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Classroom Myths FAQ

It should come as no surprise that a few academic myths have emerged on campus. When mistaken for MSU policies, these unfounded notions can lead the uninformed to waters far more troubled than the Red Cedar River on a hot summer day. In the interest of debunking such myths, read on.

If an instructor doesn't show up for class on time, I should wait 15 minutes (the number may vary, depending on the rank) before heading to the library for some unexpected study time.

If I have a physician's excuse for an absence, my instructor must allow me to make up the work I missed.

A written course syllabus is not required.

If I don't hear from an instructor, I can assume he or she has accepted my request.

I can always ask for an Incomplete if I run out of time to complete all my course work.

When an instructor misses a class session for whatever reason, students are entitled to a pro-rated tuition refund.

If an instructor doesn't show up for class on time, I should wait 15 minutes (the number may vary, depending on the rank) before heading to the library for some unexpected study time.

Not so fast. MSU has no guidelines for early classroom departures based on faculty tardiness. Like every one else, your instructors, from TAs to full professors, occasionally experience unexpected and unavoidable delays that cause late arrivals to class. When possible, they should notify their departmental secretary of their estimated time of arrival and request this message be relayed to their students-in-waiting. If those students receive no such message, they are then left to their own discretion. Some wait a few minutes before snapping their books shut and exiting the classroom. Others prefer to wait it out, especially if a quiz or test has been scheduled for that day. What to do? Simply ask your instructors at the beginning of the semester to discuss their expectations of you  in the event they’re detained. Then follow the “rules.”

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If I have a physician's excuse for an absence, my instructor must allow me to make up the work I missed.

Well, that would be true only if your instructor's course syllabus said exactly that. If it doesn't, your instructor may give you a grade of 0.0 on each assignment you miss because of an illness. Sometimes instructors make exceptions for extreme or extenuating situations, such as emergency surgery.  Know, too, that some instructors will allow students to make up course work missed because of illness, but only with what's called a "patient instruction sheet" from Olin Health Center.  For more on medical excuses, click here.

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A written course syllabus is not required.

That was true at MSU up to the beginning of fall semester 2005, when the revised  Code of Teaching Responsibility  went into effect.  The Code, approved by Academic Council on April 19, 2005, now clarifies this issue by stating clearly that instructors are required to distribute their syllabi--either on paper or online--at the beginning of the semester.  Before then, the Code said that instructors were to "inform" their students of various course procedures and requirements.

Once the syllabus is distributed, it can't be changed. 

Not really..  The newly revised Code does not address changing syllabi after the semester is underway.  Absent such language, an instructor may choose to exercise that option.  If so, they should inform their students of such changes in writing or online

For more on course syllabi, see "Course Syllabus."

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If I don't hear from an instructor, I can assume he or she has accepted my request.

Simply put, don't assume anything. If you don't get a response from your instructor, try again, but this time use a different communication tool. For example, if you failed to get a response from your instructor via e-mail, try stopping by the instructor's office during office hours. Often the Ombudsperson finds that e-mail is one-way communication, for the intended targets of student's electronic epistles either ignore responding to these notes or ignore e-mail altogether. To prevent just such a scene from becoming the epitasis of your semester, ask your instructors to clarify their preferences for out-of-class, and sometimes personal, student inquiries—at the outset of the semester. When instructors and students agree on their own community, or classroom, standards,  catastrophe can be averted.

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I can always ask for an Incomplete if I run out of time to complete all my course work.

Well, yes, you can ask, but instructors don't have to grant your wish (or is it a prayer?). In fact, to be eligible for an I-Incomplete grade, you must be able to answer "yes" to all of the following questions: 

  1. Have you completed at least 12 weeks of the semester?
  2.  Are you unable to complete the course work and/or the final exam because of illness or some other compelling reason?
  3. In the judgment of your instructor, are you passing the course? 
  4. In your instructor's judgment, can you finish the required course work without repeating the course?

Do instructors make exceptions to this university policy? Yes, just as they make exceptions to statements in their syllabi. And that's what perpetuates  this particular myth. Some instructors are willing to grant a student an I-Incomplete if the student simply falls behind and can't catch up by semester's end. The next time this happens to the same student in a different course, that instructor "plays by the rules" and denies the request. 

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When an instructor misses a class session for whatever reason, students are entitled to a pro-rated tuition refund.

Let's put that one to bed.  No.

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Questions? Contact the Ombudsperson