Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Late Withdrawals

This has happened at least once a semester since I took this job. A student who has been underperforming all semester--turning in half-assed homework assignments, missing a lot of class, earning failing grades on exams--realizes suddenly that he or she is going to fail the class. But it's after the late withdrawal deadline, so there's no simple way to get out of it. So they write me an email or come to my office and ask me to give them permission to obtain a late withdrawal.

Now, it's really not in my power to simply grant the late withdrawal. It is in my power to let the dean know that, in my view, the student has a legitimate reason for the withdrawal, and unless I do this, the dean will not normally consider the student's request. But it's not as though the dean acts on my say-so. It's the dean's prerogative, and I can't imagine that my input would count for much.

I am nevertheless asked to grant late withdrawals all the time, and since it's university policy to grant late withdrawals only in cases of extreme extenuating circumstances (or it ought to be), I always ask what the extenuating circumstances are. In several cases, the extenuating circumstances have been, "I will fail the class unless you let me withdraw." These student thereby demonstrate incomprehension of the meaning of the expression 'extenuating circumstances.' One time the student told me that since the university has already taken her money, the F on her transcript would be a "double punishment." I mean, where to begin?

My guess is that most of this stems from a pervasive It Doesn't Hurt To Ask mindset. But in typical cases, the student is persistent--making several requests over the course of days or weeks. And I've had a couple of students send me borderline belligerent emails, or go over my head and complain to my chair about this. I like my job a lot, and although I have been compelled by these experiences to reflect upon the justification for assigning grades and holding students responsible for their academic performance, overall I find this aspect of it really, really annoying.

--Mr. Zero

45 comments:

Anonymous said...

What does it hurt you to just grant the request? Why not do them a favor? They're clearly struggling. Does it make a big difference to you if they can withdraw at not? It costs you nothing. Does it make you feel better to exercise that kind of power over them?

Anonymous said...

My advice: always grant the request. It makes your life easier. A committee (or dean) will ultimately make the decision and then it's not your fault b/c you supported them.

Moreover, if this person ever gets their shit together and tries to come back to the university, you don't really want a bunch of bad grades to be the deterrent from them coming back and actually being successful.

Mr. Zero said...

No, it does not make me feel good to exercise power over them. I hate it. But I think it's important to hold students responsible for their work.

The students at my university are permitted to drop classes almost without penalty very late in the semester. And then the student comes to me in the 14th week of a 16-week semester and says, let me drop the class or else I won't get into the pre-med/architecture/nursing program. I don't feel right about it. I think it should be hard to get into programs like that. And I think students should be held responsible for the work they do in their college courses. Otherwise, it's hard for me to see the point of assigning grades or keeping track of a person's academic performance at all.

Maybe I'm thinking about this wrong. If so, I'd be happy to be shown why. But the idea that I'm on a power trip or that I should just grant every request that comes across my desk because it doesn't directly hurt me personally is way, way off.

Anonymous said...

The early commenters actually did give various good reasons.

"And I think students should be held responsible for the work they do in their college courses." Straw man much? Given how strongly you feel about the cognate issues, you can be confident that no one will be able to come up with reasons that convince you differently.

For many of the rest of us, granting a "late withdrawal" merely recognizes that a student wasn't really taking the class anyway. We prefer to avoid an even worse outcome--and we aren't preoccupied with official enrollment status.

Mostly Anonymous said...

I guess I don't understand what withdrawal deadlines are for in the first place. I can see why you would always want to include notation in the transcript, like a W or some such, to indicate that a student withdrew from a class. I can see some reasons for also including notation about the grade the student had earned up to his or her withdrawal, like a W-F or some such. But especially in cases where the grade is not yet fully determined -- e.g. in many of my classes, 25-50% of the course grade comes in the last week with a final paper and/or final exam -- I don't think academic standards offer a compelling reason to keep students from withdrawing all the way up to the end of the course.

In any event, part of your calculation in deciding whether or not to pass along the late withdrawal request should be what others in your position do. This is like grades and performance reviews. You want the student's grades to give potential employers and professional schools as accurate a way of comparing the student to other students as is possible. (The absolute grade is meaningless.) If the majority of instructors pass along late withdrawal requests and you do not, then the student is at a disadvantage relative to his or her peers for no good reason.

Anonymous said...

Why not just give all of your students As in the first place so this never comes up? It would be easier for you and the students. Get over yourself and do the students a favor.

Xenophon said...

Let me try to present a good case for being generous with late withdrawals. I'm not sure how I'll do.

What's the purpose of having Fs in college? They indicate that someone didn't learn the material in a course. Anyone who didn't take the course didn't learn the material, but they don't get an F. The reason for Bs, Cs, even Ds is that they indicate what a student did learn -- not enough for an A, but they learned something. An F can indicate that too, but it can also indicate that the person learned nothing -- forgot to drop the course, for example, and didn't realize it was on his schedule until too late in the game. What's the advantage of giving the latter type an F, rather than letting him withdraw? He's like the guy who never signed up for the class in the first place.

So what about people who did little in the class (little homework, little attendance, little concern) but indicated they knew they were in the course? It seems to me that they should be allowed to earn the F ("hey, look, I tried") or they should be allowed to exit with dignity before the final ("I haven't taken this course seriously enough to earn the gentleman's F").

The only reason to force someone to take an F, I'd argue, is if they go through the final, thinking they'll eek out a C or a D, but just don't manage it. It might make us feel good to issue punitive Fs ("ah, you didn't observe the drop date, so you will be punished"), but I can't see any other reason for them.

