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Breaking The Rules: Instead of Abusing Students, Professors Should Enforce End-of-Term Rules

Stacey E. Blau

The two last weeks of the semester are typically the worst ones of the term for most students. Problem sets, exams, final projects, and presentations all come to a head, shortly followed by finals.

Of course, finals often follow just a bit too shortly after these exams and projects for students. With professors who make multiple assignments for their classes fall due the last week of classes, professors who give blanket class extensions that run into MIT's approximately four-minute reading period and then into finals week, and still other faculty members who devise new and creative violations of their own faculty rules and regulations, there is little about students' end-of-term crunch that is left to the imagination.

Unfortunately, by this point in the term, there is not much constructive to be done about end-of-term rules violations. For one thing, professors who are violating the rules are doing so usually as part of a curriculum that they planned out before the semester had begun. They cannot at the last minute restructure the class to distribute work more evenly or make it due earlier.

But it is rather difficult to have sympathy for the faculty when it is the students who are forced to bear the brunt of professors' totally thoughtless behavior. Students are, of course, the ones stuck with the assignments. And for most students, it usually doesn't make sense to call a professor on a violation in which the professor has given all the students in a class an extension on a final project. When a professor is told he can't make an assignment due during finals, he probably will just change the due date to the last day of classes.

The fact is, however, that at the end of the term, most students probably could use the additional time to do a good job. But no student could unsheepishly call a professor on that kind of violation and then turn around and ask for an extension.

For a violation in which a professor has given multiple assignments for his class during the last week, the violation might be easier to fix; if the professor is called on the violation, he has no choice but to cancel the extra assignment or assignments, since only one is allowed for the last week of classes. (This is, of course, assuming that a student or Chair of the Faculty Lotte Bailyn succeeds in compelling the wayward professor to comply with the rules.)

This may seem underhanded. But it is quite a lot less reprehensible than the faculty, the purported leaders of the Institute, breaking the rules they set down. The faculty cannot ignore its own rules and then blame students for trying to see them enforced. Students should not have to suffer at the end of the term because of the faculty's failure.

For now, the best that students can hope for is to be able to punish the professors who didn't care to follow the rules in the first place. If you are in a class in which a professor has given several assignments for next week or a class in which you have a final during finals week and an assignment due next week, e-mail Lotte Bailyn (at, file a complaint at, and complain directly to the professor. If you push enough, the professor will be forced to cancel the extra assignment or assignments. If you have an assignment due after the last day of classes, complain on the last day of classes so that the professor has no choice but to just plain cancel the assignment.

When professors who didn't care to follow the rules get just retribution for breaking the rules and making students' lives miserable, they will perhaps think twice before they ignore the rules when they draw up their syllabi for next term (or don't draw them up at all - another violation).

Students can do their best now to get revenge on professors who failed to follow the rules. But that approach does not solve the basic problem of the schedule of work for a class in which a professor has broken the rules. More specifically, there will be no end to these kinds of problems if professors continue to fail to design curricula within the rules in the first place.

This is a problem that professors themselves have to address. At present, it is by and large student complaints about the violations that drive whatever enforcement of the rules that exists. But students should not have to enforce rules on the professors who are responsible for having created those rules in the first place. You'd think that the current situation would be something of an embarrassment to faculty, who for sure would not want their own rules seen as a joke.

We are, of course, talking about the same faculty that just a few weeks ago was discussing the importance of student-faculty interaction. That faculty, with its lofty ideas about the possibilities for the faculty's role in students' lives, might do well to take a better look at the way professors overburden students with assignments that don't follow the rules they designed to ensure students wouldn't find themselves subject to abusive class schedules.