Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Another Future Politician: Students Who Drive Me Nuts

Just before lunch today a student showed up in my office hour to dispute an "F" he received on his first paper.

Here is the story: the student did not show up to class the day the assignment was due. At the end of the next class, he hands me the paper and apologizes for its lateness. I tell him, on the spot, that he will receive an "F" on this assignment since it is late. He panics and asks, politely, if I will still read it and give him comments. I agree to and he leaves.

Two days after this event, he showed up in my office asking why I gave him an "F" and if this will hurt his grade. I point out that the total worth of this assignment is 3% of his grade, hence, he will not be permanently blighted by this F. He seems a bit relieved, but pushes me on why it is an "F." I inform him that any work handed in late, without prior warning that it will be late, is an automatic F. I mention that this policy is in my syllabus.

So today (which is two weeks after this event), he shows up with a copy of my syllabus. He has read it 4 times and swears that nowhere does it specify that late work is an F. Therefore, he concludes, he should get a grade. A "D," he figures, is better than an F.

I am pretty irritated with this, as you can imagine. He also adds that he did not receive the syllabus on the first day of class because we moved from one room on campus to the other. When no one showed up in the first classroom, he went home. I should mention, btw, that 4 other students made the same reasonable mistake as he did, but they nonetheless found their way into my classroom before the 75 minutes were up. But, fair enough, he didn't get a syllabus on the first day. (I do, however, put all of these documents up on the web.)

So, here is the situation. The student has failed to turn the paper in on time, he failed to get a syllabus on the first day of class because he couldn't find the right room, and when he pored over the syllabus he discovered that I didn't have a statement that late assignments will automatically merit an F. From these three premises, the student concluded that I should grade the paper.

I responded in as clear language as possible that I would not grade the paper. I congratulated him on finding this "loophole" so to speak. But, then I pointed out that even if I forgot to make this clear on my syllabus it is such an obvious point; I shouldn't have to tell a student that if he doesn't show up in class the day an assignment is due and turns it in later that it is an F. He didn't understand this. Do we need to make policies and legislate for every detail?

I then asked him if he didn't show up for a class the day an exam was scheduled, should I have to reschedule an examination for him? "No," he said.

"Then why should I accept your late paper?"

"Because it was just a 2 page paper. It's not as important as an exam."

"So, the fact that I gave you instructions on how to do this 2 weeks in advance, full of concrete examples how to do this well, suggests that this assignment is not worthy of your time?"

"Well, no."

I then pointed out that I would not demean the other students' grades, who bothered to turn their papers in on time, by grading his late work.

Before he left I asked him if he thought if he failed to turn into a report that was due at work that his boss would let that slip. He responded:

"But if I wasn't at work the day he said he wouldn't accept this report late, then it wouldn't be my fault."

"Well," I said " you would be fired before you had that conversation for failure to show up to work and failure to do your job."

UPDATE: Scott Lemieux sent traffic my way. Go read the comments on his post. I should also add (to those confused about this story) that I had announced my late work policy the first day of class. And, I should've titled this post "Another Future Lawyer."