How's that sound?

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:50: when you grant these requests, you aren't simply doing them a favor. You are going on record as vouching for their having a reason that the University considers sufficiently extenuating. If you just grant it to make their lives easier, *you are lying*. You are also misleading people at other schools to which this student might transfer, etc. grades convey information, notably about the amount of effort a student put into a class, even if they do so in a broad way only. And so on. Your job is to teach people, part of which involves having the grades students receive at least somewhat accurately reflect the performance of students in your class. A student might ask nicely to have you change a C to an A, because then they could get into a better grad school. But it is, basically, wrong to do so. It constitutes an act of deception on your part. The fact that such deception benefits a student is beside the point.

Anonymous said...

This sounds like one of those administrative topics that you can address on day 1, in the syllabus or just verbally in class. Students often seem less persistent when you can remind them that they were forewarned of the standards.

zombie said...

I have not often had these requests, but I don't recall ever getting one where the student did not have extenuating circumstances, like family illness, or some such. In any case, the student generally volunteered the reason, and I took their word for it.

However, I always ALWAYS remind my students that the end of the drop without penalty period is nigh, so if they have any reason to withdraw, they should. This doesn't work if they don't come to class to hear my reminder, of course. I also put it on the syllabus. Too much hand-holding, perhaps, but less grief for me in the end.

I had a student come to me once two semesters after the class, to ask me to sign some form so that she could have the course withdrawal removed from her transcript. She did have a legit reason, and the ultimate decision was out of my hands, so I did it.

I kind of look at students learning responsibility the same way that I look at them learning to write. By the time they're in my class, they should have learned it about 8 years earlier. I tend to think that it's a bit late for me to personally teach them to write or develop a sense of personal responsibility. But perhaps this is me kicking the can down the road, just like the teacher before me did. So some employer or grad school will have to deal with it.

Bobcat said...

Mr. Zero,

I think my attitudes with regard to student conduct are similar to your own. I hate not honoring requests like that. But at the same time, I also hate honoring them. A student who makes such a request very typically was just not paying attention to the course, didn’t take it very seriously, and hopes that you do what she wants. She’s often willing to put in a lot of time, and is willing to use underhanded tactics, to get her way. Indeed, she often works harder at getting her way than she does in many of her courses. If you give in to her, you are not only being deceptive, as another commenter noted, but you also make her a worse person and you make yourself a worse person.

You make her a worse person by encouraging her to continue in her illusion of thinking that the way to get success is not to do anything productive, but merely to apply emotional (or sometimes even legal) pressure. This caters to a dark motive in her psyche, and it’s one you’re obligated to refrain from nourishing. (Side-note: it may very well be true that such a student is under no illusion, but is in fact right that the way to get success is through manipulation. But even if she’s right, it’s bad for her to achieve high social status through manipulation, and it’s bad for society to have such people in positions of authority.)

It makes you a worse person by encouraging you to act against your own rightly-held standards. If you’re like me, the reason you want to satisfy the student is that you don’t want the (all-too-considerable) hassle of dealing with a belligerent student, nor do you look forward to the anxiety you’ll doubtless feel over whether you made the right decision. But (again, if you’re like me) the anxiety-avoiding voice whispering in your ear is not motivated by morality but rather by prudence: it’s trying to convince you to do the wrong thing, and the reason it’s telling you that is that it (er…you) wants you to avoid pain. But trust me: the more you give in to that voice, the stronger it gets in the future, and the worse you become. You’ll never really be happy with the version of you who becomes a wimp in the face of unreasonable demands.

Don’t do it!

Anonymous said...

I'm going to make two quick comments, just to give you a slightly different perspective. First, one concern I have about changing grades (say from a B+ to an A-, say) is that the word might get around that you are OK with this sort of thing, and students will come knocking. So one might also consider whether students are abusing your generosity in this regard (this only applies if there are many of these requests). If students have a legitimate reason, that is a different issue though. Second, I sometimes have students who don't do any real work and receive a clear F. But there are other students who do some work that is very substandard; somewhere between an F and a high F (if that makes sense). I often give these students a D simply because I am horrified of these students having to retake the course with one of my colleagues (the course is required). It just seems an unfortunate thing to do to one of my colleagues. At least with the D one doesn't have to see them again, and I can't see that it really benefits them all that much. They clearly don't intend to do much work in the class.

Anonymous said...

A few further considerations in favor of Mr. Zero's course of action. First of all, a student who enrolls in a course only to drop it very late has taken up a space in the class, space another student might have wanted and appreciated. If they have turned in some (substandard) work, they have also wasted the graders time, and detracted from the attention given other students. This might be a reason not to encourage this kind of behavior by allowing students to dodge the consequences.

Secondly, it seems likely that this kind of behavior on the part of students, where one give a half-assed try and then bails out if it is not successful enough, will be harmful to the student in the long run. Allowing the student to get away with this kind of behavior might encourage him/her to do the same in other classes down the road. This is likely to harm his or her academic prospects down the road. This is a bit paternalistic, but some paternalism is probably warranted with students.

Anonymous said...

Why is your university asking instructors to testify as to student's extenuating circumstances? I see late drop forms all the time but the only part I, as the instructor, am consulted on is whether they've earned a grade for the course and the last assignment they completed and the last time they attended. These are things I know about and information I'm in a position to supply. I'm not well placed to know whether the student's grandmother actually died or the details of their illness and my institution wisely doesn't ask me to pretend to be. That's what the dean of students is for. This seems to me to be primarily a problem of misplaced responsibility.

