The Ethical Professor

Thinking well and doing good in academia.

Extension Entreaties Exemplify Expanding Entitlements

What will students ask for next?

Guest Blog Post by Joan T. Bihun, Ph.D.

Blogger’s Note: Dr. Bihun is one of the best and most dedicated teachers I’ve ever met.  Thus, when she shared her exasperation with some of the students in her class it made me feel better about some of my own frustrations.  I asked her to share her story with you.  –Mitch

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When the University’s computer system when down for a few hours the night before final papers were due I knew that students couldn’t access course material—like their grades, assignments, etc.  I felt OK, because the paper assignment had been posted online since the semester began three months ago.  Furthermore, the due date was on the syllabus and the requirements and grading rubrics had been available to the students all semester long.  I had encouraged students to be working on their papers, and everyone knows that final papers take a while to write.  No problem.

Bihun
Dr, Joan T. Bihun
Then the emails started coming.  I received several desperate entreaties requesting an “extension.”  These (few) students argued that because the course web page was down they couldn’t read the assignment. 

Ironically enough, this was just one day after we spent some time in class discussing the increasing problem of entitlement, which often starts in middle childhood. “Yes, it’s a real problem,” students agreed.  “How do we prevent it?”

“How would you define entitlement?” I asked.  The class agreed on the working definition of “expecting accommodations or compensation without doing the work or preparation to earn them.”  Let’s say, for example, asking for an extension on a paper due the next day when one waits to download the assignment until the night before.

For all you students out there:  This is what a request for such an extension really sounds like to your instructor:  “I waited until the last possible moment to do this assignment you have had posted all semester, even though we’ve covered most of the material for it in class weeks ago and I just had a week off for fall break.  I need you to give me more time to put in a last minute effort on it.  I’d like you to do more work so I can get away with doing less.”  And maybe even:  “I really don’t respect you or this class.”   

It gets better.  The assignment for the final paper actually involved doing an interview.  One student directly told me they were getting ready to interview the person for the paper but had to wait until that night because the person was gone all day.  My immediate thoughts:  “Where were they the day before?  The week before?  Last month?”

Dear students:  I know this sounds critical.  But heck, it IS a criticism!  I do not grant such extensions.  I have too much respect for learning and for the work involved in being a college student to reinforce a lack of conscientiousness.  My job is to help you succeed, so in a way I’m doing you a favor.  Think of it as “Tough Love:  The College Years.”  I know it’s a real bummer when technology fails you the night before a paper is due, but be willing to take the consequences for your procrastination like an adult.

You may not realize it now, but not getting the extension will help you land and keep a job.  Can you imagine being assigned a project in your professional life with the due date weeks away, waiting until the night before to do it, and then finding out the necessary technology wasn’t available?  What do you think your boss would say if you said:  “I was getting ready to start this research last night but my computer broke?” 

“Last night?” they would say.  “For this big assignment?  I put you in charge of it three months ago.  Look, this is no arbitrary deadline:  It matters to our company, to our customers.  It matters to your career.”  Or maybe your boss would just say, “You can clean out your desk now.”

So a final bit of advice:  Some of you are procrastinators.  Maybe it’s always worked for you to wait until the last minute and maybe you’ve always gotten adequate results for the effort.  But as a consistent habit it doesn’t bode well for the long term.  At least review the assignments earlier than the night before they are due.  At least save them to your computer or print out a hard copy to look at and jot notes on as the material is discussed in class. If nothing else, at least have the good sense not to let your professor know you waited until the night before to do the task!  In the end, you’ll save yourself the risk of sliding down the slippery slope of entitlement. 

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Joan T. Bihun received her Ph.D. in developmental psychology from Wayne State University.  She is currently a senior instructor at the University of Colorado Denver. Last year she won a teaching award from the University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.  Her interests include developing experiential learning components to college courses, and volunteering as a math and reading tutor in the public school system. She has served as an Advanced Placement Test reader for Psychology for the Educational Testing System (a lot more fun than it sounds!).

Mitch Handelsman is a professor of psychology at the University of Colorado Denver and the co-author (with Sharon Anderson) of Ethics for Psychotherapists and Counselors: A Proactive Approach(Wiley-Blackwell, 2010).  He is also an associate editor of the two-volume APA Handbook of Ethics in Psychology (American Psychological Association, 2012).

© 2013 Mitchell M. Handelsman. All Rights Reserved

Mitchell M. Handelsman, Ph.D., is a Professor of Psychology and a Colorado University President's Teaching Scholar at the University of Colorado Denver.

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