Syllabus Problems

Jan 2005                                      


38.                This section covers cases where a student may have problems and details the procedures to follow. These procedures are like insurance, they are designed to be a safety net to protect students against unexpected accidents (which can happen to any of us). However if it is abused, as with insurance, costs go up, everyone pays more, and the person who needs it may not get it. If you have a case, please use these procedures. If you don’t, please do not try to abuse the system with the goal of "passing by other means". The only way one should pass this course is by correctly understanding what the course teaches – this learning is indeed what you are paying for.

A. How to complain

39.                Examples. The teaching staff are there to help you, but not to do your learning or work for you. In grading we aim to be fair and unbiased, so really you grade yourselves. Should you, due to your own lack of work or inability to understand the subject, fail this course, or not get the excellent grade you expected, DO NOT do the following (expected responses from your Professor are in brackets – all are actual cases).

a. Cry and plead with your instructor to improve your grade. (Please do not embarrass yourself and me. On this course no points are given for crying and pleading.)

b. Beg your instructor to "Please have mercy on me." (We have never judged you –to change your grade for pity would not be mercy, it would be cheating.)

c. Ask "Please give me another chance.". (This whole course was chances. You had lots of chances. Every assignment was a chance. You will have another chance when the course runs again. If we give you special "chances", is that fair to the other students? Shouldn’t they be given the same options too?)

d. Say "Is there anything I can do to make up the grade?" (Sorry, the course is the course. Each assignment is done once, graded, and that is it. It is ineffectual to re-do work, and re-issue assignments and re-grade them. If we did that, we couldn’t cope. And if you get special extra points, just for you, is that fair to other students?)

e. List the manifold sadnesses of your life, and how your whole life will be destroyed if you do not get a better grade. (Sorry, but we are not causing your life, you are.)

f. Point out that you are "the customer", and paid for this course, and entitled to value for money (You did not pay for a pass, you paid for an opportunity to learn, which was given. At this University, grades are not for sale.)

40.                It is not very useful to send emails demanding your instructor to "explain in full detail" why you got the assignment grade you did. Faculty may not respond to such mails. They have already explained the grading process in detail in the assignment specification, and given class feedback after the grading. In most cases, how your grade arose from this grading is self-evident. Some grades will involve matters of judgement, in which case the instructor’s judgement overrides yours. If you think your work was "brilliant" and your Professor grades it as "inadequate", then the latter grade holds. You may ask for feedback as to why you received a grade (see 16. Student Feedback), or may query your grade because you feel you received the wrong grade (see 41. Querying a Grade).

B. Querying a grade.

41.                Querying a grade. If you wish to query your grades you must raise the issue within two weeks of their return to you. You must make a valid case why your grades should be changed. If you do so, and we have made an error (and this can happen), we will gladly correct your grade immediately. However please understand we do not "negotiate" grades in any way. Do not found your case on "arguments" such as being overloaded, not understanding, and needing a higher grade point average. These have been tried and do not work. Your grade is based solely on what you submit. The procedure for querying grades is:

a. Send a personal email to your instructor, or arrange to visit during office hours

b. Reference and preferably quote the assignment specification and class feedback

c. Propose the score you think you should have got. Make a rational case based on your own completion of the grading schedule given with the assignment

d. Conclude with the score you feel you should have got. Either state that your work was on time, or include late penalties in your calculation.

e. Try to sound polite

If your arguments are valid, your grade will be changed, if not, it won’t.

C. "I misunderstood".

42.                Students come at various times saying they did not understand the requirement for some assignment, and please, give them consideration. We go to great pains to spell out for you all that is required in a clear way, so the response is always the same – to pull out the stated requirement to see if it is ambiguous or misleading. Sometimes it may be. In this case the student is always given the benefit of the doubt. However if it isn’t, then there is no case. If a requirement is clearly stated, then it is the student’s responsibility to make sure they understand it. If they don’t, as again is always the case everywhere else in society, the loss is borne by them. Our advice to you all is to always make sure the requirement is clear, and if it isn’t – ask. If you read what is written carefully you really can’t go wrong. Obviously this applies when answering exam questions too – no grades for answering the wrong question, e.g. if asked to define color constancy and you define habituation, then your grader is very sympathetic, but sorry - no points. Ignorance is not an excuse.

