And students (good or bad) care about exam times because of... procrastination. The "bad" students (of the goof-off variety) don't stick around in engineering. At most of the top schools, a few C's and you're out. The cynical bad students often achieve mediocre grades but compensate by doing cool non-coursework stuff.
When your work is only relevant or approachable to less than a dozen people on the planet, how can you expect a dean to judge it? They can't. So they use (often poor) proxies.
At a public school, especially in an engineering department, there often isn't much a difference between professor and a talking head reading off information from a student's perspective. In fact, one of the things that motivated cynical students quickly realize is that not only is self-study often more efficient than than the traditional go to lecture and take notes approach--it's often a far superior way to learn and you can easily find yourself outperforming students who diligently go to class. Cynical students quickly see through the facade of going to class for the sake of going to class.
The resources at a public school aren't about teaching.
+Engage with professor who teaches your class
The flow becomes
+Study out of the textbook
+Engage with a professor on a research level and try to get out a publication
+Or forgo the research somewhat and try to graduate as soon as possible