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Rutgers professors comment on holding exams, other assignments during week of presidential election

Professors at the University said they had already planned to shift any assignments or exams for the week of the presidential election, as it may not be the best week to assess students on their academic ability. – Photo by Rutgers University / Facebook

In anticipation of the upcoming presidential election, Rutgers faculty have considered the effects on students and made plans for classes or suggestions to peers accordingly.

The Rutgers Faculty Council, an advisory body of faculty representatives, approved a resolution on Sept. 18 that suggested fellow faculty consider not holding exams on or setting paper deadlines for the day after the election and the rest of the week, according to the Rutgers Faculty Council website. The Undergraduate Education Council sent an email to faculty about this resolution, according to an article from New Jersey 101.5.

Professors said they agree with the resolution, as it is not a mandate and reminds faculty to be aware of the situation and its effect on students.

“We as a community should encourage all students to participate in every election,” said Ann Baynes Coiro, a professor in the English Department. “This election is particularly complicated and contested: all the more reason to give students space and time to engage.”

Sean Silver, an associate professor in the English Department, said he had made plans before the resolution to shift work away from Nov. 3.

“As for the propriety of such a resolution, one purpose of an education in the humanities is, after all, to give students tools for becoming responsible citizens, so a gentle reminder about the importance of Nov. 3rd and our students' efforts to vote appears to me to be of a piece with our educational mandate,” he said.

Students may not just be voting on Election Day, but also working to get out the vote or watching polls, said Evie Shockley, a professor in the English Department. She said the emotional impact of the election will likely be large, just as with the last election, and protracted because the results will likely not be definitive on Nov. 3 or several days afterward.

“If the goal of the exams and papers is to measure student knowledge and ability, the week of the upcoming election is unlikely to be the best period for that assessment, for a number of students,” Shockley said.

Colin Jager, a professor in the English Department and director of the Center for Cultural Analysis, said he had made sure before the resolution not to schedule any papers or exams on the days immediately surrounding Election Day. He said he plans to devote time to discussing the election at the beginning of classes so that students can begin to process any feelings they may be experiencing.

“This year is unusual because the election is so consequential and feelings are running so high,” Jager said. “But it's also unusual, let's remember, because we are in the middle of a global pandemic that has forced almost all of our teaching and learning online, and has produced enormous amounts of stress and uncertainty for all of us but especially for our students, who are being asked to carry an enormous burden right now. All faculty need to be alert to this, and prepared to be more flexible. That's the job of being (an) educator.”

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