Mr. Zero said...

Various people,

granting a "late withdrawal" merely recognizes that a student wasn't really taking the class anyway.

I'm sorry, but I don't know what you're talking about. How does "doing the work at a failing level" or "not doing the work at all" add up to " not taking the class"? In at least one school I've been affiliated with, it was possible to assign a grade of "never attended" if the student was registered but had never attended. Of course, you were also entitled to assign an F in that situation, too. But that's not the kind of thing I'm talking about. If you're registered, you know it, and you show up ever, and especially if you submit work, you're taking the class.

if this person ever gets their shit together and tries to come back to the university, you don't really want a bunch of bad grades to be the deterrent from them coming back and actually being successful.

This is something I worry about: are the consequences of the penalty disproportionate to the offense? Sometimes I think they are. But...

when you grant these requests, you aren't simply doing them a favor. You are going on record as vouching for their having a reason that the University considers sufficiently extenuating. If you just grant it to make their lives easier, *you are lying*.

The first time I got one of these things, I had a long email exchange with someone in the Dean's office in which I tried to get an answer to this question: what, specifically, would I be asserting if I were to give my permission for a late withdrawal? Would I be simply saying that the Dean has my permission to consider the case, or would I be saying that in my judgment the student had a legitimate excuse?

The answer was, I'd be saying that in my judgment the excuse was legitimate. And for a variety of integrity-related reasons of the sort Bobcat mentions, I am hesitant to tell the Dean that I think there is a legitimate excuse when I don't think there is one.

And let me also say that I have a standard policy of cutting people slack. I try to be as generous as I can with students who come to me in the 14th week and say, "I haven't been doing well so far; I think I'm going to fail; is there anything I can do to salvage my grade?" In my view, a student like this who works hard and does well on the final does not deserve a failing grade.

Why is your university asking instructors to testify as to student's extenuating circumstances?

I don't know.

Anonymous said...

Aug 3 7:24 am here:

Zero and others. The reasons universities have drop deadlines doesn't have anything to do with grades, it's about tuition. Usually tuition is returned in full by one date and then is prorated until a date for which there is no refund. So, let' separate out this issue from the issue of grading and the responsibility for that.

I think you are over thinking this Mr. Zero. If the student hasn't taken the final, then, in my view, it is in your best interest to just grant the requests. They will have already, literally, paid for the class and that might be punishment enough. If you are sympathetic to my earlier comment, then you don't want to have future harms that you could have prevented unjustly.

Like you, I worked at a university that allowed W and WF which indicated that the student was failing at the time of the withdrawal. But I thought it very rare that I should grant the WF (only if the final had been taken).

And if you don't grant the request and the student wins at the next level and there is always a next level, you look like a ass. It just isn't worth all this trouble.

Finally, you don't have access to all the information, and to be honest, you don't really want to be. You don't want to have to make the decisions for which you are not epistemically in the clear. Just grant the requests.

Imagine the student taking your e-mails to the appeal committee. It's just a mess. You will have a hard time coming off in a good light.

Unless you have a really good reason to not grant this, I really think you should just grant these requests.

There are other issues: does your university have grade replacement policy? What do others in your department do? Some campuses clearly have different cultures. But I would be shocked if most of the people in your department don't lean toward a more liberal "grant the request" policy.

Finally, you might ask this: What good, to the student, is it to deny the request? From my experience, there are so few students who go through this trouble that it is typically legit or they are crazy and you don't want to be a part of it.

And I would be willing to be that those students who you want to "learn" something from this, wont', but those who you made it more difficult for in an already difficult situation won't remember you fondly.

Anonymous said...

Mr Zero:

Isn't this pretty simple? You've been told that the content of the speech act of approving the request is that you judge the excuse to be legitimate. You don't judge the excuses to be legitimate in this case. You aren't a liar, and if you granted one of these requests and the administration sent you a follow-up message asking 'do you really think this is legitimate?,' you'd say 'no.'

There are a lot of dishonest people on this thread. What a bummer.

Anonymous said...

7:24/9:53 here again.

To 11:46. It isn't that some of us are dishonest, and I don't believe that a dean rubber stamps what ever the faculty member says.

The places I have worked, it goes to a committee or dean and the student has to explain to them why the deserve it. Whether you assent or not doesn't grant or defeat the request.

Moreover, I am not dishonest, I just have a very high threshold for what is needed to refuse the request. Typically the student has to have completed the class and work and wants to retroactively drop. Or to put it another way, I have a very low threshold for what it takes to grant the request.

Believe it or not, faculty aren't the last say in this process no matter how they judge it. And if you realize most of these policies are a function of tuition concerns, you might not be so righteous about things.

This is far from being dishonest.

Anonymous said...

I'm with 11:39, who suggested the syllabus as the place to deal with this.

When I made a syllabus calendar, I always include (in boldface) the Add/Drop deadline and the W deadline.

I also verbally remind them of these in-class. I also state that late withdraw requests will only be granted in 'extenuating circumstances' and then go on to give examples (e.g., a case of mono or other serious long-term illness), and clearly state that the fact that you are going to fail is not an extenuating circumstance.

I still get maybe 1 request for a late withdraw for every 3 courses I teach (1 or 2 per semester with a 3/3), but then at least they usually have a good reason and I can grant it.

