The leniency of extensions at Uni

Brandon van der Donk, Writer

“I don’t think we could get through the school year without extensions,” says Sophomore Steven Blanke. With an onslaught of homework and extracurriculars alike, students can easily find themselves overwhelmed by assignments. While some students will inevitably work through the night, many others will take advantage of extensions, a valuable resource at Uni.

For the most part, Uni teachers are sympathetic towards students’ troubles, adjusting due dates when necessary. English teacher Matt Mitchell explains that he understands “the pressure of having to balance multiple classes,” and tells students that “there’s no shame” in requesting an extension. He says that in “every essay there’s always a handful of students that end up needing that [an extension], because that’s just the nature of student schedules.”

Mitchell adds that “there’s unpredictable stuff with writing.” While a student could work diligently on an essay, it’s possible that “it’s just not ready to be turned in on the deadline.”  

He emphasizes that “the key is just to communicate.” Though penalties can still be applied for late papers, Mitchell clarifies that there are no punishments if the student asks for an extension in advance.

“I’d rather they turn in an essay they’re feeling confident in and that expresses their ideas, than turn in something half-baked, just because it’s a deadline. It’s way easier and more pleasurable to grade an essay that was brought in for a landing, than one that’s full of problems,” Mitchell says.

Uni history teacher Ben Leff agrees, saying “I don’t want to grade something that you rushed to get done before the deadline.” He also argues that “the point of the education is that you are doing the analytical work that I’m trying to assign.” Because of this attitude, Leff says that he is “very receptive to extensions,” giving students the opportunity to improve their work with additional time.

As a general life lesson for students, Leff advises that “being proactive when you’re falling behind is really important.” While he acknowledges the fact that “every teacher is going to be different,” he recommends that a student should actively communicate with their teachers, saying that “professors are much more attuned to that.”

However, despite his philosophy about flexible due dates, Leff also sees some problems with extensions. Most notably, he recognizes that “a countervailing factor is fairness, in that it’s too bad if some kid wrote a not as good essay because they hustled to get it done before the deadline, whereas another kid turns it in late, and I don’t penalize them. That doesn’t seem fair to the kid who didn’t speak up.”

Mitchell acknowledges another problem as well, worrying that he could be “creating bad habits for students when they go off to college.”

As it turns out, Mitchell’s worry is more than warranted. Supriya Prasanth, a professor of cell biology at the University of Illinois, states that “MCB [the School of Molecular and Cellular Biology at UIUC] has a very strict policy about extensions,” particularly regarding exams. She says that students can usually only reschedule a test if they “have an interview [for medical school or graduate school] lined up, or they are not feeling well.” In these instances, they have to take the exam at another time “within 24 hours before or after the rest of the class takes it.”

David Rivier, a professor of genetics and cell biology, adds that he is personally “not aware of anyone that gives extensions” at the University of Illinois. He believes that the sizes of the freshman and sophomore STEM classes at the university make extensions exceptionally difficult.  

Rivier explains that he has “500 students who come through MCB 252 [a sophomore cell biology class] each year, and so the rules have to be the same for everybody.” An important philosophy of his is that “everybody has to be treated fairly and equally.”

Rivier also points out that the size of his classes can simply make extensions infeasible, because “if people are turning things in at different times and getting graded at different times, it’s just too massive a project to let it get spread out.” Since his online homework uses free response questions, teaching assistants have to grade them, and “they only have so many hours that they can work.” With 3,500 questions to grade each week, they need all of the assignments finished at the same time, so that they can grade them all at once. Rivier says that this is the only realistic way that the teaching assistants “can get them back in a timely fashion.”

With this fundamental problem in feasibility, course policies prevent any kinds of extensions in Rivier’s college classes. His online assignments “open at a precise time, and they close at a precise time.” He says “we’re pretty rigid in ‘here’s the time you have, and that’s when it needs to be done.’”                                                                                                        

The sternness of these policies differs drastically from the forgiving nature of extensions at Uni.  With strict rules for both tests and homework, due dates will be virtually immovable in some college classes. Though Uni promotes the use of extensions, it is important not to grow dependent on them.