E. Incomplete

43.                The purpose of this section is to make clear the requirements for incomplete. If you do not fit these requirements then you should not bother applying since you will not get one, and a refusal can offend. Also you apply once and only once. However the incomplete grade is there for a purpose, so if you fall in that category, please apply.

44.                Definition. The purpose of incomplete is to help students who would normally complete the course but something happens outside their control. The NJIT regulations state:

"Incomplete. This grade is given ONLY IN RARE cases when the student would normally complete the course work but could not because of special circumstances."

a. Rare. Firstly it must be understood that rare means rare – under 5% (1 or maybe 2 in a class of 60). Basically an incomplete means redoing-work already done.

b. Normally complete. Secondly that the instructor must have reason to expect the student would "normally complete" the course – this means a successful assignment record so far. If you come to the first class and break your leg don’t apply for an incomplete – withdraw from the course. If you are not handing in assignments and then break a leg you also will not necessarily have a case for an incomplete – you have to have been "tracking to pass".

c. Special. Lastly that the student has "special" circumstances. This latter means that something happened that was unexpected, and outside the student’s control. Unexpected here means something occurring after the date students can withdraw without penalty that was not predictable before. If a student has a busy job, a sick mother, and ten kids, and then signs up for this course - that does not provide the basis for an incomplete. It means they made a bad choice, and they have to bear the results. Neither does throwing yourself off a bridge work. Even having a baby is usually not unexpected. This may need to be repeated: IF YOU ENTER A COURSE KNOWING YOUR EXPECTED TIME RESOURCES AND THEN FIND THEY ARE NOT ENOUGH TO COMPLETE THE COURSE, THAT IS NOT A BASIS FOR AN INCOMPLETE.

45.                The last two factors may trade-off. Clearly the less of the course a student has completed, the less sure I can be that they would normally pass. Also the less extreme the circumstance they present, the less it can be regarded as "special". So if you have an accident early in the course and have a few days off sick, that is not a case for an incomplete - you can catch up. However if you have an accident the day before a final exam and all your previous grades are good, that may be. In this case you may have to wait until the exam is run next semester, unless we run a special exam just for you. In assignments you are expected to build in some "fat" to allow for unexpected events – this is your personal management. If you always cut time schedules to the last minute then that is your choice, and if some minor thing occurs at the last minute, that is your problem. Where an assignment is graded incomplete you can expect an entirely new assignment to be given.

46.                Incomplete requests must be accompanied by documentary evidence to support the request. You make ONE request with ALL the information, and then a decision is made. You need to provide the following:

a. What has been completed. The assessments you have completed and the grades for each. What your average grade was (as a percentage). What percentage of the course this amounts to. Clearly the less % of the course completed, and the lower the grade, the weaker your case.

b. The unexpected event. The date on which the unexpected event occurred that interfered with your performance on this course, and the date which it ceased to interfere with your performance on this course (i.e. when you "recovered" – this may of course still be "not yet"). State the degree to which your performance was affected over this time, as well as for how long. Provide documentary evidence of this effect and these dates (e.g. Doctors note, giving dates, on medical center stationary). Provide contact information for people who can verify what you say (e.g. employer). If you work, in addition state whether (or not) sick leave was taken, and if so for what dates.

c. Your request. State the assessments for which you request an incomplete, what percentage of the course this amounts to, and by when you feel you would be able to complete them (give a date). Make the connection between what has been completed, the event and your request. Clearly a minor upset does not justify an incomplete on 80% of a course’s assessments.

d. Signature or presence. If you apply in writing, write at the end "The above statements are to the best of my knowledge true and accurate.", and sign and date it and post it in. If you wish to apply in person, bring the above information and documentary evidence. E-mail applications are not accepted. 

47.                The above information should be easily available to anyone who has a genuine case.