In my previous blog entry I talked about podcast episodes number 51 and 52. Here is a postscript to one aspect of that story.
In episode 51 I talked a bit about the comprehensive exams. For those, we were placed in a room for four days, three hours each day, and were expected to write brilliant essays in response to questions we found in a manila envelope in the room. This was not only to test our comprehensive knowledge of the world of theater, but our professors always talked about that time when we would be at a conference, sitting in a hotel room, with our conference papers having not been written yet, and having to come up with them on the spur of the moment. This always seems like a spurious example to me, and the comprehensive exam system in my department seemed more of a punishment and an unnecessary hurdle than a way to test or prove our knowledge. (But let’s face it: much about grad school is often more about hazing and testing your mettle than learning.)
So here’s the funny thing: at one point the department was talking about doing away with comprehensive exams as they had always been. And one of the grad students who was a few years ahead of me argued that the exams should be kept the way they were. “I had to do it that way, and everybody should have to do it that way,” was her argument. Interestingly enough, I recently heard the same argument about student loan forgiveness. People said, if I had to pay off my student loans, everybody should. Well, things change. They evolve. And maybe these changes make sense.
At that stage in my career I was beginning to have very independent thinking. My response to the whole comprehensive exam question was, so what are you testing? What do you want the test to show? If you were doing it just to punish people, then keep it the way it’s been. But if you really want to examine the students’ comprehensive knowledge, then perhaps find a new way to do that.
I actually have no idea if the system ever changed. I moved to Pennsylvania shortly after that so I don’t know if it continued or evolved. With Dramatic Art faculty attrition (departures, retirements, not getting tenure) the department eventually was re-organized into the Department of Performance Studies so that transition may have sped the evolutionary process along.
But the argument that, “I had to go through it, and therefore so do you” is not a very convincing one for me.