Bomb threats, car fire interrupted Monday activities, final exam schedules

Students wait on the steps of the Women's Center for news about their final exams after police closed multiple buildings following a bomb threat early on Monday, May 9, 2016. Max Lalanne/The Tufts Daily

The scheduling of today’s final exams was disrupted following a fire in a vehicle outside of Tufts Health Service around 4:30 a.m. this morning, and the discovery at the building entrance of a note with bomb threats to four different campus locations. As law enforcement secured, evacuated and cleared the four targeted buildings — Cabot Intercultural Center, Braker Hall, Cohen Auditorium and Tisch Library — exams of three math courses and classes taught in the G and E blocks in the Schools of Arts and Sciences and Engineering (AS&E) were postponed and rescheduled to Friday.

According to a 4:19 p.m. email to the student body from John Barker, the dean of undergraduate and graduate education, and Carmen Lowe, the dean of undergraduate studies, exams originally scheduled for 8:30 a.m., 12 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. on Monday, May 9 were cancelled because of “concerns about campus safety,” and have been rescheduled to Friday, May 13 at 8:30 a.m., 12 p.m. and 7 p.m., respectively.

The Registrar has devised this schedule (imperfect as it may be) to avoid as much overlap as possible with exams already scheduled for later this week,” Barker and Lowe wrote in the email to the community. “If you have unalterable travel plans, please inform your instructor. If you feel unable to proceed with your exams in light of this morning’s events please contact your instructor and seek support from Counseling and Mental Health Service, your private physician, or your Advising Dean.”

According to Lowe, since professors must reserve a classroom for their in-class final exam through the Registrar, the Registrar’s office was able to compile a list of all exams scheduled for Monday, cross checking that with a list of courses taught in the G and E blocks. This way, the Registrar got a sense of the number of courses impacted by the cancelation of the exams — potentially as many as 50.

“Potentially, based on the Registrar’s schedule, there may have been as many as 50 courses impacted, but it is not clear if all those courses actually intended to hold exams on Monday,” Lowe told the Daily in an email. “In most cases, those were very small classes, but in a few cases, some very large classes saw their exams cancelled.”

According to the Spring 2016 Final Exam Block Schedule from Tufts Registrar, the final exams for three courses — Math 30, 42 and 70 — were scheduled to take place this morning from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. However, as multiple law enforcement agencies secured and worked to clear the affected buildings, all morning activities, including these exams, were postponed.

Based on the enrollment record shown on Tufts’ Student Information System (SIS), an estimated total of 223 students from these classes may have been affected, with 40 students enrolled in Math 30, 100 students enrolled in the six sections of Math 42 and 83 students in the three sections of Math 70. However, the number of students impacted may be larger, since other classes not listed on the Registrar schedule, such as Math 16, also had exams during this time period.

Following the evacuation of Cohen Auditorium, students in Math 42, or Calculus III, were seen waiting along Talbot Ave. and sitting on the steps outside the Mayer Campus Center around 8:20 a.m., awaiting more information on their final exam. 

Max Lalanne/The Tufts Daily

Students wait outside the lower Mayer Campus Center for news about their final exams after police closed multiple buildings following a bomb threat early on Monday, May 9. (Max Lalanne/The Tufts Daily)

Jonathan Traester, a first-year student, said he was puzzled to learn that his exam for Math 70, or Linear Algebra, this morning was cancelled.

“I’m just surprised that the exam got completely cancelled, not rescheduled, just cancelled,” Traester said. “Grading can be up to 45 percent, and that seems huge to not have 45 percent of your grade, and that’s pretty significant… It’s kind of shocking that they’d just throw out such a big portion of your grade.”

Talking about the reasoning behind the cancelations of some exams, Lowe said it depends on the professors and the instructional methods.

“Because each class is unique and professors use different instructional methods and forms of assessment (such as papers, quizzes, homework, midterms, etc), some professors may have decided that they can assess students without the final exam,” Lowe wrote.

Another first-year, Judy Yau, also had a final exam at 8:30 a.m. for Math 34, or Calculus II. However, her exam took place as planned and there was no communication from the instructors beforehand. She said she found the events from this morning to be frightening.

“It’s kind of shocking as I learn more about the details, what they’ve given out, like the car fire…” Yau said. “It’s all kind of terrifying to learn about. I never expected that to happen here at a place like Tufts.”

Senior Scott Geldzahler was finishing up his final exam for Math 16, or Symmetry, this morning when the university announced the postponement of morning exams.

“Why is it that, even though my 8:30 a.m. exam wasn’t in one of the threatened places, my exam [was] not cancelled? In fact, worse off, why was it [that all morning exams were] cancelled midway through my exam? If the threat was made public at 6:40 a.m., why did it take until well past 9 a.m, to cancel all finals,” Geldzahler wrote on his Facebook page. “If the logic behind this was that they didn’t want to deal with any sort of finals make-up exams, [then] I believe it was grossly negligent to put student lives at risk for this.”

