Ethics of Deadlines in Education

I recently attended a day-long workshop at the Jefferson County Community and Technical College-Southwest in Louisville, KY. GeoEd 2012 targeted two-year college staff and faculty looking to incorporate geographic information sciences (GIS) in their coursework. My primary employer is a 4-yr institution but the presentations were not especially directed to universities, which is good; otherwise the trip would have been a waste.

I’m a nosy person when it comes to education. I want to know how the classrooms are outfitted with technology, make/models of computers, brands of data projectors, podium-based devices or multimedia podiums, and how the seats are arranged. I want my program to be attractive and I’m constantly looking for new ideas.

On one hallway a poster was taped instructing anyone who saw a student cheating to “turn in the cheaters.” I was amused, yet appreciative of at least a superficial attempt by the administration to support academic honesty. Peeking into a classroom I noticed taped to the whiteboard and offset from the projection screen so as not to be hidden was a sheet of paper printed with the words “Do Your Own Work. Don’t Cheat.” I checked another classroom and in the same location was an identical announcement. Cool, I thought; every student needs a reminder.

I can understand why someone would want to cheat. Laziness. The student sets some other activity above doing the requisite work for the course, like fishing, hunting, golf, XBox, etc. Then, the student tries to find a short-cut to a better grade and in doing so undermines the instructor, other students, and his/her own education. Usually, cheating is also accompanied by a bad attitude about having to take the course. “I don’t see why I have to take this course?” The lack of understanding creates a sense of justification for cheating.

Personally, if you don’t understand the Importance of Education, then, please, stop consuming financial aid and educational resources, leave school, find yourself and discover why an Education is important. When you can appreciate the knowledge you are gaining then, and only then, should you re-apply.

Education is not merely training. Education is immersive, holistic, and never-ending. Education is about understanding the milieu, the ecosystem of a problem, using critical and creative thinking, logic, reason, and tapping into other disciplines.

Training will provide some education, but training is task-oriented. Training provides a specific set of skills, installing, setup, and administration of a computer server, for example. Or, learning how to program in Python or C++ or F#. Plumbing, roofing, electrical work are skills and while people trained in such occupations become educated about the details of those endeavors, reading Plato and Democritus and learning about Golden Hordes is not a prerequisite for installing a circuit breaker.

I do not understand why some students help other students cheat. The Accomplice does the work and assumes as much risk as the Cheater. The Cheater does little to no work while the Accomplice carries the weight with no real return. Maybe money changes hands, or a form of quid pro quo relationship develops, then each student undermines their own character and ethics. How else will the behavior manifest? In what other ways will the Cheater and Accomplice rationalize their behavior, i.e. “this is too expensive, so I’ll just take this;” or “my boss doesn’t pay enough, so I’ll take a few office supplies home.” Cheating is simply the rationalization of the theft of a grade and perpetrating fraud upon other class members and the college and university.

Get to the point, you say; your post is about Deadlines!

Cheating is out in the open. An entire section of most higher education syllabi is devoted to Academic Honesty, Academic Ethics, and Plagiarism. There is another ethical issue in education, a behavior which is silent and insidious. And, admittedly, I have been guilty of the behavior but no more.

At the conference, a presenter discussed the attitude of current (and probably future graduates) of being dismissive of Deadlines. Employees show up late, leave early – those are deadlines. Contracts and legislative dollars usually come with timelines and deadlines, or at least benchmarks. Some contracts are written to force payback of money if work is not completed by certain deadlines.

“At West Point, if a student does not submit homework on-time, that is disobeying a direct order.”

Stew on that for a while.

Faculty set deadlines. “The paper is due on April 27th” or “make sure your Powerpoint is ready-to-go by March 17th.” Deadlines are typically provided well in advance of a due date. Usually, deadlines and due dates are included  on the syllabus. All students are responsible for reading a syllabus regardless of whether a syllabus is covered during class time or not. Therefore, there are no surprises, only choices.

Students are obligated to read and know the syllabus. Faculty are obligated to stand beside their deadlines. Being faculty, sometimes deadlines need to be modified. Inclement weather can interfere with class time. The complexity of the material can impact uptake of information and students may need an additional class period. However, when a deadline is extended, the deadline is extended for all students.

Ethical issues arise when a single or a few students are allowed more time to submit homework for reasons falling outside of the traditional “Act of God.” For example, a student who decides to spend the weekend in St. Louis watching a Cardinals home stand does not get more time. A student who opts to practice for the GED does not get more time. A student who decides to cruise the Caribbean does not get more time. For me, only the death of an immediate family member constitutes an occasion of changing a deadline. Or, a serious illness which requires extended hospitalization. Even then, if something so life-altering occurs, the student must make a decision regarding near-term education and not place the burden on the faculty or university. Student are people, and people are responsible for their own lives. Not me. Everyone gets to decide how they react when poked. Reaction is choice.

Faculty need to pay attention to their deadlines. Faculty need to stiffen their backbones and prevent manipulative people from undermining the work of other students. A student who receives even an extra day extension receives an unfair advantage over those students who practiced due diligence in getting assignments completed before or on the deadlines. In essence, faculty who allow themselves to be manipulated are also an Accomplice to aiding and abetting cheating. I also know occasions when faculty have adhered to deadlines and have been overruled by ineffectual chairs and deans. Then, the institution undermines their own Academic Standards and the institution itself becomes an Accomplice. See what I mean by “insidious?”