The syllabus is like a contract now. If they stay in the class after the add/drop deadline, they are signing that contract, and you can hold them to it without feeling bad, as long as you've carefully stated what flies and what doesn't fly in your classroom.

You might get slagged re: this policy on ratemyprofessor.com but, who cares, really? If anything it just keeps students away who are likely to make late withdraw requests.

Anonymous said...

I don't know what your definition of "dishonest" is 7:24/9:53/12:56, but it seems pretty clear that the following are true:

As 11:46 points out, Mr Zero has been told that he has been asked to answer something like the following question: "Do the circumstances in this case count as extenuating?"

To approve the request, in Mr Zero's case, would be to respond affirmatively to that question, and because he does not believe the answer is yes, doing so would constitute lying (in my - likely widely shared - opinion).

Now, no one called you dishonest for your personal practice. Perhaps where you teach granting such requests constitutes a different action (not, for example, testifying that you believe the circumstances to be extenuating but simply allowing someone else to make a decision).

However, if you are recommending Mr Zero perform an action that would constitute lying, you are recommending Mr Zero be dishonest. It seems to me that you are recommending Mr Zero lie. You are furthermore doing so while citing reasons that it would be instrumentally beneficial for him (he risks not "coming off in a good light", he won't be "remembered fondly" by the student, and most explicitly: "it is in your best interest to just grant the requests")

It's hard not to see you as endorsing the path of least resistance instead of the path of the right and the good. This might not be dishonest, exactly, but it's certainly not virtuous.

Mr Zero: If you think there are not extenuating circumstances, and you are being asked whether there are extenuating circumstances, then perform the action that amounts to the act of informing the administration that in your opinion there are no extenuating circumstances. That is, deny the request.

Anonymous said...

Part of my argument is that you don't know the path of the right and the good in this instance. You don't have all the facts.

I also don't believe the instructor is the end of the line whether or not Zero grants or doesn't grant the request. I believe the dean's office didn't understand Zero's question (administration can be that way).

Instead of asking those of us not familiar with your institution, ask someone there about the norms of the university, college, and department.

Lots of things come into play: does your university have a grade replacement policy where classes can be retaken to replace a grade? If not, you might have a different view. Does your university have a tuition refund policy which was the driving force behind the late withdrawal deadline.

I still contend I am not dishonest. And use my judgement to do the least overall harm.

I have worked at three universities and have tenure now. I have seen a lot of different policies that all try to do the right thing. If you honestly think this student deserves and F (what ever criterial you may have), then deny them.

But if you think your job isn't to met out punishment with incomplete knowledge, then have a more measured approach to what you are trying to achieve as a professor.

A nice guiding principle: "don't be a dick and don't put yourself in a position to come off as a dick"

Let this student go on their way and try again when ready.

Anonymous said...

The stuff mentioned a few comments above about this issue having to do with tuition refunds is complete B.S. No school refunds tuition that late in the game. The only way it might be an issue at some schools is if the withdrawal drops a student below full time status. But normally, if a student is full time, the tuition is what it is whether you drop courses or not (and the refund period for those who are not full time ends, at most institutions at least, after the first couple weeks of classes.

Anonymous said...

Let me, the supposed dishonest one, add one last comment. You're ability to make a decision is based on what the student tells you and how honest you think they are for the most part. Often you won't actually ask students for proof and for good reason. Let's look at some cases:

(a) A female student tells you she needs to withdraw late for personal reasons. You press her and she tells you any number of things: (i) she is being battered by her boyfriend and needs to escape to her family home; (ii) she had a miscarriage early in the semester and wasn't able to recover from this trauma; (iii) she was date raped and wants to leave school, but didn't file a police report.

Now, not one of those situations are you going to ask for proof. I have had two of these presented to me over the years. You are, more than likely, not prepared to handle these situations. In one case, I walked the student down to the counseling center. I know I wasn't prepared. And to ask for proof would be odd to say the least.

Now instead of (i)-(iii) the student might tell you something else. Something that doesn't embarrass them, but that you might believe or accept.

Why deny them. You are in no position to really deal with these cases.

And I might add, there are very view cases like (i)-(iii) above that will work for a guy. So, there is a gender inequity that might arise if these things happen.

How about this as an excuse from a student: I realize I am an alcoholic/drug addict and I need to go to rehab. Would you let this person out of your class?

My general point is that over the years, those people who ask you to let them out more than likely need out for any number of reasons. Don't make is more difficult on yourself or them when the main reason for drop deadlines are really about tuition. How much a school as to give back if you quit a class.

If you think my being skeptical of the reasons for late drop policies by universities and my concern for not causing unnecessary harm to students makes me dishonest, then so be it. At least I'm not a dick. I bet you are the instructor who doesn't let the students go to the bathroom during an exam. God forbid someone might have had too much coffee before the exam and have to go pee.

Anonymous said...

If you don't think tuition refunding is an issue, you don't know how a university runs. I did a search for "tuition refund" and here is a random policy from a university in Maine.

http://usm.maine.edu/catalogs/undergraduate/financial_info.htm#withdrawal

Now not all schools are the same, but my point was that a drop deadline is about tuition dollars NOT about grades or pedagogy.

Once you have this kind of policy of no refund but people still need to get out, you need to have a mechanism -- that's the late withdrawal.

As someone with more than 10 years on the job, I try to make comments here to help the grad students and job seekers.

