Tuesday, May 07, 2019

The Annual Extra-Credit Warning

This one is somewhere between a blog post and a public service announcement for faculty.

Yes, I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s final exam season, and some things bear repeating.

This is when some panicked students have been known to start asking about extra credit.  It usually comes in the form of “is there anything I can do to improve my grade?”

There’s an understandable human impulse to take pity on a penitent soul.  In some contexts, that can be admirable.

But if you aren’t careful, a favor done for a sympathetic student can look to another student like discriminatory treatment.  “Why did he get a chance I didn’t get?”

If you don’t have a good answer for that -- one you could defend under oath -- it can get ugly.

So, some free advice from someone who has seen this movie enough times to know:

If you must offer extra credit, do it in writing, to the entire class.  Otherwise, don’t do it at all.

“But wait!,” I hear you thinking.  “You’re an administrator! Don’t you want high pass rates?”

Yes, but.  I want high success rates.  I don’t want failing performances dressed up as successes.  There’s a difference. The difference shows when students move on to the next semester, or the next school, or the next job.  

Over the years, I’ve presided over plenty of grade appeals.  When the professor sticks to their own rules, and enforces them evenhandedly, there’s never an issue upholding the grade.  The issues come when Mike gets a break that Michelle doesn’t, or when the professor veers wildly off the syllabus and starts improvising.  Those cases have been blessedly few in my career, but they’ve happened, and they’re not pretty. Worse, they’re entirely preventable.

If the extra credit assignment wasn’t built into the syllabus from the outset, don’t do it.  It will not end well.

Mercy is admirable, but so is fairness.

(climbs off soapbox)