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Extended semester: finals vs. flights

By Camilla Arellano Special to the Chronicle

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the only visible loss on the Hofstra campus seemed to be a few fallen trees and branches. Once the clouds cleared, Hofstra University faculty and staff tried to go back to their regular routine, but the missed week of classes is proving to make this academic year anything but normal.

At the beginning of the week of October 29, students and teachers wondered how Hofstra would adjust to the unexpected mini-vacation Sandy brought on. Their questions were answered with an e-mail issued on November 6 confirming, among other academic changes, that classes would be extended until December 14 and finals until December 20.

Yet there are still many students with questions—students like sophomore Tamara Russo, who is traveling a long distance back home for the winter break and has already booked her flight according to the original calendar. Students who booked flights home in advance were prepared for the last possible day of finals to be the 19th.

It may be only a difference of 24 hours, but these students are worried that it could cost them hundreds of dollars to buy new plane tickets, due to the high demand around the holiday season. They are dollars that college students with loans or in financial strains simply do not have to spare.

“I’m putting myself through college,” Russo said. “I count on that calendar to save me money.”

The Office of the Provost, which handles Hofstra’s academic affairs, originally believed they would be dealing with only one or two days off due to Sandy. Senior Vice Provost Liora P. Schmelkin recalled being on the phone with the Registrar when the “very difficult” decision became apparent.

“We had to think of a way that the educational experience would not be compromised further,” Dr. Schmelkin said of the decision to extend the calendar.

The Provost’s Office also had to make sure that those graduating on December 20th would not be put in a compromising position, with finals in the days after they received their diploma.

Other schools such as Iona College in New Rochelle, New York, have instead opted to make up for lost class time by adding a few minutes onto every class or allowing for an extra class on the weekend, at the teacher’s discretion.

In response to Iona’s solution, Dr. Schmelkin pointed out that this would not be a convenient solution for those enrolled in 3-hour classes, especially for graduate students whose ongoing careers or prior commitments only allow for that option. Similarly, students with tightly packed schedules like Russo’s must eat lunch from class on their way to work, with no minutes to squeeze in for more extra class time. And students like her are not exactly a rarity in the university population.

Convenience seems impossible to accomplish in this last half of the first semester, perhaps washed away by Sandy’s brutal waves. Still, the Provost’s Office and Registrar are trying to offer alternative methods for students who are struggling to adapt to the new finals schedule.

The Registrar is trying to reschedule Friday finals for seniors. Some faculty have been consulted about going online, although many still remain without power in their homes and others even without houses.

For every proposed solution to a potential scheduling conflict, counter-arguments will vary from individual to individual and due to specific circumstances. The only certainty is the extended calendar, and many students currently feel left in the dark about the future of their finals. California-bound McKen-Z has spoken to all of her professors about her own scheduling conflicts, yet she is still unaware of whether her proficiency writing exam can be changed for her or whether all her professors will be able to accommodate her needs with their respective finals.

Dr. Schmelkin encourages students to reach out to their professors, but also suggested working through University Advisement if a student is still having issues.

“We realize the extraordinary circumstances, but we’re trying our best to make sure we help them while providing the best education,” said Schmelkin.

Only the coming weeks will tell how far professors are able to accommodate students who have approached them with dilemmas. As far as McKen-Z is concerned, all her efforts to find a solution will be worthwhile if she gets to go Christmas tree-shopping with her family after witnessing such devastation as Sandy wreaked on the East Coast.

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