The rules of Dead Week

Thomas Hummer

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Dead Week. I’ll never forget when this time rolled around during my first year at Iowa State, and I thought that Dead Week was just a clever name the students gave to this week of cramming, Red Bull, all-nighters and stress.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that Dead Week was officially recognized and sanctioned by the university, complete with its own policies and regulations. Some highlights of these rules include professors not giving final exams during Dead Week, that major assignments should be assigned and due before Dead Week, student organizations may not hold meetings and teachers should generally lighten the workload.

As I reflect on my seven semesters at Iowa State, I can remember at least one professor per semester blatantly disregarding these rules. In fact, I’d even go as far as saying that more teachers don’t follow these policies than do.

But is this really such a bad thing? For instance, why forbid exams from being given during Dead Week? If anything, this offsets the students’ workloads relative to their other classes by a full week, spacing their finals out more and moving some of the study stress to the week before Dead Week. This also enables students to chronologically prioritize their studying time more efficiently. I find that this actually helps to take finals one at a time and improves focus, as long as not every class I’m in decides to do this.

It’s also specified in these policies that if a final is held during Dead Week, the class must meet during finals week “for other educational activity.” This is an absolutely ridiculous policy. We all know that once a student is done with finals, they’ve basically washed their hands of the class entirely. Nobody would show up for the mandatory Finals-Week meeting, and it would basically act as a punishment to the professor, who would pretty much sit there by his or herself for an hour and a half. Real productive.

One common misconception of these rules is that teachers should give “no homework” during Dead Week — I hear this all the time from fellow students. This is never stated in the policy and is a pretty absurd notion in the first place. If there was no homework at all during Dead Week, what would everyone do during class?

A week-long semester review seems a bit excessive, and that’s what Dead Week would be reduced to if no new material was introduced. In this case, the “lighter workload” idea works well when put into use. Still, this is an extremely vague definition that is left up to serious interpretation, and I’m not sure I trust the average professor’s definition of a lighter workload.

In the end, the policy itself is hit-or-miss. Some of the rules make a lot of sense, and some of them are nothing more than bureaucratic frivolousness. However, the pertinency of them becomes a moot point because a significant majority don’t follow them and nobody ensures that they’re carried out. Iowa State claims that “the Provost will publicize and monitor this policy each semester,” but I have yet to see the widespread effects of this.

The underwhelming impact this policy has on classroom planning proves its ineffectiveness and pointlessness. Rules that are simply “recommended” and aren’t enforced aren’t really rules at all. While I’m sure that this policy would make a much larger impact on those in the Design or Engineering colleges as opposed to my fellow English majors, it doesn’t change the fact that they are empty words with inadequate backing.

For this policy to have any significance, it needs proper and sufficient enforcement. Until then, I urge the Government of the Student Body, Faculty Senate and university president to stop wasting their time making such weak policies.