My Cartoon Character Name is Professor Crotchety McPhee

I am now officially a caricature of a college professor. I have become so befuddled by institutional policies, that I feel like every time I open my mouth I’m a cartoon character rather than a real person. The latest institutional incident to make me feel like a badly drawn sketch of myself? The final exam schedule policy. Cue the cartoon swearing: @#$%&!

Exam times are scheduled by the university, and for my 3:00 p.m. course our final is set for 7:30 a.m. I am totally on board with my students on this one: that’s really early. That said, I should clarify that I’m not complaining about the schedule here (although I am perplexed about how they determine the times.) My issue is with the exam scheduling policy itself, which states that I can’t reschedule exams for the convenience of all, but I must reschedule them for the convenience of individual students. Is it just me, or does this make zero sense? If it is just me, well, that's already my fear and the reason I think I am a cartoon.

I’ve had other early exams before and I always remember what our scheduling guru once said about early classes: “Everybody gets their turn in the barrel. It’s your turn.” The time itself is as inconvenient for my students as it is for me, but according to policy, that’s the way it is. Which would be fine, except it’s not.  I am forbidden from rescheduling the exam for the whole class; however, I am required to make arrangements for students individually. No, we can’t reschedule the exam to a time that’s more convenient for everyone. Yes, I am required to set up alternatives for you and you and you and you and you and what?

The exam policy says that students simply inform their instructors of the need for an alternative time and instructors must make other arrangements for them. While this policy is specifically referring to students who end up with three or more exams in one day, it says nothing about students needing to prove that’s the reason for the request. Here’s the pertinent part of the policy: "Students who have three or more finals on the same calendar day may request to reschedule a final. The instructor of the course having the smallest number of students is responsible for arranging an alternate examination time for the student..."

That's the policy. It seems intentionally vague. Linguists take note: The sentence that includes “may request to reschedule” is just begging for a prepositional phrase. I searched and searched for additional information: What are my rights and responsibilities as an instructor? What proof do students need to provide? How many alternatives do I need to offer? Do students simply need to “request to reschedule” and I must oblige without question? I am genuinely unsure. Also, I am concerned that I have turned into my dad—an out-of-the-higher-ed-loop senior who uses Bill Gates as an example for every problem in contemporary education. “Bill Gates didn’t have to attend final exams and he’s worth millions!”

The result of my confusion is that I feel like a crotchety old bun-wearing Looney Tune complaining about the state of the nation. (You kids get off my lawn!) I really do enjoy teaching and I want the students to get something out of my courses, but I feel repeatedly constrained by institutional polices, which either make me the bad guy for wanting clarification or absolve the students of responsibility for their own education. My job now seems to be more about making the customers happy than it does about mentoring young minds.

In summation, I am apparently a cartoon character working in a service industry. Perhaps I should put a tip jar on my desk with a sign that says “if you like the education you received, consider donating your extra pennies.” I'm probably getting fired. Out of a cannon.