Later in the day at 11:57 a.m., Tufts announced that all exams scheduled at noon were postponed.

When asked by reporters about the procedure for students who missed their exams this morning and those who have already scheduled flights, Senior Vice President of University Relations and General Counsel Mary Jeka said accommodations would be made for every student.

“The students who missed exams will be asked to notify their professor and their professor will find an accommodation for them,” Jeka said. “Rescheduling exams for some students who have situations come up is not an uncommon occurrence.”

While waiting for more information on rescheduled exams, some professors who teach courses with final exams scheduled to take place between 12 to 2 p.m. today were in communication with students and offered alternative testing times, taking into account student’s planned travel arrangements and schedules.

For instance, Danilo Marchesini, associate professor of physics and astronomy, who teaches AST 009, or Concepts of the Cosmosoffered several options for students to take the exam at different times and locations.

“I made adjustments and accommodations, also making sure that the safety of the students was not jeopardized,” Marchesini told the Daily in an email.

Students were able to take the AST 009 exam, which was originally scheduled for noon, at 574 Boston Ave. at 2 p.m. instead, among other options, according to sophomore Yuki Zaninovich, a student in the class.

One of the students in the class, Nick Golin, said that even though he received the initial email around 6:30 a.m. this morning, the notification from the university about the postponement of final exams at noon came “at the last minute,” three minutes before his scheduled exam.

“It’s definitely unsettling because my test was supposed to be in Cabot, which was one of the suspected places,” Golin, a first-year, said. “But in terms of something happens to me, I’m not too worried about it.”

Despite Tufts announcing at 1:44 p.m. that all affected buildings were cleared by law enforcement, Tufts still postponed all AS&E exams scheduled for 3:30 p.m. and all exams at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Meanwhile, exams scheduled to take place at 7 p.m. went on as planned.

Lowe said Friday was chosen as the rescheduled date because few exams were originally scheduled on that day “to avoid conflict between multiple, overlapping exams and to make sure that there are enough suitable classroom spaces available for the exams”

“[The Registrar] also knew the time slots when very few exams were scheduled this week. For example, there were fewer than three exams scheduled for Friday at 8:30, as compared to other times on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday when several exams were scheduled,” she wrote in an email to the Daily. “The Registrar selected the re-schedule time slots based on times that posed the least conflict (in terms of overlapping exams and room availability).”

In this rescheduling process, Lowe said the instructors and the according department chairs of these affected courses have the freedom “to determine how best to conclude their course and assess student work,” including offering additional alternative exam time in addition to the rescheduled time.

“Professors have a lot of discretion in this matter,” she wrote. “Some may hold their final exam in the re-schedule time slots designated by the Registrar, some may decide to give the exam in an alternative format and others may decide to cancel the exam and determine final grades based on other forms of assessment and based on the instructional methods of the course and in consideration of fairness to the class as a whole… In some cases, a departmental chair may oversee exam policy, especially if multiple professors teach different sections of the same course.”

As Tufts sent out update emails throughout the day, senior Tim George praised the administrators’ efficiency in communicating with the students. 

“It’s been handled pretty well. It’s always kind of unfortunate when these things happened, but I think they’ve been doing a pretty good job and the communications been good too,” George said. 

While the Tufts administration asked all non-essential Medford/Somerville staff to return home, some students were moving out of their dorms today. Sophomore Itamar Ben-Aharon said he didn’t encounter any trouble checking out with Residential Life (ResLife), but he wasn’t able to return his rented textbooks to the Tufts Bookstore. 

“I was leaving today and I needed to return my textbooks and I went to the bookstore, and it was locked because of the bomb threat,” he said. “I’m taking [the textbooks] home with me…I understand that there was a bomb threat and people had to shut down. I wish that the school had included some of the textbook information in the emails [considering the timing of the threat] because I know like ResLife was still operational for check-out appointments, but the bookstore wasn’t for textbook returns.”

When Mike Toohey, junior Samantha Toohey’s father, came on campus to help his daughter move out, he told the Daily that he thinks the university has been dealing with the situation very efficiently.

[Sam] was informed first thing in the morning,” he said.

In an email to the community at the end of the day, University President Anthony Monaco said he appreciated the understanding and flexibility from its members.

“I am grateful to the members of the university community and our neighbors in Somerville and Medford for their flexibility and patience during today’s extraordinary circumstances,” Monaco wrote in the email. “We are aware that the need to cancel or postpone normal campus activities was especially disruptive for faculty and students given the schedule of final examinations. AS&E and the Fletcher School will continue to be in touch with their individual communities with respect to academic issues. I particularly encourage students to take advantage of the support services that have been offered through your individual schools.”

Arin Kerstein and Jake Taber contributed reporting to this story.