Thursday, June 15, 2006

Exam fever

Hello Bloggers

Having checked, I realise that my blogging fequency has somewhat diminished of late. Please be reassured that this is not because I have given up recording my life-events, but mainly because the last few days have been taken up by the annual stress-fest known as Exam week. Yes, that's right. Even though the institute is an independently funded place with no official affiliation to any university, its director (c'est moi) does hold an honorary position at a well-known University somewhere in the United Kingdom. It is a mutually beneficial arrangement whereby they give me some money for research purposes and I do some lecturing/admin etc. One facet of this arrangement is that I must on occasion tend to the important task of setting and marking exam questions. As the papers must not leave the aforementioned University, it's also my duty to visit said establishment and do the aforementioned marking in situ.

Each morning I must leave the Institute and travel 52.5 miles before bearing left and driving another 18.5 miles. Upon arrival at the University I must find a spot to park. This is not easy at the best of times, and made even worse by the multitude of places occupied by contractors vehicles. Eventually I locate a space and then walk 0.8 miles to a grey portacabin on the outer edge of the campus. I am met at the door to the portacabin by a man in a dark suit wearing sunglasses, despite the fact that the sun is well hidden behind a thick wall of cloud. I think I spot a curly wire emerging from his left ear but I can't be sure as he quickly opens the door, ushers me inside and closes the door swiftly behind me.

In front of me is a table and a chair. The only other furniture in the cabin is an empty water dispenser. On the table is a stack of papers about 15inches high. They are exam scripts from first year undergraduates. Each student has had to answer 3 questions of 45 minutes each. There are a set of instructions next to the stack with guidelines on how to distribute the marks. The guidelines are clear and unequivocal. I am to mark all scripts with absolute impartiality, awarding any mark that I feel is appropriate. My marks are to be recorded on a piece of lined paper which I am to hand to the security guard. I must make no remarks on the exam scripts, nor write anything on the lined paper except the candidate's number and their mark. I have 2 hours to complete my task, after which I am to leave the portacabin and communicate with no-one until I have left the university grounds.

Now, I admit this may seem a little bit strange, but it works for me. I ask no questions and each year for the last 3 years our arrangement has worked just fine.

Until this year.

Yesterday I rolled up as per usual and went through the routine. It was the same security guard as usual, the same portacabin etc etc. I marked the scripts, handed over the paper, left the portacabin. But this time, instead of leaving the university immediately, I decided to make use of the facilities (by this, I mean its library of course). On leaving the library I saw the security guard in the hallway. He was carrying what looked like the sheet of paper on which I had written my marks and was about 10 yards ahead of me, walking obliquely across my field of view. I passed behind a pillar and when I emerged I noticed that he was in the process of tearing up the paper and dropping the pieces into a nearby bin. Somewhat perplexed I ducked behind the pillar and waited for him to finish and move on.

Imagine my surprise when I looked in the basket and saw that it was indeed the piece of paper upon which I had recorded my marks. The paper had been well and truly torn into shreds - a deliberate act which must have been premeditated, and which led me to an immediately obvious conclusion.

The security guard I have been working with for 3 years is a bad 'un.

I wondered whether I should confront the guard but thought better of it when I recalled that he stands a foot taller than myself. Instead I picked up the shredded piece of paper and made in the direction of the head of the biology department to report the fault. When I reached his office I was somewhat surprised to see another burly security guard by the door. He asked me what I was doing there and whether or not I had an appointment. I told him that I had an important matter to report about one of his own and that he should let me see the HOD immediately. This didn't go down very well. The security guard (who, curiously was wearing sunglasses despite the rather gloomy light in the lobby) scowled at me and said rather gruffly that the HOD was not in and wouldn't be around all week.

'Strange.' I said, 'because this is exam week. He really should be here. Are you sure he's not in his office'

'I told you, sir, he's not here. If you tell me what you need to talk to him about and your details I'll let him know.'

'Isn't that his secretary's job?' I enquired.

'She's off sick. I'm filling in. Just leave your details here...'

The guard reached inside his pocket and pulled out a pen and writing pad. I wrote down my complaint and a contact number, folded the paper, wrote the HOD's name on the envelope and the words 'URGENT ATTENTION REQUIRED', and finally handed it to the guard. He put it in his pocket along with the pen and paper. Perhaps sensing my concern he then smiled and assured me that the HOD would receive my comments as soon as he returned to the office.

I drove back to the Institute in a hurry. A little voice in my head was telling me quite strongly that something fishy may well be going on and that I would be better off maybe not saying anything more. Like I say, its worked tickety-boo over the last 3 years, and the payments have always arrived on time. On the other hand, if exam marks are going missing then.....

Oh dear. I think what I might just have created is something every scientist dreads.

Yes, that's right fellow bloggers,

I'm having a conflict of interest!

Please help.....



Nikki said...

Dr McC - You are definately in quite a predicament.

I myself would persue the issue to make sure the gentleman you are trying to reach received your message and is aware of the situation. THEN GET SOMETHING IN WRITING...for CYA purposes (cover your ass)

Dolores McCrumble said...

He will get himself in these pickles....


Gorilla Bananas said...

The security guards are making students pay for good exam marks. As a result of this scam, a lot of duffers will secure research positions or well-paid jobs. You must devise a plan to expose these crooks while proving your innocence.

Charlie said...

Pickles? Did someone say we're having pickles?

Since I began reading about parasitology, I had no idea that it is so fraught with human dangers.

It is curious that the students would not complain about not receiving their marks, but then again, you did mention they are undergraduates—most of whom are not the hottest bunsen burners in the lab.

I tend, however, to agree with Gorilla, and I am wondering if Miron is somehow involved.