Exams 28 hours after giving birth

People are posting this as an impressive story of triumph in adversity, which it undoubtedly is. But why isn’t anyone asking about the choice she was given: be *deemed* to have deserved honours, or take the exam 28 hours after giving birth? Why wasn’t she offered the chance to take the exams on a different date? (Note: I am trusting the journalist’s reporting as to the choice she was given. Perhaps they’re mistaken.)

8 thoughts on “Exams 28 hours after giving birth

  1. My guess from knowing a bit about Oxbridge is that this is part of a complex and archaic examination process – where students sit all their degree exams in a very short period of time, and all degree results are decided by an examination board that meets shortly after this period. This means that if a student misses an exam (for whatever legitimate reason), there is no time to arrange for a resit before the exam board meets, and thus the only options are either to exempt the student from that exam (I take it this is what ‘deemed to have deserved honours’ amounts to) or let the student wait a whole extra academic year for a resit.

    These comments are not intended to justify this complex examination system – but just to clarify that there probably wasn’t an easy way to give the student a choice of a resit, that is not without substantially revising the whole university examination system.

  2. This is appalling. I can’t imagine that they would require a candidate to sit his or her exams 28 hours after kidney stone removal, laparoscopic surgery, or (I suspect) winning a golf tournament.

  3. I agree with Jane, no. 1. That is not to justify the process, but there are often huge problems with making ad hoc changes in a very old and complex set of rules. At least she didn’t have to wear sub fusc!

    One problem with small ad hoc changes is that many effects may be unforeseeable. Would she have had to be kept out of communication with anyone who had taken the tests (bad idea) or perhaps she would be given different tests (bad idea). Another problem with giving her the same tests is that she’s set up for rumors about her knowing what they were.

    Again, not defending this.

  4. To the original post and to comment #2: True that.

    To comment #1 and (more so) comment #3: what is wrong with substantially revising the whole university examination system? Some people call this progress (and/or what is often required for steps toward progress). Similarly, what’s so bad about scheduling an extra and later meeting of the examination board for one or more students? Do the members of the examination board earn such little money that their literal life survival is based on a second or third job (driving a truck, taxi, or waiting/bussing tables, etc.) that they would lose and thereby soon die if the Gods permitted an extra and later examination board meeting?

    I recall a story that Marilyn McCord Adams reports in her contribution to the 1994 OUP anthology God and the Philosophers (from pages 148-149) “…I pressed for details: What difficulties did they expect? They said,”Well, what if a woman gets pregnant and has to have the baby on the day when prelims are scheduled?”… I offered the obvious advice: “You could always let her take the exams another day.”…

    edit: I typed the above comment before I saw Anne’s comment #4, which is of course quite reasonable . Still, I would argue that at this point in education – the A exam, or the generals, or whatever – the kind of examination under question is inappropriate and a more informal though still careful if not rigorous evaluation (perhaps in discussion at a meeting scheduled at a mutually convenient day/time between student and dissertation committee) focused on each individual student, their background, their interests/research, and their disseration plans/work is a much better idea – this is how Cornell did it at least in the 1990’s).

  5. It might be worth noting that the riveting paperback, University of Oxford Examination Regulations 2010 (Oxford University Exam Regulations) [Paperback], is something like 1,198 pages long. A lot is discipline specific, but still, we are talking about a lot of tradition.

    I’d be very worried that Cornell’s model would allow a lot of gender/race/age/class bias. It’s also the case that these exams cover about 3 years work, so there’s really no question of a viva of a couple of hours.

  6. @2- Actually, they would. I spent a year at Cambridge and they were very clear that if you were sick, you either took the exams while sick, or you waited a whole extra year to re-take them. I’m not defending the way the system is set up, but I think they would actually give someone the same choice if it was kidney stone removal instead of childbirth.

  7. Just to answer a few of the queries above:
    – As ‘exchange student’ above notes, this *exactly* the choice that would be given to a student with a kidney stone (or who missed an exam for any other legitimate reason)
    – It’s not easy to have the exam board reconvene at a later date. These are academics (including external examiners from other universities) that are often away during the summer. More importantly, as the system stands, *no* student in the whole subject year can receive their results or graduate until the exam board made their decisions on *all* students (so this would delay graduation for tens, sometimes hundreds of students).
    – Let’s remember that the choices weren’t as draconian as ‘sit the exam in hospital’ or ‘wait another year’. I don’t know exactly what ‘deemed to have deserved honours’ entails – but my guess is that it means something like that the student will be exempt from this exam, and her average will be calculated on the basis of the other exams she did sit. This may be a disadvantage in some cases (e.g. if this exam was the one she was hoping to preform best on) – but in most cases this should not make a difference.

    Again – I’m not justifying the system, but as Anne points out, 200 pages of complex regulations (which are decided by a huge number of different departments and officials) are not something that can be very easily revised.

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