University life unplugged: Fights with the exam committee

Most people I know always think that working at a University is quite easy, no pressure to meet any goals (ha!) and so on. Of course, as we all know, that’s not the case. There are goals and deadlines and everything else that one knows from the ‘real’ world. If those things are taking seriously though is another question then of course. Sometimes however things aren’t different at all and resemble the ‘real’ world way more than we would want to.

The other day I had one of those moments that reminded me of being back in the corporate BS world that I was trying to escape for example. As a lecturer / instructor at University you have to submit your exams before you hold them so that the “academic committee” (or whatever funny name that committee has” can check all the exams and give comments on that. That’s somehow funny since most committees consist of old (wise!) people who, besides life experience, don’t really know much about the subject that each exam covers. And they are not to blame because how should they know everything? That’s not possible.

Just like the upper management or client (if you are a freelancer for example) don’t know everything about your special field or area of interest. That’s why they hire you to come up with the best solution for them. And that’s why I am here to teach what I do (my colleagues in their fields as well of course) best.

But as it is with upper management and clients they can’t just say ‘yes, that’s good’ since they would feel useless. So they will come up with “improvements” (like in this¬†wonderful comic by The Oatmeal). The same thing happens here with the academic committee. They will comment on things in your exam that, for someone who is in the topic, do not make much sense. So you will have to answer questions like:

  • Do students really need to know this? (related to a question that asks about principles of HTML – in a “Search Engine” class)
  • Is this question really related to the topic? (Happens when a question does not contain the vocabulary used in the course description since the committee then doesn’t know what it means)
  • You should have the multiple choice answer on a separate sheet (yes, because that makes a exam so much better)
  • Don’t add “please” at the end of your question (sorry for being polite)
  • ….

What makes it even better then, when the exam returns and some students don’t do that well (happens). The committee will then usually ask to lower the scale or give more credits for weak answers. That’s like the management tells the employee or the client tells the freelancer “don’t make it to high quality”.

Those fights and arguments return each and every semester. You have two chances here. Either say yes and amen to all suggestions or fight for what you believe in is right. So far I always choose the second way but I can see how some of the older colleagues don’t want to do that anymore. It’s really exhausting at times.

What’s your experience with this kind of arguments and fights?

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