Student Failed Exam, but Reinstated on Basis of Extreme Anxiety, Professor Says; Clinical problem that can affect functioning

Friday, January 22nd, 2010 | 3:10 am
Canwest News Service

A University of Manitoba professor is alleging a doctoral candidate twice failed his comprehensive examination, then appealed to be reinstated on the basis that he suffers from the disability of extreme examination anxiety.

The professor — who asked not to be named — said he has filed a complaint to the U of M senate alleging a senior administrator reinstated the student into the doctoral program and ruled that the student’s PhD be determined solely on the basis of his doctoral thesis.

The professor said the university has reprimanded him for allegedly revealing to members of the university community the details of the student’s medical conditions, which are protected by provincial privacy legislation.

The professor said his reprimand includes a threat of potential dismissal. However, he has not been able to provide any university documentation confirming his allegations.

U of M will not comment on personnel or student matters, because they are protected by provincial privacy legislation, said public affairs director John Danakas. He would not confirm if the university senate is dealing with the matter behind closed doors.

But Dr. John Walker, director of the Anxiety Disorder Program at St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg, says exam anxiety is a recognized condition.

“It’s a clinical problem if it causes you a lot of distress or affects functioning,” said Dr. Walker, who has seen children as young as six suffer anxiety from school tests. “It’s a real problem.”

The University of Manitoba’s disability services office last year registered 136 students who have medical certification that they suffer exam anxiety and must be accommodated with some other form of evaluation.

Both U of M and the University of Winnipeg offer a wide range of options — writing the test alone, with one supervisor in the room; taking an oral test; having more time to complete the test; or writing an assignment that demonstrates knowledge of the subject.

Dr. Walker said exam anxiety often gets worse the more critical the exam — scholarships on the line, entrance to a professional school, passing or failing.

“Comprehensives [for doctoral candidates] are a good example — it’s do or die.”

According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of Canada, more than four million Canadians are diagnosed with some form of anxiety disorder annually — with nearly 7% of college students reporting symptoms.

In Ottawa, Carleton University also takes extra steps to help students who suffer from recognized anxiety disorders.

Larry McCloskey, director of the school’s Paul Menton Centre for Students with Disabilities, said such issues can often emerge at exam time.

About 6% of Carleton students have some sort of disability, said Mr. McCloskey, compared to the three per cent average found on other Ontario campuses.

Reproduced from