Membership Has Its Privileges

15 Dec

Many years ago, an ad campaign for American Express used the familiar tag line, “Membership has its privileges.”

The longer I teach in higher education, the more I have come to sense that new college students believe that enrolling in one of my classes grants a “membership” to some sort of club…

And they expect to receive their privileges.

These expected privileges seem to go beyond my personal goal of giving my students the best teaching that I possibly can. It goes beyond my efforts to return assignments to them in a timely manner, provide frequent and reasonable office hours, and respond to their emails and phone calls, even on the weekend. It goes beyond providing them with a detailed syllabus, a clear set of stated course objectives, and a commitment to work diligently with them to help them attain whatever level of success to which they aspire.

It has become increasingly evident to me that “membership” in my class also includes the right to determine their own personal exam schedule…and the schedule for taking an exam is whenever they feel like it.

Today is a microcosmic case in point. This is “finals week”…and a student (let’s call him Carl) came to my office at 11:00 am, 2 hours prior to his scheduled final exam.

“Hey” (Carl ALWAYS calls me “Hey,” even in the misspelled emails that he sends me). “Can I take my exam early? I have a doctor’s appointment at 12:00.” Carl looked at me expectantly.

Now, Carl has been absent from my class frequently throughout the semester, and he always leaves before the class is done. I never said anything about it, as he is an adult, and he is free to make his own decisions regarding class attendance. So you can imagine his reaction when I told him no.

He looked incredulous…

“But I have to go to the doctor,” he sputtered.

I told him that he should have known better than to make a doctor’s appointment during finals week, especially so close to one of his scheduled classes.

“I made this appointment over two weeks ago,” he replied, quite indignantly.

“Carl, I gave you the date for this final over four months ago,” I said. “It’s clearly stated on the syllabus I gave you on the first day of class. The exam is scheduled from 1:00-3:00 today. If you choose to go to the doctor and you are late to class, you will have until 3:00 to finish the exam, even if you don’t show up until 2:45.”

Carl turned and stormed out of my office, muttering angrily as he went. The fact that I am getting older and my hearing is not as sharp as it once was probably saved Carl from a world of difficulty.

I arrived at the classroom at about 12:45. Several students, including Carl, we’re waiting. Carl came in, hurriedly took his exam, earned his 59%, and rushed out in less than 20 minutes.

I’m sure that I haven’t seen the last of Carl…

I expect to see him shortly after grades are posted…

I’m sure that he will say he had to rush through his exam in order to make it to his doctor’s appointment…

Or that he couldn’t concentrate because he was thinking about how mad his doctor was that he canceled at the last minute…

I expect that he will want to receive an incomplete, or a chance to re-take the final exam, or some form of extra credit, or anything that will help him get his grade up to passing.

And he will expect me to give him what he asks for…because, after all…

Membership has its privileges…


Posted by on December 15, 2011 in Society, Teaching, Uncategorized


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2 responses to “Membership Has Its Privileges

  1. Geo

    December 15, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    Students frequently say, can I miss your class, I have a doctor’s appointment? I always say, you made a doctor’s appointment for the time of my class? I then say, you’re an adult, miss my class if you need to, but I’m not going to give you permission.
    This posts violates a long-standing policy I have, which is not to complain about students. But this past week I’ve had three instances of the “silence” attack. Someone comes to my office and says, instead of doing all three questions on the take home exam, I only did two. Then there’s silence. “Silence” means “the ball’s in your court,” meaning I’m supposed to say, well, I guess that’s all right. When I’m really thinking, just do the other one, follow my instructions. One person said, I did the practice exam you handed out weeks ago, instead of the real exam. Silence.
    In this case, silence isn’t golden.

  2. Jess R.

    December 24, 2011 at 10:01 pm


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