On the first day of finals week, following an increase in COVID-19 positivity rates and Barnard’s return to grab-and-go dining, CC and SEAS have strongly recommended that professors move all finals to an online format. Senior Staff Writer Grace Fitzgerald-Diaz and Staff Writer Victoria Melkonyan contributed to this report.

This afternoon, students received an email from Columbia College and Columbia Engineering informing them that the University has “strongly encouraged” faculty to shift final exams to remote formats. This follows an earlier message from Provost Boyce to deans that was then forwarded to instructors, which announced that Columbia’s COVID-19 Task Force now recommends that all final exams and assessments be moved online. The text of both emails can be found below.

Shortly after students received individual announcements from professors about final exam changes spurred by Boyce’s message, they received the update from Columbia College and Columbia Engineering notifying them of the instructions given to faculty. The email from the University reaffirmed students will hear directly from instructors “IF the format of a final examination has changed,” implying that some modicum of choice remains with professors. The email also encouraged students to leave campus “as soon as [their] on-campus academic obligations are complete” and to review Columbia’s updated travel guidelines

Both emails noted that while Columbia still lies in the “yellow zone” of its COVID-19 monitoring plan, a steady rise in COVID-19 positivity rates has prompted this change in instruction from the administration. Boyce told instructors that if they are modifying the format of their final exams, they should notify students of these changes “as soon as possible.” She also announced that the University recommends all social gatherings be limited to minimize risks of transmission, which was reiterated in the update from Columbia College and Columbia Engineering. This message follows Barnard’s announcements yesterday that Barnard Dining Halls will shift to grab-and-go service only and that all Barnard students, faculty, and staff will be required to receive a COVID-19 booster by January 10.

At the time of this article’s publication, it appears this abrupt shift to online rather than in-person exams could result in significant alterations to some final exams. Following Boyce’s email, certain professors have reached out to their students about changes to final exam formats. According to emails sent to students, certain Core Curriculum professors are removing Short Passage Identifications, a staple of classes such as Literature Humanities and Contemporary Civilizations, from their exams because they are now open-book. One Contemporary Civilizations section has switched from an essay-based format to that of an oral exam, wherein students will have to discuss major themes of the class. These emails can be found in their entirety below. This move to a digital exam format marks the fifth consecutive semester of online finals at Columbia so far.

Email sent by Columbia College and Columbia Engineering to Columbia College and Columbia Engineering students on Thursday, December 16, 2021, at 1:01 pm:

Dear Columbia College and Columbia Engineering students,

In response to the rapidly developing public health situation across NYC, including a rise in positive cases on campus, the University has strongly encouraged faculty to shift final exams to online formats where possible. You will hear directly from faculty instructors IF the format of a final examination has changed. Please pay close attention to your email for any potential messages. There is no need to contact your instructor directly, they will reach out to you.

Columbia’s COVID-19 task force is monitoring this developing situation closely. While the University remains at the Low Risk (Yellow) alert level based on current campus and NYC data, all students are encouraged to limit in-person social gatherings and shift to virtual formats, and to exercise additional care with regard to COVID safety precautions. 

For students planning to leave campus for winter break: if you are able to adjust your travel plans, we encourage you to depart as soon as your on-campus academic obligations are complete. Additionally, please review the University’s updated travel guidelines carefully and take advantage of Columbia Health’s voluntary testing services

Please stay safe and be mindful of public health guidelines while on and off campus in the days and weeks ahead. Good luck with finals and enjoy your upcoming break.

Columbia College and Columbia Engineering

Message sent by Provost and Professor of Mechanical Engineering Mary C. Boyce to Academic Deans on Thursday, December 16, shared with students in a physics lecture via a Courseworks notification at 12:08 pm:

The safety of our community is our highest priority, and the COVID-19 Task Force and its public health experts are continually monitoring health information and conditions on our campus. While Columbia remains in the “yellow zone” of the University’s COVID-19 monitoring plan, daily tracking of our testing results over the last few days has shown a continued uptick in student positivity rates. The students who tested positive are generally reporting either no symptoms or minor symptoms. At present, we have not seen a rise in positivity rates among faculty, researchers, and staff.

Nevertheless, given the uptick, particularly at a time when most students are about to travel, we recommend a series of actions out of caution. Please share this guidance with your faculty and relevant staff:

The COVID-19 Task Force now strongly encourages that final examinations and assessments be moved to remote formats. Faculty who modify the format of their final assessments should notify students of that change as soon as possible. As is standard, any change to exam format should be applied to the whole class.

Additionally, we strongly recommend that social gatherings be limited at this point to further minimize the risk of transmission.

Email sent by Dr. Nicole Marie Gervasio to Literature Humanities students on Thursday, December 16, 2021, at 11:56 am:

Dear all,

Some of you have emailed about whether Columbia would be sending exams online due to the looming threat of Omicron; I had told you that as the person holding the dubious honor of getting to proctor not one but TWO exam days for a hundred or so students amidst Omicron (I’m administering the makeup exam, too), I had better know first.

Well, I have some good news for you that is about to go live across the board: both makeup and final exams will now take place ELECTRONICALLY ONLINE, OPEN BOOK (which is also to say, essentially, open internet), AND Part I is being nixed entirely.

That means:

  • NO short passage identifications will be required. ONLY Parts II (long passage analysis) and III (comparative essay with 3 texts, based on the question you choose) will be on the exam now.
  • You may use whatever materials you want to complete the exam, but the expectations I already set for you will not change (for example, I WON’T expect you to bring direct quotes into your comparative essay, even though you can use your books now).
  • Your exam should be TYPED on your laptop. No blue books will be distributed.
  • You do NOT need to come to your assigned exam room in person UNLESS you need a quiet space where you can complete your test. In that case, DO NOT FORGET YOUR LAPTOP. I will still be present in both exam rooms to proctor the test today and tomorrow for anyone who needs that space.
  • The Core will send you remaining details, including a Zoom link and instructions for submitting your work, very imminently; these are the only details I do not have myself.
  • I will be logged into our Zoom link–as should ALL of you–in case you have any questions during the exam, whether you are in the room with me or remote online.

If you have any questions, let me know ASAP! Otherwise, huzzah, all; Santa’s taken the form of a deadly virus for the second year in a row, and I hope you stay safe.

All the best,


Email sent by Professor Zachary Levine to Contemporary Civilizations students on Thursday, December 16, 2021, at 12:02 pm:

Hi All,

In accordance with guidance I have received from Columbia, I will be switching the final to an online exam. As I have told you all semester to prepare for an ID and short-answer based exam, I do not think it would be fair to assign you an open-book, essay-based final exam. However, the exam format that we have been using clearly would not translate to an online format.

It seems to me that the fairest option to you is an oral exam addressing the major themes of the class. The format will be relatively open-ended and geared to your interests; anyone with a basic grasp of the material should expect to receive an A. If you have already studied for the final exam, that should be more than enough preparation. If not, if you go over our class notes, major themes, and the central claims of each author, you’ll be just fine. I will send a scheduling email shortly. Expect the exam to last about 20 minutes.

I hope that this last-minute change does not cause you any undue stress. Please feel free to email me with any questions. Even more importantly, please stay safe.  

All best,


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