One thing that I notice, and this might come across in your interviews is that you don't know how shit works. Sure, you know about the "Mind" argument or all the failed solutions to "Moral Luck" but you don't understand how a university works or the point and value of an education.

Talk to some people who have been around a bit and try to think of yourself in the broader function of the university and things might work out better for you. (I know the market really sucks. I am sorry for that.)

Anonymous said...

A tangential point but one worth making. 7:30: it is not gender inequity that these scenarios might arise with a female but not a male student. It is not somehow unfair to men that they are overwhelmingly unlikely to be battered, or date raped, and incapable of miscarrying themselves (although when partners miscarry, this does sometimes affect men very deeply also). I can't believe I have to say this, but those are horrible things to have happen to you; it's not inequity that female students might be more inclined to drop out mid-semester because of trauma like that. It's inequity that these things happen more often to them such that they are more likely to use these reasons. Think for a minute about this stuff before you write it.

Mostly Anonymous said...

A question relevant to honesty in the present case: is a "legitimate excuse" the same as having had an "extenuating circumstance"? The former is what the dean's office told Zero he would be committed to asserting. The latter is what we are all sure (by hypothesis) the student doesn't have. If the two are the same, and if you think truth-telling is morally better than avoiding certain harms to the student, then you ought to deny the request. At least, that's my reaction so far ... maybe I'm missing something, not being an ethicist.

Anyway, why think that an excuse (what is that anyway -- a reason? a good reason? a particular kind of good reason?) is legitimate only if it comes from an extenuating circumstance? For me, the excuse/reason, "I am probably going to fail the course," is already good enough. Given my admittedly low standard for "legitimate excuse," I would consider myself perfectly honest in passing along the request to the Dean. What I -- as a member of the "dishonest" crowd, evidently -- is trying to convince you (Zero) of is that even if a student doesn't have extenuating circumstances, his or her interest in not failing the class is already good enough reason to grant the late withdrawal request. Or slightly weaker, that it is good enough reason for the student to be heard by the Dean or review committee or whatever the next step is.

What I am *not* trying to convince you of is that you ought to grant the request despite (1) thinking that the student does not have a legitimate excuse/reason for late withdrawal and (2) thinking that truth-telling is morally better than avoiding some harms to the student.

Alternatively, one might try to convince you to give up (2), say by arguing that the harm to the student from not forwarding the request is greater in most such cases than the harm avoided (good done?) by truth-telling. One might call a person pushing such an argument "dishonest," though I think that would be misleading. In any event, they are separate arguments.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:59,

First of all, you obviously work for the University of Maine.

Second, "As someone with more than 10 years on the job" makes you sound like a snooty bastard with no credibility. Work on your delivery.

Third, "you don't understand how a university works or the point and value of an education" makes you sound like a know-it-all. Please expound and generously share your bounty of wisdom about the value and point of an education.

Third, crawl back under the rock in Maine you came out from under.

Anonymous said...

I take it that one incentive to have a strict withdrawal deadline is that universities want to maintain standards that will force their students to try harder than they would otherwise. In my (admittedly limited) experience teaching intro courses as a grad student, each semester I've encountered numerous students who realize they are failing after the drop deadline and see that it's time to nut up or shut up. These students work hard and ultimately earn a passing grade. My interactions with such students suggest that if there were no deadline, they'd slack off until just before the final exam and then drop the course. I think they’re better off with the deadline in place. Perhaps this is paternalistic, but I think Anon 8:11 is correct in suggesting that paternalism applied to undergrads might be justified.

Anonymous said...

Look, this part is just false:
"...[Y]ou don't know the path of the right and the good in this instance. You don't have all the facts."


Like I said, maybe in YOUR case at YOUR institution more facts are relevant where you don't know.

But in this case, Mr Zero has clearly stated that he is being asked if, in his opinion, there are extenuating circumstances. He's being asked what he believes, and he believes that to his knowledge there is not evidence of extenuating circumstances.

Surely he is not expected to be a PI, he is expected to ask the student and act on his assessment of the situation. He's not asked to be omniscient, but simply to make a judgment call. A judgment call that amounts to a testimony of his beliefs.

I'm all for being cautious in forming beliefs, and perhaps in some circumstances, Mr Zero does have reason to believe there are extenuating circumstances. In those instances, he should grant the request. But these do not seem to be the cases he's asking us about.

Maybe try reading the rest of my post at 5:38 and respond to it. Because it seems like a pretty clear case of knowing what is right to do. Mr Zero's case, that is.

polyhymnia said...

I'm with 8:28. I've been at my university for more than ten years. Here the instructor plays no role in deciding whether a student may drop my course after the deadline, so fortunately I don't have to face Mr. Zero's dilemma. But a student saves no money at all by dropping a class, so the policy governing drops has nothing to do with tuition.

Anonymous said...

As a preface, I think there are legitimate excuses for a late withdrawal but since Zero's post was concerned with those cases that did not have legitimate excuses I am focusing on that.

No student wants a failing grade. If you grant the request of a student who asks to drop the class because "otherwise they are going to fail" then you are being radically unfair to every other student in the class (including the ones who are failing but not asking for a withdrawal) because you are admitting that the student not liking the grade he or she will receive is sufficient reason for not accepting that grade. If you hold to the "grant every request" ideal then you should never give out F's.

