As students woke up to the reality of a Trump presidency Wednesday morning, their attentions soon turned to academic obligations — and whether classes and exams would go on as scheduled.
Some professors outright cancelled exams; others offered makeup dates for students distracted by the long, drawn-out election night, or cancelled class.
Many students complained in the days leading up to the election that they felt stressed about tests or assignments due Wednesday. Professors at Yale University and Columbia University also cancelled exams following Trump’s unexpected victory.
Professor Mark Goulian emailed students in his Biology 121 class Wednesday morning telling his students the exam was postponed.
“We have received numerous requests to postpone today’s midterm exam,” he wrote in an email to the class Wednesday morning. “Many students were emotionally invested in the US presidential election and stayed up late into the the early hours of this morning following the election results. Since such a large fraction of the class has been affected, we have decided to postpone the exam to next Wednesday.”
College sophomore Sarah Raizen said she would have preferred to take the Biology 121 exam.
“I am personally pretty annoyed by it because I studied for the exam instead of watching the election, and if I had known it was going to be postponed I would’ve watched,” she said. “I was ready to get this one over with, and move on to the other work I have, but now it’s looming over my head.” Goulian did not respond to request for comment as of 10 p.m. Sunday.
Other professors continued with exams as planned, but agreed to make concessions after students expressed worries about their grades. Students cited the early-morning announcement of the results, as well as the shock of the election of Donald Trump — who has proved to be an unpopular candidate on Penn’s campus — as major distractions.
Professor Sarah Jane McCaffery emailed her class at 10:58 a.m. Wednesday, offering a makeup date for a Management 104 midterm exam scheduled for that evening.
“I have heard from an unusual number of students this morning that they are unwell. Seems like there’s something going around ... ” she joked in the email.
“I am not a health professional and feel ill equipped to judge who is and who is not well enough to take the midterm today,” McCaffery wrote, adding that there would be a makeup exam date on Monday.
Professor Jason Schnittker emailed his medical sociology class Wednesday saying he had received concerned emails from students about their exam, scheduled for that morning. Schnittker said he would curve the exam so that the average was the same as that of the first exam.
“I will curve as many points as are necessary to achieve that, whether 5 or 35,” he wrote in the email.
Schnittker also said he will offer an extra credit opportunity. He chose not to postpone the exam because he feared that forcing students to study twice could add even more stress, he said.
“I got enough emails from folks — saying how distressed they were about the outcome of the election, frankly — that I thought it was an issue,” Schnittker told The Daily Pennsylvanian. “I thought getting it out of the way, with some provisions to make sure their grades really didn’t crater, would be good,” he added.
At the end of his email, he asked students to look out for their fellow classmates, especially students who may be feeling vulnerable.
“Penn is a strong community, and I want us all to do our part to keep it that way,” he said. He added, “Today’s exam is important, especially for students as motivated and high-achieving as those at Penn, but as your instructor I want to insure your well-being as much as your ability to perform to the best of your ability.”
College sophomore Chelsey Lin, a student in the class, praised Schnittker’s expression of concern for students’ well-being.
“Our educators have just as much responsibility in creating campus culture as we do ... This is what I need from my professors,” Lin said.
Janet Monge, who teaches in the Anthropology department, emailed her Intro to Human Evolution class at 10:26 a.m. Wednesday morning postponing the midterm scheduled for Thursday.
“I have heard from a number of students this morning who stayed up all night last night watching the election,” she wrote. “They are feeling physically and mentally drained and some are very disheartened.”
A College junior enrolled in the class, who wished to remain anonymous, said she wished the exam continued as scheduled.
“My attitude is that while I appreciate my professor’s gesture — it’s really thoughtful of her, and I do appreciate that she’s looking out for her students’ well-being — this shouldn’t have happened,” she said. “I feel like it’s feeding into the doomsday prophecy and I just wish she maintained some normalcy by keeping the exam.”
CIS 120 professor Steve Zdancewic emailed his class Wednesday telling students attendance would be optional, given how late into the night the election was called. The class will still take a midterm exam Friday.
Similarly, professor Arvind Bhusnurmath canceled his CIS 105 class Wednesday.
“I just felt it had been an emotionally draining night. Most of us had not slept until 3am. I felt we could all do with a break,” he wrote in an email to the DP.
CIS 320 professor Sampath Kannan gave students the option to take their exam on Friday if they felt unable to take it during class on Wednesday, when it was originally scheduled.
Kannan wrote in a message on Canvas, a platform for professors to post assignments and communicate with students, that he did not realize when he scheduled exams that this exam would fall on the day after the election. He explained that he had followed the comments about “anxiety, stress, and distress” posted on Piazza, a similar platform that allows students to ask questions to professors and teaching assistants, by students in the class.
Some professors, however, did not feel that changes to the syllabus were appropriate.
CIS 110 professor Benedict Brown reacted to student requests for homework extensions with a post on Piazza, denying the extension request and emphasizing the need for Piazza posts to stay politically neutral.
“We do realize that election outcome is extremely upsetting and worrying to much of the Penn community, but it is in the nature of the democratic process that we accept the results and work with them, even when we do not like them,” he wrote.
No accommodations were made for students in Data and Analysis for Marketing Decisions — their midterm Wednesday afternoon went on as scheduled, despite students’ emails to the professor and protests on a Canvas discussion board.
“Penn claims to be dedicated to mental health. I am not alone when I say that I have been at a loss of focus and composure since I woke up. Our class is sleep-deprived, anxiety-ridden, angry, disappointed, depressed, and in no mental state to sit through an exam that determines 30% of our final mark,” one student wrote on the discussion board. “It is situations like these which show that our faculty and administration do not understand what it means to promote healthy learning and academic culture, and I am disappointed to hear that you have decided not to postpone today’s exam, despite requests from a large portion of the class.”
Twenty-three students replied to the post imploring their professor to postpone the exam.
“This is arguably the most historically significant time of our lives,” one student replied. “We are hurting. The people of color, women, LGBTQ people in this class are hurting.”
Professor Elizabeth Woodward emailed her vertebrae physiology class Wednesday morning around 11 a.m. after students emailed her expressing concern about taking their midterm exam Thursday. Although she declined to cancel the exam, in a long email to her students, she expressed sympathy for students who felt distracted by the drama of election night.
“Life throws us curveballs and we need to learn to handle them. If there is only one impression that I leave with you this semester it is that I truly care about you, your success, and helping you find your way, wherever that leads you.”
She added, “Having said all of that, I am a firm believer that too much hand-holding only hurts you in the long run. As you progress through your education, career, and your familial responsibilities, life will not provide you a ‘time out’ for a breather. Being able to handle pressure, stress, and extreme disappointment, without losing focus whilst maintaining a positive outlook, is important for living a happy, meaningful life.”