I am the course lecturer of an undergraduate course. For a recent assignment, I had written the assignment deadline as 23 November 2018 (Saturday). Unfortunately, 23 November is actually a Friday, and not a Saturday.

I received an email from a student asking for me to excuse his/her assignment which was submitted late. The student explained that he/she marked the deadline as Saturday, without checking the assignment date.

Question

Should I excuse the student's late submission because I made a slight mistake in specifying the assignment deadline?

Note: We use a learning management system to receive assignment submissions, and the assignment deadline was entered correctly in the learning management system.

What I decided to do

For the current incident: After reading the answers, and thinking it through, I decided that it is better to use the later of the two deadlines (i.e., 24 November Saturday) as the official deadline for the assignment. I did make a mistake in writing the wrong day of the week for the deadline, and students could have been misled with my mistake. It is not fair to punish such students for my mistake.

For future courses:

  • The more places I put the deadline in (e.g., the syllabus, the assignment itself, the learning management system), it becomes likely that I will make a mistake somewhere.
  • In the future, I will put the deadline in only the learning management system, and refer students to check the deadlines there.
  • 86
    In dubio pro reo – ebosi Dec 2 at 18:12
  • 40
    What would be the benefits for you or for your students of rejecting this single assignment which was submitted on Saturday? (I can't see a compelling benefit.) – pts Dec 2 at 18:32
  • 43
    @ebosi: There's also a legal doctrine called contra proferentem that seems on point here. – Michael Seifert Dec 2 at 20:36
  • 10
    In addition to the reasons given by answers, to stick to the shorter deadline you will need to argue that such a small error doesn't matter, and that could backfire in a few days when you grade their assignments and some perceivedly small mistakes will need to matter. – Pere Dec 2 at 22:29
  • 15
    I can’t figure out a reason why I wouldn’t accept the homework as on-time in this case. To err is human, to say “mea culpa” is divine. – J.R. Dec 3 at 10:06
up vote 156 down vote accepted

In dubio pro reo (in a case where nothing happened anyway)

Mistakes happen. Like you writing the wrong day for a certain date. Happened once, the "damage" is that students may have a reason to hand in one day later. That's it. And that's basically nothing.

Students are humans too. Most probably he/she really did not pay too much attention, did not look it up properly. Like no one of us would have or normally does in his daily business. And that's fine. Because it was not about life and death.

Let it be like that and accept the hand-in saying that you really wrote the wrong day (and may even apologize for the small mistake, as it may caused some confusion and a little anxiety to the student when he realized it). Even thinking about that incident is too much energy wasted for nothing happened. And be happy that you did not write the date of a test wrong or similar. Keep the mouse a mouse, don't make it an elephant.

Also, not accepting it will result in punishing a (most probably) innocent student. That's just unfair and will leave a very bad impression with the student. No reason to risk that.

.

  • Clearing comments because that issue seems to be resolved now to everybody’s satisfaction. – Wrzlprmft 12 hours ago

If the assignment deadline was not shown correctly to the students, then it is your error and they cannot be penalized for being late.

Claiming it is correct in one area while incorrect in another does not absolve you, you caused the confusion so you have to accept late submissions, as long as they arrived on Saturday...

Any submissions on Sunday will, of course, be late.

Re-reading this, it sounds a bit blunt... Probably because I have done exactly the same and had to sort it out after... Peace reigns if you stick to being fair, so giving them the extra time does not usually make much of a difference, except for the recognition from the students.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – eykanal Dec 4 at 19:28

If you occasionally published two different dates as a deadline, you should accept the work until the latest date without penalty. This is what essentially happened: you announced the deadline as 23rd Nov 2018 but also as Saturday, which is not the same day. Go with the latest of two then — this is the best way to be fair in this situation.

