Opinion | Columns

The world according to finals

In response to growing criticism of the school’s tendency to heavily weigh finals when determining grades, Columbia decided to test the principles of its strategy by applying it to other areas of the University, and the results are in. For one semester, non-academic and academic departments alike were held to a standard whereby one concluding performance constituted the majority of their overall evaluation as opposed to consistent production throughout the term. The results were illuminating.

Interesting developments were seen in the realm of Columbia security. Public Safety officers, aware that they could more or less coast through the first dozen weeks of the semester, lost focus on keeping the campus safe. With officers napping on Low Steps or using their University-issued vehicles to race up and down Amsterdam Avenue, the main quad became a treacherous zone overrun by local criminals. Open drug deals and robberies in broad daylight became everyday events as the terrified Columbia students stayed locked in their dorms. One student who dared cross the quad in an attempt to take out a library book was wrestled down by a band of hooligans and stripped for his wallet and phone. He found the nearest security guard snoozing at Alma Mater’s feet and asked to file a report. The security guard blinked his eyes and asked how much of his final evaluation was based on the report, and then yawned and fell back asleep.

Come mid-December, however, Public Safety wracked up its efforts in an attempt to secure a decent passing grade. They cleared out the increasing gang presence and stood vigil through all hours of the night. But in order to balance out their previous shortcomings, they needed to finish with a flourish. Soon even the most minor offenses were considered punishable as the officers scrambled to reach citation quotas. A Columbia sophomore was put on probation for not finishing his latte from Café 212 while a Barnard first-year was written up for not completely closing her backpack. At the end of the semester, the force received a respectable grade based on its strong concluding week. Satisfied, they buckled down for another three months of overseeing a crime-ridden campus followed by a week of totalitarian enforcement.

The trends within Columbia dining also saw a remarkable imbalance in productivity. With only 40 percent of their assessment riding on the September, October, and November months of operation, the cafeterias fell into a condition of disarray and abandon. The stated hours did not change and the doors were left open for students, but hungry, incoming diners found little to eat. Most days saw vacant grills and empty platters. On occasion, a bowl of apples or a couple handfuls of almonds were left out for whatever lucky student who happened to pass through. The dirty dish conveyer belt hummed along ominously, but its only passenger was a mother pigeon who found the belt’s rhythmic loop a good site to lay her eggs.

In the first week of December, the well-rested kitchen staff returned, ready to offset the previous weeks with a grand culinary finale. The staff cooked for days without end, and on the first day of exams, the clinicians offered a menu fit for royalty. Newly hired waiters delivered a five course meal to famished students: mushroom soup, steak tartare, pate en croute, filet mignon, salade lyonnaise, creme brûlée, and chocolate truffles, among other gourmet dishes flooded the John Jay tables, which were decked out with silk table cloths and gold silverware. The centerpiece of the night was an experimental French dish, pigdón a l’orange. It was met with mixed reactions. The following week, the dining halls received a B- for their efforts over the fall semester and held a celebration in JJ’s Place.

Health Services also was affected by the new emphasis on one concluding appraisal to close the term. For the majority of the semester they offered little help to ailing students. They locked their office doors, unplugged their phones, and casually surfed the Internet. In place of any primary care, a wicker basket full of band-aids and cough drops was left on the counter at the front desk with a note taped to it that read, “CURE-ALLS” for any incoming patients. One pale, desperate student tracked down a nurse on her lunch break and begged for a physical, but she pretended to be a professor—despite wearing scrubs and a white medical coat—and directed him to the basket.

But, like the dining and security services, the health branch revamped its operations with a few weeks left before winter break. They started taking appointments again and were soon overbooked by a medically neglected and severely ill student body. However, to earn the school’s approval and overshadow their period of inattention, Health Services had to go to even greater lengths. They sent out school-wide invitations for routine check-ups, at which they would administer every known vaccine dating back to the 19th century to their patients. Students left the offices perforated by dozens of needles, some of them full of saline placebos used to increase Health Service’s successful vaccine statistics. The strategy worked, as the University recognized the department as tolerable and looked forward to 2014.

Student feedback in January showed an acute disapproval of the University’s decision to grade its many departments like many classes do finals. Many complained of feeling unprotected, undernourished, untreated, and opined that the final redemptive week provided little consolation after a torturous semester. Unfortunately, the feedback review process was also subject to the newly imbalanced schedule, and students were advised to save their concerns until exam week.

Walker Harrison is a Columbia College senior majoring in creative writing and mathematics. Morningside Sleights usually runs alternate Thursdays. 

To respond to this column, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.


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Johnny Football posted on

Cool Article Walker, I enjoy reading your writing.

Anonymous posted on

This is brilliant. Thank you.

Dan posted on

Great comparisons. Do you write fiction too?

Walker Harrison posted on

Thanks Dan. I write mostly nonfiction--satire, sports reporting, personal essays--since its the focus of my writing major, but I'll try my hand at fiction on occasion.

This is posted on

so good

Anonymou5 posted on

when is exam week for the football team?

Anonymous posted on

Yeah, but like, I don't want to work during most of the semester anyway, which is the only alternative. Finals are a good deal, homez.