Yes, I was a bit of a pushover, years ago. Then, I realized being “flexible” was not fair to the other students. Why should a student who “forgot” to do an assignment get an extra week to finish an assignment other students did on time? Now, when I go over a syllabus, I have two categories, the “Act of God”-type problem, which needs to be handled on a case-by-case basis, and the “I-forgot”-type problem. I tell students:

“If you forget about a deadline, test, quiz, or assignment, don’t ask me about turning it in late. Just do not turn it in. Life is about deadlines. The IRS has deadlines, your job has deadlines, etc., and this class has deadlines. Miss a deadline and you might as well keep whatever you have. Learn from your bad choice. Buy a calendar or an appointment book.”

The effects of my rigid policy have been fascinating, actually. Students simply choose what grade they will settle for in the course. To illustrate, a student will choose between showing up for an exam and going to a concert.

“When will I get a chance to see Def Leppard again? I don’t care about the exam; I’ll take a zero. I figure I’ll end up with a C. It’s all I need to keep my financial aid, anyway.”

The only part of the above I am making up is Def Leppard. I had a student take a cruise in the middle of the semester one year. I do make exceptions for events I deem important, such as high-profile people who occasionally grace our cultural wasteland, like Maya Angelou, P.K. Botha, and the late Prime Minister of Pakistan, Bennazir Bhutto. I do not make exceptions for cruises, deer-hunting, the season premiere of The Mentalist, or Mylie Cyrus concerts.

If you cannot attain a grade on your own then suck it up and figure out how to improve your study and research skills. Stop using the events in other people’s lives as an excuse for not being in control of your life.

Most faculty will take some time to help an honest student figure out how to improve study skills. Most new faculty have no idea, not the ones I have run across. Over the course of 3-5 years, then their ability to foster student learning improves immensely. New faculty receive little to no education on how to teach, by the way. They learn the nuances of teaching on-the-job. By working with you, and you them, each will learn from the other about what is needed to communicate knowledge.

If you are faculty, or know someone who teaches, ask yourself if you (or him/her) have ever bent on a deadline. Now, ask yourself,

“If you were a student in a class and you discovered another student received another week to take a test or to submit a paper, how would you feel?”

Would you feel cheated? I hope so.

Students might lie to a professor or a teacher but students are proud of pulling the wool over on the System and will boast of getting more time, or boast of cheating to fellow students. When you see students in the hallway, congregating and swapping stories, one or two of them are bragging about how (s)he used a phone to cheat, or how she manipulated the instructor  into getting extra time to turn in the assignment.

Faculty, chairs, deans, and provosts are all responsible for maintaining the educational integrity of all courses. Cheating can be flagrant and typical, as when students collaborate and scheme to exploit others or technology to steal a grade. Cheating can be abetted by faculty who cave on deadlines, the mistake belief of being “a nice guy” or thinking she will earn the accolades of students for being “nice.” The only thing you’ll be known for is being a sucker.

PAX

2 thoughts on “Ethics of Deadlines in Education

  1. It would be nice to phrase the signs in a more positive way – about how honourable it is/how good it feels to do your own work or something. I am sure there are some great quotes out there. Even better if it made students laugh, it might be even more memorable then!

    • Thank you, Penny, for your reply. I appreciate your words and I understand what you mean. The problem is the use of nuance is lost on students these days. In my piece on academic honesty, students believe if you do not approach a problem with a serious tone, then you must not be serious. By trying a humorous light-hearted approach an instructor risks undermining the seriousness of the message.

      One syllabus I have used has something to the effect of the following stated in the footer of each page: “The use of any gray matter other than what you were born with will result in a zero or failing grade.” This may seem bizarre but I’ve had to explain to several students the term “gray matter.” They had no idea what I meant.

      However, one risks making a joke of important policies if the proper tone is not used. I have a bias, too, I must admit. I only find cheating a problem with my American students. I’ve known students from all ove the world. I have yet to have an international student cheat and have not heard of a case of an international student cheating from my peers. I don’t mean international students never cheat. A friend of mine sits on Academic Appeals. Every case is an American student complaining about an unjust grade, e.g. I didn’t plagiarise, I didn’t cheat, I didn’t know. Parents will often show and argue on behalf of their child, who is an adult, mind you. Some parents threaten to sue the instructor, the department, the school. I have yet to hear of a case of an international student threaten legal action over a grade.

      My sentiments are international students arrive from cultures which respect educators. Whether from Saudi Arabia, Japan, Senegal, or South Korea, an international student comes from a culture where education is held in very high regard, teachers are respected and have authority, and children respect their parents. And, most importantly, parents respect educators and the education systems.

      If my memory serves you have a lot of experience with the British educational system, which has been adopted and modified by many other societies. The US Higher Education system is pretty good, but slumping since our political leaders have elected to pursue Militarism rather than Education. Kindergarten through high school is another story. We are literally passing students who cannot read nor write. Parents must provide permission to have their illiterate child held back. And, parents won’t do that to prevent their child from being stygmatized. The US is more interested in making sure K-12 students “feel good about themselves” rather than making sure the kids actually are prepared for life after high school.

      Thanks!

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