While some students stood on stage in caps and gowns Friday, others put the pencil to the paper to complete their final exams.
Final exams will conclude today at the University of North Texas and Texas Woman’s University, some at the same time as commencement activities for December graduates.
Few, if any, students had exams overlap with their scheduled commencements, representatives for the universities said. For those students, the priority is commencement, said Warren Burggren, provost at UNT.
“I’d tell them to go to the ceremony. That’s the proper place to be,” he said.
The last day of finals was scheduled for Friday, Dec. 13, at UNT, the day before undergraduate commencement ceremonies, and Thursday, Dec. 12, at TWU.
However when a heavy winter storm left thick ice in the area late last week, school was canceled Monday and Tuesday at both campuses.
UNT reopened at noon Wednesday, and TWU reopened Thursday morning.
On the website showing the rescheduled exams at TWU, the message above the schedule advises students who might have conflicts taking exams because of commencement to talk to their professors to reschedule.
“Of particular concern is that, on Friday and Saturday, TWU will be celebrating commencement at the same time the university is administering final exams to many Denton students,” the website states. “This is not the ideal situation, but it is the best answer we could find in order to keep students, faculty, and staff safe when campus conditions do not allow safe mobility for the university community.”
After initial anxiety from UNT students and parents, Burggren sent an e-mail to the UNT community Wednesday to explain why rescheduling finals for Friday and Saturday was the most viable option for the school, and to outline how students should handle conflicts with new exam times.
He responded to more than 200 personal e-mails from students and parents, and after he sent the notice, the e-mails kept coming, but with a much more positive message, he said.
When a student has more than two exams on the same day or two exams double booked, professors are expected to make accommodations, and most have, Burggren said.
“I think our faculty have done a great job, and I’ve heard very few complaints from students,” he said. “I think we’ve pulled together in, as President Lane Rawlins says, ‘the UNT way’ and we’re going to get through this.”
Before the e-mail was sent, thousands of students signed a Change.org petition asking UNT to put the exams online, which Burggren said in his e-mail to the community was unfeasible.
Heather Presley, an online graduate student who was an undergraduate commuter at UNT, started the petition after noticing people were complaining about rescheduled exams, but not doing anything to change it.
The university recently upgraded its online system, BlackBoard, that allows students to view class materials and complete assignments, which Presley said should be used for administering exams.
“We’re trying to push to become one of the top-tier universities and we’re not even using the technology we have,” she said. “This is embarrassing that this has turned into such a big mess when we have such an easy solution with technology.”
Some professors at UNT and TWU did post their exams online.
At TWU, more than 200 classes moved the final exams to an online format, said Jennifer Martin, senior associate provost. After a few days of rescheduling finals though, some professors stopped telling the administration about the changes and Martin says she estimated it was closer to 400 exams that switched to a digital format.
“It was a substantial proportion,” she said. “We left the choice up to the faculty — we would not force someone to do that ... and if they wanted to put it online, we supported that fully.”
Throughout the cancellations and rescheduling, Martin said she didn’t receive any complaints from faculty or students.
“The good qualities of people really showed because our faculty responded beautifully,” she said. “Our main concern in all of this was the success of our students and the safety of our students.”
Now, UNT will look at ways to better handle inclement weather during exam week in a “deep postmortem,” Burggren said.
“Our plan cannot be to just have the sun come out,” he said. “We have to be more prepared in the future.”
JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @JennaFDuncan.