New task force looks to diminish disruptions to midterms

To help diminish the disruption to midterms caused by false fire alarms and bomb threats, York’s Office of the Vice-President of Students and Office of the Vice-President of Finance & Administration have announced the formation of an Exam/Mid-Term Disruption Task Force.

The work of the task force, chaired by University Registrar Joanne Duklas, will entail developing an increased understanding of the nature, number and cause of these kinds of disruptions and related response strategies. It will also define pan-University strategic and operational recommendations.

Several incidents have occurred during the current midterm period, including one yesterday that led to the evacuation of Vari Hall and the Ross Building and the closure of the Common to buses for part of the afternoon.

Disruptions of midterm tests due to fire alarms and bomb threats are negatively impacting the ability to deliver comfortably on York’s core academic mission, notes Duklas. These disruptions are adversely affecting the university experience of a number of students and faculty as well as contributing to the erosion of York’s image and reputation. 

Left: Joanne Duklas

“The qualitative impact on the community, faculty, staff and students has been high because of the level of stress such occurrences cause everyone. Even worrying that one might occur has been identified as a concern by students,” says Duklas.

Based on a previous national survey on exam disruptions conducted by Duklas, it seems York historically experienced about the same amount of disruptions during official exam periods as other institutions with 10,000 or more students. The findings from this survey, as well as additional improvements, led to increasing success for York’s Registrar’s Office with respect to official exam disruptions.

“At York, we have managed to reduce the number of successful attempts in the last two official exam periods to zero as a result of a series of techniques employed by course directors, registrarial staff and security services,” says Duklas. “The midterm disruptions are more challenging both to coherently identify and to address. Response happens after a fire alarm alert occurs and results in Security Services following up as appropriate when a disruption occurs.”

With midterm tests, Security Services is not always aware of when they are happening or is given short notice, which increases the challenge of planning for and/or foiling disruptions.

“With respect to students, those who have contacted us have expressed dismay, frustration and anger, which isn’t surprising. As a community, we stand together against this criminal behaviour and will respond accordingly when individuals are caught,” says Duklas. “The ultimate goal of the group’s work will be to focus on establishing an environment that diminishes the occurrence of test disruptions, thereby preserving academic integrity.”

Emphasizing the importance of the multiple perspectives required to analyze and resolve this issue, the task force members include five academic colleagues, five administrative colleagues and a student representative. They are:

  • Joanne Duklas (chair), University registrar, Office of the Registrar & Student Financial Services
  • Sherry Lewkowicz, associate registrar, Systems, Communications & Academic Scheduling, Registrar’s Office
  • Steve Dranitsaris, senior executive officer, Office of the Vice-President Finance & Administration
  • Ken Tooby, coordinator, Investigations, Campus Services & Business Operations
  • Kim Michasiw, associate dean, curriculum & enrolment, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies
  • Peter Cribb, associate dean, student affairs, Faculty of Science & Engineering
  • Sue Vail, associate dean, students, Faculty of Health
  • Marc Wilchesky, executive director, Counselling & Disability Services
  • Norma Sue Fisher-Stitt, associate vice-president, Academic Learning Initiatives, Office of the Vice-President Academic & Provost
  • George Tourlakis, former chair of the Senate Committee on Curriculum & Academic Standards, and University Professor/academic program director, Department of Computer Science & Engineering, Faculty of Science & Engineering
  • Laura Bevacqua, student representative

The Task Force Review will be three-pronged in nature – academic, registrarial and security services. It will be informed by preventative considerations as well as by existing and possible future response strategies.

Those interested in sharing reflections on the matter are encouraged to e-mail Joanne Duklas at