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Appealing to authority

Contributors scrutinize academic policies
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Being educated at U of T also often means being constrained by administrative guidelines — many of which do not apply equally or fairly to all students. We asked four contributors to provide their perspectives on academic policies that leave something to be desired, as the university continues to re-evaluate its administrative strategies.

Participation grades

Most courses in the humanities and social sciences have a participation mark as part of the grading scheme, typically ranging in value from 10 per cent to upwards of 30 per cent. Frustratingly, no standard policy exists regarding the effect of missing lectures or tutorials on the participation grade.

While some TAs and professors permit the submission of a written response for students who are ill or must otherwise miss a scheduled class, others eschew the practice altogether.

Additionally, there is no clear policy on whether a written response, if permitted, makes up the participation grade partially or entirely.

When taking HIS208Y last year, I missed several tutorials while working on a political campaign, and a TA told me that I could submit written responses to make up my participation mark. Having done so, I was surprised when my participation grade, accounting for 25 per cent of the course, was significantly lower than expected; I was then told that responses did not fully make up for missing tutorials.

When I tried to appeal this decision to the professor and later the history department, I realized that the absence of an existing procedure with respect to participation marks meant that a potentially substantial portion of a student’s mark is very difficult — if not impossible — to challenge.

It is time to stop leaving participation grades entirely up to the discretion of TAs and professors and allow students to have recourse for this unfair practice.

Daryna Kutsyna is a fourth-year student at Trinity College studying International Relations.

Late penalties and illness accommodation

Considering the profound impact they can have on a CGPA, late penalties are probably among students’ worst fears in terms of their academic careers. Although the concept of penalties may sound reasonable from the perspective of teaching students about time management, they lose their fairness when their enforcement is inconsistent.

At U of T, the enforcement of late penalties differs from professor to professor and even from department to department. For example, while my POL300H class enforced 5 per cent deductions per day for a late assignment, my friend’s POL302Y class hardly enforced any late penalties.

This discrepancy is more concerning when considering that late penalties are often incurred for legitimate reasons. In FSL443H, I never got the chance to present my last-minute illness as the reason for my late submission, and it seemed as if my professor dismissed my reasons as mere excuses.

Students who are extremely ill may not be able to obtain doctor’s notes for a number of reasons — not the least of which being their inability to get out of bed. A professor’s refusal to accept a legitimate health concern without documentation should not interfere with a student’s academic success.

If U of T strives to foster a resolute commitment to the principles of equal opportunity, equity, and justice, incongruous late penalties are the pinnacle of irony. This concern is particularly significant for students who require extensions for medical reasons.

Veronica Chung is a fourth-year student at Woodsworth College studying Political Science, History, and French.

Exam deferrals

The exam deferral process in the Faculty of Arts & Science is unfair to all students, and disproportionately increases stress on students with financial difficulties.

The faculty’s Rules & Protocol for Deferred Examinations states that students must pay $70.00 per deferred exam, up to $140 per session.

In this way, the faculty treats providing an exam deferral as a favour to students, with a hefty fee imposed to effectively punish students for delaying their evaluations. This means that a student dealing with serious medical problems, for instance, could be forced to decide between having a fair exam and being able to pay for other expenses.

It is unclear what this unfair charge even goes towards — students with deferred exams must usually wait until the conclusion of the next offering of the course, which could take several months. After paying this fee, a student may have to continue keeping up with the course for another session on top of other coursework.

All in all, the faculty doubly punishes students who access exam deferrals: firstly with a deferral fee that disadvantages students with financial limitations, and secondly with a deferral process that disadvantages students academically.

This follows a trend of the university being unfairly punitive to students when unusual circumstances arise. The faculty should remove this fee and explore ways to make deferred exams easier on students.

Auni Ahsan is a fourth-year student at Victoria College studying Computer Science, Cognitive Science, and Psychology.

Unexcused extenuating circumstances

U of T has a policy which states that if a student is ill, they can acquire a doctor’s note and potentially defer an examination or have some sort of accommodation made to make up for missing work. While this seems to be a relatively sound umbrella policy, there is an absence of complementary policies for other extenuating circumstances that prevent students from completing their coursework.

For instance, U of T does not provide guidance about what happens if students miss examinations or deadlines as a result of train delays or heavy weather conditions that would make it fundamentally dangerous for them to make it out to school. UTSG is apparently a commuter-friendly campus, but several students complain about the risks they have to take while commuting in order to get to campus on time.

Furthermore, an assignment may take longer to do for some students than others. Students who work part-time may need to pick up more shifts or work more hours than anticipated, interfering with their ability to complete the assignment on time — and requiring an extension that would not be afforded.

There is no outlined procedure that professors are given to follow when handling these situations, which suggests that it is professors themselves who should come up with a solution. While some may decide to grant extensions, others may not. This inconsistency should be clarified by the university.

Sila Naz Elgin is a third-year student at New College studying Political Science and Philosophy.