The "you don't have all the facts" works just as well for any other grade as it does for an F: a brilliant student might be going through family troubles and so isn't focused on your class and earns a C rather than the A she would have earned in optimal conditions. If you hold to the "ignorance is bliss" ideal than its not even clear you should be giving out grades of pass/fail let alone differentiating between an A- and a B+.

Our job is to assess the work done and for that we have only the material presented to us by the student, granting every withdrawal request is abdicating our responsibility. Assigning an F is not a punishment it is a grade. You aren't a dick if you give an honest appraisal of the work done (you are a dick if you give a grade lower than the person deserves because you dislike that person or, alternately, if you give a grade higher than the person deserves because you like that person).

* all the late withdrawal forms (obviously Zero's school is different) of which I am familiar have three options: support, do not oppose, and oppose. I like the "do not oppose" option.

** in my experience students that ask for a withdrawal in the 14th week of class (and this is the first time that you have seen them in your office) never have legit excuses.

Anonymous said...

I'm interested in the idea that recommending a withdrawal involves dishonesty. Think of the rules of a university as akin to the rules of a game. They say that the move [recommend withdrawal] is appropriate iff one also makes the move [approve excuse]. The charge of dishonesty sticks only if making the move [approve excuse] involves saying, literally, and falsely, that the excuse in question is a good one. But this strikes me as doubly dubious: first, because it's not obvious that one can't make the move in question without communicating anything more than a willingness to make the move, and take responsibility for its consequences (surely one's judgment about the legitimacy of the relevant system of rules is relevant here ...); and second, because, even if there is some communication as to the goodness of the excuse, it's not clear that it needs to be good in the sense of 'one that you, the dean, in my judgment, ought to accept' rather than the sense of 'one that i am not willing or able to say that you, the dean, should not accept'.

Anonymous said...

Hey 7:59. I have never even been to Maine. Clearly you don't understand the concept of Google + random selection:

Watch me do it again: http://ucollege.wustl.edu/node/364

As for my delivery. Give me a break. It's a blog. Why don't you go back to over editing your dissertation prospectus so that you never get started much less finished.

"Do not oppose" is the general view I was promoting. I like that option.

Anonymous said...

7:59

I think it is inaccurate to say that this is not about grades. Take your random school in Maine:

http://usm.maine.edu/catalogs/undergraduate/policies.htm#p5

To quote in part:

"A student dropping a course after the 60% period will receive an F. The W notation may be assigned after 60% of the course has been completed under unusual circumstances if so determined by the instructor and the dean."

I can understand that you would think that this is a financial matter when you cite the FINANCIAL INFO page. But when inquiring into the matter of academics, as a general policy matter, it would be better to look at a random school's ACADEMIC POLICIES page. You should understand the diff after 10 years on the job.

Cheers!

Anonymous said...

That U of Maine policy is for "those who are withdrawing from the University of Maine System," not those who are withdrawing from one class.


The beginning of the linked policy mentions students who withdraw from all classes.


Let me quote again from U of Maine's policy, from just above the linked material:

"A student who remains registered is not charged for any course dropped during the first two weeks of the semester. The number of times a class meets is not a factor in this determination. Students who drop after the second week receive no refund."

That part about not receiving a refund is in bold on the webpage.

Go back and read the 7:28 again, and pay special attention to the caveat about dropping below full time status. Then ask yourself--who knows about how universities work? Then ask again--who is capable of thoroughly reading material quickly found through a Google search?

And I should add that I assume Zero to not be talking primarily about students who withdraw from the university, but rather full time students who drop one class.

Anonymous said...

7:59/8:43--stop digging yourself a hole. The Wash U website makes it pretty clear that there are no refunds after the first month of class, and the final date for withdrawals comes quite a bit after the "no refunds" date. So it says pretty much what the 7:28 post suggested.

Anonymous said...

Well I've never been to Maine
But I kinda like the lobsters
The Drop Policy's insane there
But the kids know how to use it...

Anonymous said...

It seems to me people are talking past one another here. Please distinguish between "add/drop" vs. "withdraw" ... at both universities I taught at, if you dropped before the "add/drop" deadline you got your money back or could pick another course to replace that one, but if you withdrew (before or after the W deadline) you didn't and couldn't.

For many students, the distinction is completely irrelevant because their mom and dad have already paid "tuition" in a lump sum for the year, so they can do whatever they want, and they won't see a dime back. For those paying per course, of course, it's different. But I've never seen a school give financial credit or a refund for a W.

Those who are concerned about withdrawing after the W deadline are usually just concerned with not having an F on their transcript, and it's to their advantage because, at most universities I've come into contact with, they can take the same class later and have that W replaced with an A or a B or whatever they get. That was the case at my undergrad institution, my grad school, and at both universities where I've taught.

I'm with 11:39: nip this in the bud in the syllabus.
Mainly, though, I would recommend a cocktail, as it is now Friday. Don't worry so much. Do the best you can. It will be okay.

Anonymous said...

My large public university has a very strict drop policy in the final three weeks: it must be an extreme hardship (usually serious illness), they must drop all their classes, and they must reapply for admission in the future. This is all verified by the dean's office, not the instructor.

Their rationale for this (and for a limit on the number of regular drops earlier in the semester) is that many qualified students are not being admitted and many who are being admitted can't get classes they need. If it were easy to drop, especially late in the semester (the administration argues), then too many students would be encouraged to keep trying courses until they only finished those with high grades -- thus denying seats to other students.

It's brutal, but makes sense, in terms of the problems we have accommodating all eligible students.

Anonymous said...

