Monday, May 18, 2015

This is why my syllabus is seventeen pages long

SCENE 1: Second Week of the Semester

Student-AthleteAthlete-Student:I have to miss class because my team is traveling to the mainland for two weeks. I know the syllabus says no makeups, but I don't have a choice about going on the trip. Can I make up the in class quizzes?

Professor B. (that's me!), Unknowingly Stepping Onto the Slippery Slope: Sure! Because you have to travel as a condition of your athletic scholarship, just write a short reflection paper on the week's topic and get it to me when you come back.
SCENE 2: Third Week of the Semester

Scammy Sammy: I heard you can make up the in-class quizzes. I had to miss last Wednesday for a very important family funeral event.

Professor B.: Well, OK, I guess you can make the quiz up by writing a short reflection paper.

Scammy Sammy: When is it due?

Professor B.: Just get it to me by the last day of class.

SCENE 3: End of the same semester, the day after final grades are submitted

Email from Scammy Sammy to me:

Professor, Please expect my makeups this evening or tomorrow morning. I just finished finals and now wrapping extraneous assignments up. [That's right. "Extraneous" assignments.]

Email from me to Scammy Sammy:

I already submitted the final grades. These were supposed to be in by the last day of class.

Email from Scammy Sammy to me, the following day:

I'm so sorry, I thought you meant the end of finals week. Thank you for being so understanding! [Attached to Scammy Sammy's email: FIVE makeup essays, rather defeating the purpose of requiring students to attend and participate in the class exercises and discussions.]

And because I had allowed this unwritten loophole, I took Scammy Sammy's makeup essays. Scammy Sammy's grade went from a C to a C-plus.

Of course this was my fault. I implemented an informal makeup policy that wasn't written down anywhere. But I learned my lesson.

What's the big deal, one might ask? Is it the end of the world if one pushy student gets a probably-undeserved half-grade bump? No, it's not.


Once word of Scammy Sammy's gambit gets around, next semester will be Scammy Sammy to the nth degree. It is not unreasonable to anticipate an entire semester of dead classrooms, culminating in an eleventh-hour avalanche of makeup assignments.

So, new on the syllabus for fall:

An elaborate, scammer-resistant makeup policy, yet to be formulated, that somehow manages to be fair to everyone, including those whose obligations to the university require travel.No makeups, no exceptions, and if you don't like it, go pick another major.


  1. Years ago, I noticed that about 10% of my students were missing midterms, thus needing makeups. That seemed a bit high. I plagiarized from a colleague and put on the syllabus that there are no makeup midterm exams - if you miss an exam, the weight goes on the final. I then make running jokes through the semester about a given brutal question being a great idea for the makeup final. Now, I might have one student in 40 miss a midterm. And no one misses the final.

    Yes, it's a shame we have to do this but we all have Scammy Sammys and we want to protect the other students. Plus, makeups are a pain in the ass. And having assignments handed in at the end of the semester make for even more grading work for us. Why should we pay for their being sloths?

  2. Yep, I had to do that, too. Look at the bright side: your syllabus is now a little shorter.

    1. One thing I've developed for students who whine, cry, and beg is whining, crying, and begging back, even worse, since it's louder and astonishingly undignified: "But I'VE got to chase around 100 students who can't do fractional with a pooper-scooper AND bring in external grants AND spend 80 hours per week in the lab AND I NOW HAVE TO TAKE OVER AS DEPARTMENT CHAIR EVER SINCE WE HAD A MUTINY..." They can't keep up with me.

  3. Another option (which I'm sure you've considered, and maybe are already doing, and isn't foolproof in any case) is to drop a certain number of the quiz grades (whether they're zero/incomplete or simply lower earned grades).

    I, too, ended up accepting a few too many versions of the supposed-to-be-a-prep-exercise in one class in an unorthodox fashion (emailed after the fact rather than submitted to the LMS *before* class, as required). In my case, the problem wasn't so much the syllabus as my failure to enforce syllabus requirements (or to keep track of the repeat offenders and tell them "no more"). In my defense, as Frod points out, the time spent on cleanup duty in intro classes is getting ridiculous; with a 4/4 load (but, thank goodness, no service responsibilities or requirement to get grants), I feel like I can either keep up with the 75% or so of the class that is doing the work more or less as requested, or spend my time chasing around the other 25% just trying to get them to hand stuff in in the required place, at the required time, in something that vaguely resembles the required format.

  4. Ehhhh...I gotta disagree, up to a point. If a student has to miss class because of a university obligation, then that student should have the ability to make up a missed assignment. Plus, your university probably has a policy that states you have to accommodate students who are on official travel. You can get around the problem creatively, like bceagle91 and Cassandra did, but as long as the student is actually doing something for the school, then s/he should receive some kind of accommodation.

  5. I think the main problem was that you accepted Scammy Sammy's paper, even though you told him the last day of class. Could you have stuck to what you originally said?

    Maybe instead of a no holds barred policy (which does not account for circumstances that are truly exceptional) you can have your syllabus state that make ups, when allowed (at the sole discretion of the instructor) must be turned in no later than two weeks after the make up is granted.

    I have used the phrased "at the sole discretion of the instructor" in my syllabi with much success. Maybe I am jinxing myself now.........

  6. I deal with this a lot. We have several thousand students in our intro chem program. I can't cut anybody any slack without increasing the number of requests for exemptions and special treatment by ten-fold. Some students have reasonable requests that I would like to grant.

    If I didn't have to do research, I could spend my time dealing with the extra work I would create by bending the rules and making judgement calls. I can't ignore my research so we have tough rules and some students are very unhappy about them.

  7. At one SLAC I used to work at, our Associate Dean told me to tell the sports-flakes that they were responsible for scheduling their class schedules AROUND their sports schedules, and if they couldn't do that then they shouldn't play sports. Not sure how much that was in line with actual school policy, or if the college prezzy would have backed me on that, but I gladly agreed to adopt that as my OWN policy. You can imagine the jaw hitting the floor when I was approached by a sports-flake who conveniently had a game on the day of an exam. Of course, I already had this policy in my syllabus and had taken the care to announce it on the first day of class...

    As for students bitching because you supposedly gave another student preferential treatment, tell them this: FERPA FERPA FERPA FERPA FERPA! Any conversation about another student's performance in the course is forbidden due to FERPA regulations. (It's true and convenient!) And if they have the balls to confront you with said student standing there giving you "permission" to discuss it, send them on the quest to find the "FERPA Release Form". (Also true and convenient!)

    God bless America and all the litigious assholes who make this country so great!