Rigid or Accommodating. Where do you draw the line?

Today is the last day for students at VCU to withdraw form a course with a grade of ‘W’. I posted a reminder on Blackboard two weeks ago, and I made an announcement in class on Monday. For most of my students, there is no reason to even consider withdrawing, but there is one student who really should cut his/her losses while there’s still time. This student is late to class every week, and s/he wasn’t present when I made the announcement.  By the time class started, s/he hadn’t completed the last four assignments (two blog posts and two graded homework assignments), and I didn’t have any expectation that the blog post due the following day would appear by the deadline. I’m very clear in the syllabus about the penalty for late submissions, and they are not accepted without requesting prior approval. This student had not requested approval to submit anything late, except the very first assignment that s/he missed… which still had not been submitted six weeks later.

The student hung around after class, and approached me, saying “I sent you an email right before class…” (the email actually had a time stamp of 4:05, and class begins at 4:00). I politely responded that I hadn’t seen the message yet, and asked whether s/he wanted to discuss the content in person. S/he asked whether s/he could have until the end of the week to turn in all of the outstanding work. I reminded him/her about the late submission policy. After pleading his/her case for several minutes, I caved. This is his/her last class. S/he had just finished up some incomplete grades from courses in previous semesters, and it had been a busy time for him/her at work. Since 80% of the students in the class are also working adults with full-time jobs and families, I didn’t feel that s/he had a compelling argument, but I gave in anyway. I agreed to allow the student to submit everything, but I sated that it must be emailed to be before 8:00 a.m. today, and there would be a 20% penalty on each assignment. If I had all the work by 8:00 a.m., I would grade it before 5:00 p.m., so the student could make an informed decision about whether to withdraw. S/he agreed, and I put our agreement in writing via email as soon as I got home that evening.

I was relating this episode to a friend and colleague yesterday, and lamenting the fact that I’d have to spend so much time grading one student’s work, when I should really be grading and giving feedback to the rest of the class on the most recent assignment. She called it. She said, “No, you won’t.” If the student couldn’t get the work turned in one assignment at a time, spread out over 5 weeks, it’s highly unlikely that s/he will turn in all five assignments at once. She was right. By 8:00 a.m., I did not have an email from the student. At 8:15, I logged in to Blackboard and posted grades of zero for each assignment. Then I went back to my email to send the student a message. As I began to compose the message, I received an email from the student with more excuses. S/he had finished the 3 blog assignments but wanted more time to do the homework. S/he even had the audacity to calculate his/her own final grade in the A range, even with the penalties. Of course, the calculation was based on a perfect score on every assignment! His/her rationale for not withdrawing was mostly financial. If s/he withdrew, s/he would have to reimburse his/her employer for the course.

My response: “I’m sorry. Our agreement was that you would submit all of the incomplete assignments to me by 8:00 this morning, and you have not lived up to that agreement. The syllabus is clear about late assignments, and I was generous in my offer to you. I have posted your grades on Blackboard, and you can see the weighted total, which reflects where your cumulative grade stands as of today.” Of course, that wasn’t the end of it. Another message from the student expressing disappointment in my rigid stance and requesting that I at least give feedback on the blog assignments that s/he submitted. Again, against my better judgment, I took the time to read and critique the blog assignments, and they were rubbish. I gave specific feedback about how the response did not fully address the prompts and how the student failed to include relevant content from class or the text. I sent the student my written feedback with the following message…

As I stated in my earlier message, I have been very generous with you already. I have repeatedly emphasized that this course is designed in a way to build your skills incrementally. Research is systematic. There is a process. Each of the topics we cover in class builds on concepts we have covered earlier and enables you to think through the research process step-by-step. In order to be successful, you must keep up with the material. You have not done that.

I have read your responses to Blog Assignments 2, 3, and 4 that you sent this morning, and I have provided my feedback in the attached document. The decision to continue or withdraw from the course is yours to make, but it will be very difficult for you to pass this class considering your progress. I gave you solid, concrete suggestions about how you could proceed with your research proposal when I responded to your first blog post. We had subsequent discussions after class on two occasions where I gave you suggestions. You have not implemented any of my suggestions. You told me you would submit blogs 2 and 3 several weeks ago, but you did not follow through.

I can tell by your blog responses that you have not done the reading. I also know from the Blackboard log files that you did not login to the Blackboard course site for 34 days prior to Monday, which means that you did not even look at the course materials or the homework assignments for almost 5 weeks. You have not made a good faith effort to do any of the work in this class, and I have been more than accommodating. I understand the financial considerations you are facing if you withdraw, but you will face the same considerations if you earn a grade lower than a C, and the low grade will go on your transcript. The decision is yours.

Did I make the right decision?

One Comment on “Rigid or Accommodating. Where do you draw the line?”

  1. Kelly, I am learning a lot from the post. I am doing my best to land a job in a Residential life community in which I know I will constantly be tested to the edge of accommodation. This is painful and so aggravating. Graduate level students, especially those that are there at the kindness of their employer, do not typically behave this way. I have been in my program for so long, that whoever this is, it better not be a counseling education student! I knew of only one student in our program with that undergraduate over-privileged world view, and she did not make it to the end. Of course she might have made it to Research Methods! I have to say, I was feeling terribly behind, only starting my lit review in earnest this weekend, but I feel a whole lot better now:)

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