New post! The job market season is fast aproaching

Anonymous said...

I'm the original anonymous commenter in this thread. I want to follow up on what I originally said:

1. Most philosophy grades in many or most classes are bullsh** anyway. I've taken several philosophy classes at UT Austin and they consisted mostly of students and teachers "shooting the sh**" with each other, in a discussion that was only loosely tied to an excerpt from a classic philosophy text. Eventually we had to write a paper that could only be graded on the most subjective, and even arbitrary, of standards - mostly because philosophy deals with very abstract concepts that are difficult to test.

2. In view of 1 above, grades in philosophy mostly measure how hard a person tried in class, rather than philosophical talent, ability, or even knowledge. They will measure attendance, how often the person asked intelligent questions in class, how long their paper is, with how many citations, and how lacking in basic typing and formatting errors it is, etc. But it will not well measure what it is supposed to measure: the person's philosophical abilities or handle on the course material. It's almost impossible to do that. If we were honest, we would admit that even if a reborn Socrates or Nietzsche wrote a paper for your class, you wouldn't give it an A++.

3. The above is less true for later and graduate level courses. But it is certainly true for philosophy 101 type courses, which are probably generating the bulk of the requests discussed here.

4. There is virtually no topic in philosophy 101 that a determined student cannot write a good paper on after watching a couple of Youtube videos, without having attended any philosophy 101 classes. If, as a philosophy professor, you think that your abilities are so good that you can appreciably teach them better than a few Youtube videos on the same subject matter, you're deluding yourself. Philosophy is simply not that exact, and the basic concepts in Philosophy 101 (e.g. Plato's cave) are not that complex.

5. In view of the above, basic philosophy class grades are misleading. They might measure something, but it is hardly what they are supposed to measure, and then only with a ton of noise.

6. Yet these grades, like others, help determine the fate of which students go to which graduate programs in philosophy, law, medicine, etc.

7. When policies are not strictly enforced, philosophy professors have no vested interest in ensuring that their students strictly obey those policies. It costs you nothing, and benefits you nothing, to let the person drop the class or not. If anything, you have to grade one less paper. In a perfect world, you simply wouldn't care, because you have better things to do with your time.

Anonymous said...

I'm the original anonymous commenter in this thread. I want to follow up on what I originally said:

1. Most philosophy grades in many or most classes are bullsh** anyway. I've taken several philosophy classes at UT Austin and they consisted mostly of students and teachers "shooting the sh**" with each other, in a discussion that was only loosely tied to an excerpt from a classic philosophy text. Eventually we had to write a paper that could only be graded on the most subjective, and even arbitrary, of standards - mostly because philosophy deals with very abstract concepts that are difficult to test.

2. In view of 1 above, grades in philosophy mostly measure how hard a person tried in class, rather than philosophical talent, ability, or even knowledge. They will measure attendance, how often the person asked intelligent questions in class, how long their paper is, with how many citations, and how lacking in basic typing and formatting errors it is, etc. But it will not well measure what it is supposed to measure: the person's philosophical abilities or handle on the course material. It's almost impossible to do that. If we were honest, we would admit that even if a reborn Socrates or Nietzsche wrote a paper for your class, you wouldn't give it an A++.

3. The above is less true for later and graduate level courses. But it is certainly true for philosophy 101 type courses, which are probably generating the bulk of the requests discussed here.

4. There is virtually no topic in philosophy 101 that a determined student cannot write a good paper on after watching a couple of Youtube videos, without having attended any philosophy 101 classes. If, as a philosophy professor, you think that your abilities are so good that you can appreciably teach them better than a few Youtube videos on the same subject matter, you're deluding yourself. Philosophy is simply not that exact, and the basic concepts in Philosophy 101 (e.g. Plato's cave) are not that complex.

5. In view of the above, basic philosophy class grades are misleading. They might measure something, but it is hardly what they are supposed to measure, and then only with a ton of noise.

6. Yet these grades, like others, help determine the fate of which students go to which graduate programs in philosophy, law, medicine, etc.

7. When policies are not strictly enforced, philosophy professors have no vested interest in ensuring that their students strictly obey those policies. It costs you nothing, and benefits you nothing, to let the person drop the class or not. If anything, you have to grade one less paper. In a perfect world, you simply wouldn't care, because you have better things to do with your time.

Anonymous said...

PART 2:

8. If you are concerned about integrity, think about the following:

A. a person of integrity would care about the disproportion between the harm of giving the kid an F and allegedly stretching the "no late withdrawals" rule;

B. a person of integrity does not perfectly follow every little institutional policy with 100% zeal, if the policy is silly, poorly enforced, and could ruin someone's chances at entering a top graduate program or getting a good job. This policy, like most bureaucratic policies, is trivial and can admit generous exceptions without serious harm to anyone;

C. a person of integrity does not go out of his way to harm someone who has not harmed him - he goes out of his way find ways to not harm people who have not harmed him;

D. a professor's job is to protect the interests of his students (his customers) and to nurture their minds, not to give them the shaft. If you repeatedly have to shaft your students to achieve the goal of nurturing their mind, you're doing it wrong;

E. if you let the kid withdraw, it is not as if you're giving him a fake A. You're simply letter him retry. He can't graduate without all of the necessary credits. So he will still have to take a class, do the work, and get a passing grade.

