“Old Guard” versus “New Guard” faculty debate take-home exams. The debate is illegitimate.
As we approach May, some teaching units are actively discussing how to administer final exams. At the heart of the debate is whether or not students will be allowed to take exams at home or a location of their choosing. On one side are faculty who believe exams should be administered in the spirit of the HBS Community Standards.
On the other side are faculty who believe students must be watched while taking exams. These faculty are wrong.
We do not speak with such moral certainty from pure hubris but rather from the clear directives of HBS Community Standards. The Standards state:
Students, program participants, faculty, and staff accept these principles when they join the HBS community. In doing so, they agree to abide by the following Community Standards: respect for the rights and dignity of others, honesty and integrity in dealing with all members of the HBS community, accountability for personal behavior. The HBS community can and should be a living model of these standards. To this end, community members have a personal responsibility to integrate these standards into all aspects of their experience at HBS.
Each admitted student must agree to and sign their name to these standards even before their deposit check is cashed. Presumably, since they are also named in the Standards, the same is true for faculty. Therefore, we all sign our names to standards that charge us with the responsibility of integrating the standards, including accountability for personal behavior, into all aspects of our experience at HBS. Certainly that includes final exams.
This leaves no room for a debate about whether or not students must be watched during an exam. The time for “the Old Guard” to voice such concerns was when the Community Standards were being written. Or else they should advocate changing the Standards. But to argue that students must be watched during an exam is clearly to circumvent and undermine the Standards.
Of course, an argument for on-campus tests could be made on the basis of logistical concerns, but even this view is outdated, as some pioneering teaching units such as LEAD and Negotiations have already proven. Indeed, what better faculty to make a profound vote of confidence in students and the essential value of our Community Standards than those from LEAD? Others should heed their cue.
Their exams and those of Negotiations were delivered and submitted entirely via the Internet. While the first attempt with LEAD led to some minor troubles, the HBS IT Department solved those problems for the Negotiations exam. And there is always e-mail for back-up. While we have highlighted past e-mail failures on these pages, we also have confidence that the HBS IT professionals now have the systems under control and are capable of moving to full test administration via the Internet.
The larger concern is that of upholding and affirming our Community Standards. They are standards, not guidelines to shape decision-making at the discretion of individual faculty units, individuals, or other groups. They lie at the heart of what defines our community.
Only the most sour of cynics could argue that this institution doesn’t take the notion of community seriously. Requiring monitoring during final exams would send a message of distrust to students and foment the very cynicism that underlies “Old Guard” thinking. But our community pledges to be more than that. All faculty should send a message of faith in the dignity of our entire community and the standards by which we all actively choose to live.