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Required information: Germany, maths, and undergraduate

Situation: In order to finish my undergraduate degree, I have to do one final oral exam with two professors (A & B). However, A and B refuse to communicate directly with each other and use me to communicate. The first exam was "postponed" indefinitely due to pandemic and now I have to organize a new one.

Problem: Professor A is very odd. He does not use email. He does not answer his phone (I was told to call him by the exam office and professor B) and now with only online learning, I had to communicate with A using text messages.

I asked him for available exam dates and he replied with a "yes" and nothing else. He then ignored my other messages. The examination office said if both A and B agree, I can do each part separately. Of course the B replied immediately with a yes. A did not reply at all.

Should I try to reach out to other professors or the dean? I have to do this exam to graduate so I can start my graduate studies, but I do not want escalate the situation.

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    If you don't escalate then you will flounder where you are, if you do escalate then prof A may not be happy. Dammed if you do and dammed if you don't. – Solar Mike Jul 17 at 11:10
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    Tell Prof A every relevant detail of exactly what you want, and that the Office and Prof B agree. Tell Prof A you assume all of that is acceptable and unless he sees any difficulties, Office and Prof B will make appropriate arrangements. Make very sure both Office and B understand exactly what you're doing, and why. – Robbie Goodwin Jul 17 at 23:17
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    I've dealt with people like Professor A before. They are never good news. The bottom line is, deal with someone else if you can. Try to get someone else appointed. Preferably someone you would actually like to deal with. – Faheem Mitha Jul 18 at 6:45
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    Do they have secretaries/assistants? It might be easier to use a proxy to reach them, than to try direct communication. – Quora Feans Jul 18 at 11:27
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Given the reluctance of anyone else to communicate with Prof A, it seems less a case of you not knowing the secret handshake to get in touch with him, but more a case of Prof A simply not communicating. It is unlikely that anyone (including the dean) can make him communicate in a reasonable way.

What you need to do is to make sure that the path-of-least-resistance for your department is something that ends with you graduating very soon. My guess is that the best bet for that would be to get someone else to examine you. The "Vorsitzende(r) des Pruefungsausschuss" should be able to authorize such a thing. Phrase it as "Prof A is unavailable for examinations", not as "I failed to get in touch with him". If they claim that Prof A is available, ask them to demonstrate by telling you the date for the exam. Be polite but persistent.

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If prof. A is indeed as 'odd' to communicate with as you indicate, the problem will be known by the rest of the faculty, probably including the dean. If you want to move forward, you need to escalate. But if you do it in a respectful manner - keeping the focus on your need to move forward, and not on the oddities by prof. A - you can probably manage to do it without hurting any fragile egos too much. A nice trick here, is to blame external circumstances, instead of a persons' inability to communicate.

So: Write to the dean. Tell him or her that you have unsuccessfully tried to set up an exam date with prof. A in these trying times of COVID, but to no avail. Tell the dean that you have already set up an exam date with prof. B, but would like the dean's help or suggestions to set up an appointment with A.

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    Personally I'd focus on getting away from Prof. A. – Faheem Mitha Jul 18 at 6:53
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    Don't bring up COVID - it's got nothing to do with it. The student requires action from a professor to complete their degree. The professor is delinquent and has demonstrated a lack of intention to fulfil their professional responsibilities. End of story. – J... Jul 18 at 11:46
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In this sort of impossible situation in life in general, it is generally best not to focus on blame or complaint about someone else's behaviour. Instead (preferably in consultation with a neutral advisor) formulate what you think is the best way forward. In other words, you need to find the solution.

The reason is that no-one (at whatever level) like to be presented with a problem. Everybody likes to be presented with the answer to a problem.

For example:

Dear X

I am having trouble arranging *****. It's difficult to see a way forward although I have done my best. Would it be possible for me to have the following alternative? Blah blah blah. If so I would be most grateful if you could direct me to the right person to help me achieve this. Many thanks.

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The professor most likely has a secretary taking care of administration. Visit and talk to them, it is likely that they are aware of these difficulties. If you explain your situation and politely ask for help chances are that they will help you communicating with the Prof. to get what you need.

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  • I went to the secretary of his institute (there is one for each "field") and she told me to call him as he does not answer emails. I will try to talk to her again. – why Jul 17 at 11:15
  • That's what I would try. Explain what you tried and ask if they can somehow mediate. – cheersmate Jul 17 at 11:17
  • I would not expect the secretary to be able to do more than a student in this case. The kind of professor who communicates usefully with their secretary does so as well with students. This one doesn't seem to be of that type, and the secretary has precisely zero leverage. – Stephan Kolassa Jul 19 at 18:45
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    @StephanKolassa I think you underestimate secretaries ... – Roland Jul 20 at 6:34
  • @Roland: believe me, I have deep respect for the informal power of secretaries. However, if a professor is so dysfunctional as to leave a student hanging out to dry, I strongly doubt even the most savvy secretary will be able to communicate with them (as the OP confirmed in this instance), or set up an appointment for the prof that they will actually honor. – Stephan Kolassa Jul 20 at 7:00
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Speak to your department and explain the situation. Many faculties have directors of studies whose job it is to deal with issues such as this. If you are concerned about irking your examiner(s), you can also mention this to the department and ask for appropriate discretion. They should be able to advise you best and clear this up sooner rather than later, even if it means assigning you a new examiner.

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