The Coronavirus Is Causing Chaos During Finals Season at L.A.’s Universities

As colleges transition to remote classes and testing, students and professors are navigating uncharted territory

Students received strings of contradicting emails. Online finals crashed halfway through the exam. The chancellor of UCLA was quarantined.

Many Los Angeles universities slid into disarray after schools announced last week they would shut down in-person classes to prevent the spread of COVID-19. For UCLA, which is on the quarter system, this announcement came in the midst of finals season, giving some professors days to figure out how to transition their finals online.

Christian Bermúdez, a Spanish professor at UCLA, tried to proctor her final exam online, only to have the program crash in the middle, forcing students to take the test all over again.

In another class, the program responsible for ensuring students couldn’t cheat on the exam worked for some but not all tests, leaving the professor scrambling to figure out how to grade the exams fairly.

UCLA announced on Friday and USC announced Monday that each school’s academic semester will be completed online, leaving many students and professors concerned the chaos will continue into the coming weeks. It still isn’t clear how some classes, especially those with lab-based curriculums, will transition to online platforms.

Bermúdez, who also teaches courses at Cal State L.A., said some students have approached her, asking how they should attend virtual classes from home if they don’t own a laptop.

Amid widespread anxiety from the student body, UCLA’s student government sent a letter to the administration, asking them to make finals optional. The letter included more than 4,000 student testimonials, chronicling the stress COVID-19 has caused them.

“My mother is a doctor in Spain and they are in lockdown so I can’t get to her,” one testimonial read. “I have been more worried about her and getting supplies than doing my projects and studying for finals. I threw up because I was so anxious and I don’t know what to do…I do not feel I have the capacity to take finals. I would rather just fail.”

There are also those without a home to go back to, those without their own desk or wi-fi, and those who lost the university job that paid for their food.

“I expected to be OK as long as I could make money at my job,” another read. “As of today, UCLA Recreation facilities closed down, which left me without a job as a lifeguard. I am significantly more stressed without a source of income and no stable place to go outside of UCLA. I am at a loss and don’t know how to survive at this point.”

In order to relieve some anxiety, some professors have nixed their final exams altogether. Thomas Gillespie, a geography professor at UCLA, sent an email to students informing them everyone would automatically get an A on the final.

For an hour, he said he went through the online exam options with his teaching assistants until he decided every option would exacerbate the already stressful end of the quarter.

“There are just so many obstacles for 270 kids who are freshmen and sophomores living in the dorms,” he said. “It’s probably best just to get them done with this quarter.”

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