It’s been an illogical semester for PHIL 260 students.
Students enrolled in Introduction to Logic were informed their professor Adèle Mercier had been removed in an email sent to them on Nov. 20. In the email, Faculty of Arts and Science Associate Dean (Academic) Jenn Stephenson told students to attend their Wednesday class for updates.
The change in instructor followed a month-long battle between Mercier and the Faculty of Arts and Science over students’ accommodations for the midterm exam. The evening before the midterm, students received an email cancelling the exam for 8:30 a.m. on Nov. 1. The cancellation came as a surprise to students—and to Mercier.
“The students are very upset, and I’ve been telling them I’m upset too. But there’s nothing we can do because my course has been hijacked,” Mercier said in an interview with The Journal.
Since her interview on Nov. 17, Mercier has been instructed not to speak to the media. Her replacement, Adjunct Assistant Professor Mark Smith, is now at the helm of the course. Mercier’s teaching assistant, Tianze Chen, was dismissed and replaced by the University this week.
It all started when Mercier decided to modernize her exam to accommodate two students enrolled in PHIL 260 requiring a computer to write examinations. Mercier and Chen worked all semester to computerize the students’ exam, using a “cheat proof” software. Students have been using the software throughout the semester to complete homework exercises. Logic exams are difficult to write on a computer because the discipline uses symbols not familiar to most word processors, Mercier explained.
“The only way to cheat is if you had, for example, two computers, you could sign into the homework mode of the program and have access to all the checking functions. During the exam, the homework function is disabled, and we can tell when you’re doing the exam, that you’re staying on the exam,” Mercier said.
On Oct. 26, Mercier contacted the Exams Office to inform them of the new format for the midterm exam. Problems arose when Mercier learned policies restricted the Exams Office from allowing students with accommodations to use their personal computers to complete exams. To adhere to the policy, the Exams Office required all students enrolled in the course to revert to a paper-based exam.
“I don’t see how they have the authority to tell a professor you must have a paper-based exam,” Mercier said.
“I don’t see how they’re doing their jobs of helping faculty accommodate students, if that involves dictating to professors how they are to perform their exams, what kind of exams they are to give […] it is not part of their competence.”
In response, Mercier filed an official complaint, objecting to the imposition of “para-academics” to modify the exam format, citing infringement on academic autonomy and the adverse impact on students who were prepared to write a computerized midterm.
Mercier told the Exams Office despite their advisory, she was going to offer students the option of a paper-based or computerized exam. She maintained students who required the use of their laptops for exams would be allowed to do so in her classroom.
The Exam Office told Mercier this wasn’t an option. They reiterated all non-accommodated students had to write a paper-based exam. As for accommodated students, they gave her two options: let the Exam Office step in, or privately administer the computerized exam meeting all the students’ accommodations.
Mercier chose the latter.
“We’d been booking Gordon Hall 400 for those who had accommodations for private rooms or dim lights or things like that, and they could bring their own laptop to Gordon Hall. We arranged our own proctors so that everyone gets to write the exam on the computer,” Chen said.
As students prepared for their exam the following morning, they received an email from Haley Everson, faculty associate director (academic consideration, appeals and advising) cancelling the exam.
Two days later, students received an update, apologizing for the disruption and claiming the faculty was “working with Professor Mercier and the Exams Office to set up exams that meet Queen’s accessibility requirements.” They claimed the decision was made due to a scheduling conflict between the exam time for students with academic accommodations and their other classes.
In her own email to students explaining the cancellation, Mercier told students the “para-academics [are running] the show now, not your professors,” and she was “gravely disturbed by ever increasing infantilization of students, and victimhood-fostering attitudes towards persons with disabilities.”
With their midterm exam in limbo, PHIL 260 students were slapped with a 100 per cent final exam. The course is a requirement for philosophy majors, and students were stressed.
“I was confused, I thought maybe we would be getting an explanation of some sort from the University but that didn’t end up happening,” Nicholas Hash, ArtSci ’26, said in an interview with The Journal. “I think confusion is the strongest feeling. People I’m close with are frustrated.”
Like many of his peers, Hash was prepared for a computerized midterm. He expressed frustration at its sudden cancellation with minimal explanation and competing narratives.
In an email obtained by The Journal, a student in the class told Mercier they withdrew their accommodations because they “felt the alternatives [she] gave were just fine and very fair.”
Hash described Mercier as an inspiring professor. In classes, he reported there was back-and-forth between Mercier and the students, creating an energizing atmosphere. Mercier has been teaching logic at Queen’s since 1994.
“I think there’s a lot of love for Dr. Mercier,” Hash said. “As she herself puts it, she’s one of the only
women doing in philosophy what she’s doing, which is teaching logic. It’s a very male-dominated field and she’s been doing it, from what I can tell, fantastically for 30 years. I think there’s a lot of respect for her in the classroom.”
Another student who contacted Mercier after the cancellation told her the situation was an “attack by Queen’s towards [her] teaching, character, and class” and was of “utmost disrespect.”
In emails, Mercier’s replacement by her former student Smith brings certainty to what has been a confusing situation. On Nov. 22, Associate Dean Stephenson introduced the new professor and told students they had options.
The faculty will allow students to drop the course after receiving their final grade with a full tuition refund. Alternatively, students can change the grade shown on their transcript to “CR,” which administrators like Stephenson recognize as indicating an extenuating circumstance.
“You don’t have to decide today, you can decide in January,” Stephenson told the class.
Of the 109 spots in the class, 90 students remain enrolled. Under Smith’s guidance they will have the option to complete two assignments and a final exam, all paper-based take-homes, which will be weighted in whichever way benefits students most.
“There’s a lot of goodwill towards the stand-in professor Dr. Mark Smith,” Hash said. “I think he’s a good instructor. I think he’s going to do good things for the course. But towards the administration, I think there is a lot of confusion, a lot of unanswered questions, and I think the announcement from Dr. Stephenson didn’t address anything directly about the cause of this whole situation.”
For Hash the situation is potentially an infringement on academic freedom. He plans to write a letter to Barbara Crow, the dean of the faculty of arts and science.
“If a tenured professor of so many years, such as Adèle Mercier, can be forced out of her course I worry about younger professors who want to try and provide alternative solutions—or teach their courses in alternative ways for their students in the way that best helps them learn—that they won’t be able to do that.
And if they attempt to do that, they may be subject to sanctions by the school,” Hash said.
For Mercier, the situation makes her want to quit. With her sabbatical approaching next semester, Mercier is unimpressed with the University. She believes the whole ordeal could have been mitigated over one phone call leading up to the midterm exam.
“I think we did a great job of accommodating students,” Mercier said. “Even though the minions don’t know what they don’t know.”
—With files from Sofia Tosello
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