Thursday, July 8, 2010

Automatic Extensions?

OK, the recent threads about extensions have reminded me of a situation that has been dwelling on me for years:

Would you grant an extension even if a student NEVER ACTUALLY ASKED FOR ONE?

A student e-mailed me to tell me she was missing the last day of classes. She never mentioned the paper worth less than 10% of the final grade that was due that day. I never read the e-mail until 3 hours after class ended because she sent it some time the night before. Again, no mention of paper due. None.

Several days before this, she *DID* ask to take the final a week early (which was a big no-no at the U that I had already agreed to bend the rules to accommodate), so she just assumed she could hand in her paper then, which would have been 3 days after the paper due date. When she offered it, I refused to accept it. Insert picture of stunned snowflake here.

Guess who almost failed the course (and not because of that one small grade). Guess who got reprimanded for not accepting Snowy's late paper because she supposedly asked for an extension. Guess who had to inflate a grade by almost a full letter grade because a group of bullying "colleagues" decided Snowy was unfairly treated.

Do I live in an alternate universe or is this sort of glad-handing to random undergrads with bad grades common elsewhere?

P.S. Guess who showed up in a different course with me the following semester. [Which, by the by, was the class that christened me with my nickname!]


  1. Question: if a student were to (possibly) need to miss the week of midterms due to an unavoidable and legitimate conflict, BUT let you know beforehand AND asked (politely) to take the tests early AND has a history of being a reliable, responsible, intelligent and interested student and not at all a special snowflake, would you let her?

    Inquiring mind(s) want to know...

  2. Archeo-lab-girl, the telling facts in your query are:

    1/ unavoidable absence
    2/ legitimate absence
    3/ asks beforehand
    4/ asks politely
    5/ requests early exam (not extra time)
    6/ reliable student
    7/ responsible student
    8/ interested student
    9/ intelligent isn't as important as the others

    My emphasis is on #2, #3, #4, and #5.

    Actually, #5 is the best because the student obviously has no agenda at manipulating for extra time to do the work that wasn't done. The student is showing due diligence and is allowing the instructor to make the arrangements, not demanding an entitlement to do whatever s/he wants.

  3. Then I declare that you do not deserve your nickname. I really must hear more about that class of yours one day...

  4. I just think that extensions lead to more extensions. Give in one bit and they take a megabyte.

  5. Oh, fuck no. If Student misses the last day of class and this absence does not result in an F (because Student has exceeded allowed absences or whatever), that's fine. But this does not absolve Student from pending assignments. The *only* concession I'd allow here (just to cover my own behind) is to mention in an e-mail to Student that s/he could e-mail me the paper as an attachment instead of turning in the hardcopy during class or whenever. As your list above indicates, there are always some sort of situations that sway us towards allowing exceptions, but that's clearly not the case here. Time to pay the piper...

  6. The thing I find appalling here is that your colleagues ganged up on you. Now in my case I would have likely said something like "there seems to be a misunderstanding, Snowy, you didn't ask for an extension so you didn't get one, but since you seem to have honestly misunderstood, I will accept your paper but I will deduct a hefty late penalty." Since it's my personal policy to accept any paper that is given to me before I hand in the grades, but to subtract serious and increasing amounts for lateness. But if your policy is to not accept late work, then she's toast. Your colleagues should have your back on this.

  7. I'm with the Thin Woman on this one. I have a line in my syllabus that states that missing class is not an excuse for missed assignments, but I do allow students to submit via email or send assignments in with a friend.

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  9. Actually, Thin Woman, that's exactly what I have done in the past...make the student send a digital copy and then submit the hard copy at a preset time. [Usually there is no digital copy to send or they claim to have not gotten the message (which leads to the same problem).] It's hard to try this option, though, when the e-mail arrives/gets read while Snowy is long-since AWOL doing whatever was more important than class. As an aside, that was her 9th recorded absence! At some schools, she'd have had an F a month before the end of the semester.

    Merely Academic, my colleagues forced me to grade the paper in front of them, then demanded I give her "half-credit"...the ringleader then started bargaining her final grade UP. I refused to go higher than C- from the D she earned. He wanted to give her a C. Just cuz I was a big meanie with unreasonable expectations!

    The "no late papers" policy was all over the syllabus, announced in class, on Blackboad CMS, on the classroom's markerboard, and I mentioned it every day after it was assigned. In case this wasn't clear above, the original final was scheduled in the VERY LAST slot (11 days after classes ended) before grades were due very early the following morning. I didn't have time to either 1/ go to campus and collect late papers (no office and a hidden mailbox no student was ever able to find) or 2/ grade papers on that last day when I had final exams to grade and final grades to compute before the end of business that day (or else make an 8 a.m. commute just to hand in grades).