F. the reason why you are having this discussion, and had the long email exchange with the dean, is because this is a gray area in which discretion is allowed, and the policy is not strictly enforced - some professors enforce it more than others. In other words, you are de facto allowed to do whatever you want as a professor. So why are you going out of your way to shaft your students? If it is because you think that, if you don't, you'll be lying and tainting your honor, your head seems too big.

G. I would seriously, seriously examine the possibility that your real reasons and motivations for shafting your students are not identical to your stated rationalizations for doing so. Human beings are amazing at deluding ourselves, or rationalizing actions that we already want to take. I get the impression that you already wanted to strictly enforce this policy, and give your students the shaft - probably because you think that you and your class are important, and you felt a little insulted when they didn't pay attention at all and then tried to drop it. How dare they try to drop your class! It is the greatest class in the world, and you are the greatest professor - you'll show them, by being a late withdrawal Nazi. A person of integrity also has an appropriate level of humility.

If I'm right about this, then you didn't think of the situation in terms of harming someone who hasn't harmed you - which it is. Rather, you thought of it in terms of an eye for an eye (or maybe an arm and an eye for an eye). That, at least, would explain your harsh behavior.

There is a lot more I could say...

Anonymous said...

8. If you are concerned about integrity, think about the following:

A. a person of integrity would care about the disproportion between the harm of giving the kid an F and allegedly stretching the "no late withdrawals" rule;

B. a person of integrity does not perfectly follow every little institutional policy with 100% zeal, if the policy is silly, poorly enforced, and could ruin someone's chances at entering a top graduate program or getting a good job. This policy, like most bureaucratic policies, is trivial and can admit generous exceptions without serious harm to anyone;

C. a person of integrity does not go out of his way to harm someone who has not harmed him - he goes out of his way find ways to not harm people who have not harmed him;

D. a professor's job is to protect the interests of his students (his customers) and to nurture their minds, not to give them the shaft. If you repeatedly have to shaft your students to achieve the goal of nurturing their mind, you're doing it wrong;

E. if you let the kid withdraw, it is not as if you're giving him a fake A. You're simply letter him retry. He can't graduate without all of the necessary credits. So he will still have to take a class, do the work, and get a passing grade.

F. the reason why you are having this discussion, and had the long email exchange with the dean, is because this is a gray area in which discretion is allowed, and the policy is not strictly enforced - some professors enforce it more than others. In other words, you are de facto allowed to do whatever you want as a professor. So why are you going out of your way to shaft your students? If it is because you think that, if you don't, you'll be lying and tainting your honor, your head seems too big.

G. I would seriously, seriously examine the possibility that your real reasons and motivations for shafting your students are not identical to your stated rationalizations for doing so. Human beings are amazing at deluding ourselves, or rationalizing actions that we already want to take. I get the impression that you already wanted to strictly enforce this policy, and give your students the shaft - probably because you think that you and your class are important, and you felt a little insulted when they didn't pay attention at all and then tried to drop it. How dare they try to drop your class! It is the greatest class in the world, and you are the greatest professor - you'll show them, by being a late withdrawal Nazi. A person of integrity also has an appropriate level of humility.

If I'm right about this, then you didn't think of the situation in terms of harming someone who hasn't harmed you - which it is. Rather, you thought of it in terms of an eye for an eye (or maybe an arm and an eye for an eye). That, at least, would explain your harsh behavior.

There is a lot more I could say...

Anonymous said...

8. If you are concerned about integrity, think about the following:

A. a person of integrity would care about the disproportion between the harm of giving the kid an F and allegedly stretching the "no late withdrawals" rule;

B. a person of integrity does not perfectly follow every little institutional policy with 100% zeal, if the policy is silly, poorly enforced, and could ruin someone's chances at entering a top graduate program or getting a good job. This policy, like most bureaucratic policies, is trivial and can admit generous exceptions without serious harm to anyone;

C. a person of integrity does not go out of his way to harm someone who has not harmed him - he goes out of his way find ways to not harm people who have not harmed him;

D. a professor's job is to protect the interests of his students (his customers) and to nurture their minds, not to give them the shaft. If you repeatedly have to shaft your students to achieve the goal of nurturing their mind, you're doing it wrong;

E. if you let the kid withdraw, it is not as if you're giving him a fake A. You're simply letter him retry. He can't graduate without all of the necessary credits. So he will still have to take a class, do the work, and get a passing grade.

F. the reason why you are having this discussion, and had the long email exchange with the dean, is because this is a gray area in which discretion is allowed, and the policy is not strictly enforced - some professors enforce it more than others. In other words, you are de facto allowed to do whatever you want as a professor. So why are you going out of your way to shaft your students? If it is because you think that, if you don't, you'll be lying and tainting your honor, your head seems too big.

G. I would seriously, seriously examine the possibility that your real reasons and motivations for shafting your students are not identical to your stated rationalizations for doing so. Human beings are amazing at deluding ourselves, or rationalizing actions that we already want to take. I get the impression that you already wanted to strictly enforce this policy, and give your students the shaft - probably because you think that you and your class are important, and you felt a little insulted when they didn't pay attention at all and then tried to drop it. How dare they try to drop your class! It is the greatest class in the world, and you are the greatest professor - you'll show them, by being a late withdrawal Nazi. A person of integrity also has an appropriate level of humility.

If I'm right about this, then you didn't think of the situation in terms of harming someone who hasn't harmed you - which it is. Rather, you thought of it in terms of an eye for an eye (or maybe an arm and an eye for an eye). That, at least, would explain your harsh behavior.

There is a lot more I could say...