McGill exams disrupted by fire alarm

Protesters not to blame: associate dean


Photo by Shermeee on Flickr

Two hours into his three-hour economics exam on Monday, third-year McGill University student Nico Ahn’s concentration was broken by a blaring fire alarm. He and hundreds of other students (there was another big exam happening in the same gymnasium) were told to leave their belongings and tests behind.

In the chilly morning air outside, Ahn says he and other students theorized about the alarm. Did someone realize she was going to fail, slip out and pull the trigger? Or was it an anti-tuition protester who wants all students to join Quebec’s boycott of classes—whether they like it or not?

Meanwhile, says Ahn, other students discussed possible answers to the exam questions.

After less than half-an-hour, firefighters let them back in. Some began to write. Others waited for instruction. Minutes later, they were told that the exam was cancelled and handed in their sheets.

“On the way back on the train from the exam, every time I saw someone with a red square, I felt really angry,” says Ahn, referring to the red patches of fabric worn by supporters of the anti-tuition protest and its 72-day strike. “I didn’t know whether I’d wasted my time studying,” he adds.

Ahn directed his anger at the activists because he thought it was likely they had triggered the alarm. His department, like much of McGill, never voted to join the widespread protests. But that hadn’t stopped activists from trying to prevent McGill students from entering exams the week before.

Ahn is tired of the protests. “I’m not necessarily for tuition hikes,” he says, “but people are losing their sense of reason. It’s getting more and more violent. And Charest won’t change his decision.”

Indeed, Quebec Premier Jean Charest has said repeatedly that the $1,625 hike planned for the next five years will go ahead. Education Minister Line Beauchamp said earlier this week that she would meet with two of the main groups opposed to tuition hikes, the Fédération étudiante collegiale du Québec (FEUC) and the group representing CEGEP students, in hopes they will end the strike.

But today, FEUC backed out citing the fact that another big student group, Coalition large des Associations de solidarite syndicale etudiante (CLASSE), is excluded. Beauchamp said she’s unwilling to meet with CLASSE because it advertises demonstrations that may lead to violence.

As for Ahn, he won’t have to re-write his exam. On Tuesday, students received an e-mail with three options: have the exam marked (with it pro-rated to take the lost hour into account), rewrite it on Sunday, or re-write it in August. Having completed three-quarters, he’s happy to have it graded.

Ahn does have some concern about fairness, considering students wrote for a few minutes after discussing answers, but he thinks McGill handled the situation well given the circumstances.

André Costopoulos, the associate dean of student affairs, says that the standard protocol was followed and the options given to students are fair.

Costopolous has another message for students: they’re wrong to assume protesters triggered the alarm, he says. In fact, firefighters determined the cause was simply “dust from construction.”


McGill exams disrupted by fire alarm

  1. Wow, for an article that says the protestors weren’t to blame, this article spends a heck of a lot of time talking about the protests being the cause of the frustration. How about spending a paragraph on how misinformed misguided and unjustified that sort of blame was in the first place?

  2. It wasn’t a Psych exam but a genetics exam in the gym. And as well as McGill handled it they seemed totally unprepared for it while it was happening. A little disappointing in my mind, like they had never had a fire alarm before.

  3. Facts are off. Like the other person said, it was a genetics exam and we were given the option to have our exam graded AS IS. They are not in anyway taking the lost hour into account. And I think McGill was horribly unprepared in not having some kind of fire alarm protocol. Even my cegep had a fire protocol for exams. Furthermore, I did not hear a single person talking about the exam/exam questions. And I don’t see how it’s misguided, unjustified and misinformed to have suspected the protestors. They have thrown bricks, smoke bombs etc. Suspecting them of pulling a fire alarm doesn’t seem like a big leap.

    • The post has been corrected to reflect that it wasn’t a psychology exam.
      That said, the exam will be pro-rated to take into account the one-third of the exam period that was missed. Below is the text from the associate dean, the meaning of which I confirmed with him over the phone. McGill does indeed have a fire alarm protocol. It appears to have been followed, at least for the most part.
      Options to choose from:
      (i) the exam to be graded as handed in, with the grade thus obtained to be pro-rated to arrive at the exam grade.
      (ii) writing a new/make-up exam on Sunday April 29 at the Gym from 9 am-12 pm. This information will be posted on the exams page (http://www.mcgill.ca/students/exams/).
      (iii) writing the deferred exam during the Supplemental & Deferred exam period,August 22-23, 2012. Students who choose this option must go to Minerva and apply for a deferred exam and mention “due to gym evacuation”

  4. There was no mention of pro-rating the exam. I was taking the Genetics exam and in the email I got sent from the exam office, they didn’t mention pro-rating it, they just said “If you had completed the exam and were about to hand it in and would prefer to declare your exam as completed, please reply to this email by no later than Thursday, April 26th at 9:00 AM and you will be graded on the exam that we have on hand.”

    • That could explain it. The story is about the economics exam that was interrupted, not the genetics exam in the same building.

  5. FACTS! The associations (three of them) are the FEUQ (Uni-level), the FECQ (Cegep-level) as well as the CLASSE. So far, the FEUQ has been standing firm in solidarity of the more radical CLASSE, while the FECQ had initially agreed to negotiate without CLASSE” All three associations seem in solidarity at the moment however.

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