam, the course is a lesser experience.
If I did what you ask, out of my concern for my students’ anxiety and stress, I’d be giving you a short-term relief, at a long-term cost.
And the cost goes beyond the students themselves to the university as a whole. One instructor would have, because of violent cops and far-right paramilitaries, offered less to, and asked less of, his students. Fascist takeover is the sum of ten thousand, a hundred thousand, a million such compromises.
I want to assist your fight against police brutality and systemic racism. I want also to remember what resistance to fascism requires. So instead of cancelling the exam, I offer an equivalent.
If you’re interested, I’ve written more about this here.
I hope these considerations make sense to you. If you want to take the alternative route, please let me know.
Thank you for your service,