    My colleagues were unsympathetic to my reasoning for instituting this phenomenally unfair policy for a 3-page paper that some students joked took them no more than 2 hours to do (and earned them nearly-full credit).

    P.S. to Archaeo-lab-girl: It was the 3 classes I taught for this same department the following year that provoked my nickname. But this class sure set the tone for what to expect then!

    Thanks for the feedback, folks. This has always bothered me.

  10. I rather like mean profs. For those of us with a sense of proportion, they tend to come off as 'fair' rather than 'mean.'

    In fact, an anecdote from a history class I took last semester, (in case you haven't twigged to it yet, I'm still an undergrad, but monumentally on the side of the profs, rather than my fellow students):

    Last semester's class was my third class with this particular prof. He's a hard grader, but very fair. Gives a rubric for the papers, gives study guides for the tests, and grades on improvement, meaning if you start off poorly but make a good recovery, he'll weight the later grades heavier than the former.

    So being knowledgeable in the subject matter, I did just over the required work on the midterm blue book exam. For example, he wanted a page on the short answers, I gave approximately a page and a quarter, and so on. I got an A-. A good grade to be sure, but one I wasn't pleased with. His comments indicated that it was a superlative exam, but he knew that "I" could do better.

    I wrote him and thanked him for that. For pushing me. I believe (if I recall correctly) I was the second person to hand in my exam that day, and he knew that had I wanted to write more, I could have done so easily. And on the final, I wrote until I exhausted the essay subjects. And I got an A, which I feel I thoroughly earned. Not mean. Fair.

    Also, my most recent final paper for his class was the first paper I've ever given him on which I did not get one single negative comment. I'm thinking of having it framed.

  11. LOL @ Archaeo-lab-girl,

    1 - ALG, are you the potential snowflake you described as an example in Comment #1? hehe

    2- In my "mean" class, I once marked off a student for going OVER the page limit and he was mightily p/o-ed.

    The assignment was a 3 page paper, and I suggested they make it into 3 1-page paperlets to help them learn structure. I told them they could go over 1 page on each, but "only a little!" Mister Long-winded had over 1 1/2 pages for each one, which was WAY over the max page limit. He also put those extra paragraphs on the BACK of each page. A *BIG* no-no!

    I had to reprimand him for both in order to set the tone for the future and he fought me tooth and nail for the rest of the semester on these little, petty-but-important things. I'm not sure if he was one of the ones who said I was mean and unfair, but I might save the meat of his saga for its own post. [A highlight! He went to the Writing Center and tried to use what they told him as evidence I was unhelpful/wrong...until I showed him on his paper where I commented on the same stuff!]

    In the end, his writing improved and I think it was because I made him really struggle to get things right. Totally not sure if he appreciated it though.

  12. @MPE: 1. Yes, that's me. I need to go out of town to visit potential grad schools this October, and I don't have syllabi for my classes yet, but I think my trip falls right in midterms week. The school I'm VERY interested in is going through transition and doesn't have a regular grad visiting I was invited to a conference. No way to change the dates. I'm doing a large class load this semester, and I've worked with or developed a good working relationship with all six of my profs, so I am going to ask, politely, once I get the syllabi, if I can do the tests/work early.

    2. I try to suss out what each professor wants. One philosophy prof said 1100 words, not a word over, so I made it 1058, and my name brought it to 1100. (Caveat prof; I never said I wasn't snarky.) This particular history professor wants as much as possible as long as it isn't fluff. So I oblige him to the best of my ability. Also, with any new professor, I figure the first paper or test is a trial paper or test, and it gives us both a chance to work out expectations. By the midterm, I should have hit my stride and figured out what they want and how to use my abilities to give it to them.

  13. Meanest Professor Ever - I take it you didn't have tenure at that institution? Because if you had, you could have told your colleagues to stuff themselves.

  14. ALG: Let the profs know the situation ahead of time, be deferential (as I think you expected to be), and I doubt they won't work with you, especially if you're attending an academic conference! Good luck!

    Merely Academic: tenure. I was a grad student adjuncting in a department that was a sponsor for my grad program.

    None of the "colleagues" involved 1/ were members of the grad program faculty or 2/ had tenure either (or 3/ had a PhD -- which meant we all had equivalent degrees...and I had more education!).

    For anyone interested, here's a badly edited version of the grievance meeting as an RYS Playlet! I admit it -- this situation still leaves me stunned even years after it happened. Those bozos totally pulled a mindfuck that afternoon.


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