  • 10
    Yup. Not least because if they appeal it, a) it'll waste your time having to explain that you're an incompetent and b) the university will likely side with the student and you'll look bad. – Valorum Dec 2 at 20:07
  • 35
    Kinda off-topic, but one of my instructors once mistakenly wrote the deadline as 11/27/2108, and we still got penalties for submitting after 11/27/2018 :( – nalzok Dec 3 at 2:08
  • 6
    @nalzok: A hundred years is far too much extra time for school work. – user21820 Dec 3 at 4:40
  • 7
    @user21820 Arguable :) – user45266 Dec 3 at 5:21
  • 7
    @user21820 some students would still be late after having 100 years :) ... – Solar Mike Dec 3 at 10:10

I think the most important question a teacher should ask about their own actions is "What my action will teach?"

If you accept the late submission you will teach that one must assume their own mistakes and get full responsibility.

If you don't, you will teach that the people with more power don't need to clean up and take responsibility after mistakes, and the underdogs should not trust them.

We can say the last will prepare the student to be a good employee in the corporate world, and the first to be a responsible person.

  • 3
    Very good point regarding setting a personal example! Teachers educate students as persons, they don't just teach particular subject matter. +1 – einpoklum Dec 3 at 8:41
  • While I agree with the idea of the teaching, being strict with with the date does not teach that "people with power don't need to clean up...", but that it is the student's responsability to make sure to have all the elements in hand. I'm still in favour of a lenient response, but the second part of your answer is biased. – bilbo_pingouin Dec 3 at 11:39
  • 7
    Maybe my answer is biased, but I think I don't need to "make sure" I "have all the elements in hand" if I trust my superior. If the student is penalized because they don't catch the professor mistake, we are not teaching students to be attentive, but that "s*** goes down", and we must not trust our superiors. The result would be improved attention? Sure. but the message was not "Attention is important". – Cochise Dec 3 at 15:27
  • 6
    @bilbo_pingouin really, it is the student’s responsibility to always be on their guard in case against incompetence or errors on the side of their instructors? That seems unreasonable. If we required such hyper-vigilance from students, they would not have any time left for studying. – Dan Romik Dec 3 at 20:00
  • 1
    Well I disagree, Students aren't Kindergarten kids. They can take care of themselves and do not need to be taken by hand every time. By your logic, the student could deliver any saturday, that would have been ok. I disagree. There were an error in the requirement, the student should be able to spot it. Why assume Saturday was fine and not the date? Again, I don't think that student should be penalised here. But I still disagree with your second part. – bilbo_pingouin Dec 4 at 6:07

Purely from a standpoint of error distance, I would probably put more trust in the spelled-out day than in a numeric date, if there's any conflict between the two, because it's much more likely to accidentally hit 3 instead of 4 than to type Satur when you meant to type Fri. Of course that only applies to the mechanical aspect of typing, for most brains it's probably just as easy to mix the two up.

In any case, unless you noticed your error and communicated an unambiguous correction within a reasonable timeframe, it seems only fair that you should accept submissions up to the latest possible reasonable interpretation of the originally communicated deadline.

I say “reasonable" interpretation, because I guess the latest possible interpretation would be Saturday, November 23rd of the next year in which November 23rd is a Saturday. (This wouldn’t make sense in an academic context, but it’s a possible result of a typo in some longer-range planning.)

New contributor
Axim is a new contributor to this site. Take care in asking for clarification, commenting, and answering. Check out our Code of Conduct.

You can only hold people to what you said clearly, not to what you intended

I did make a mistake in writing the wrong day of the week for the deadline

Says you. As a student, I was given an assignment due on Saturday the 24th. What's that you're saying? That the numeric date has 23 rather than 24? Oh, surely that's the mistaken - it's just a typo.

See what I mean?

Actually, even in a more extreme case, where you merely hinted that the later day is appropriate, and did not spell it out, you should still have accepted late submissions.

  • 5
    This looks more like a comment to a comment, except for the bolded line that actually adresses the OP. – corey979 Dec 3 at 9:17
  • 1
    I guess I don't see what you mean, if all you've done here is swap one ambiguous date for another. And my point was the date was given twice, once nonsensically, which cannot be followed as the day didn't exist in the current year, and one clearly, where it was online. Just like you want. – A Simple Algorithm Dec 3 at 14:38
  • 1
    Why are you responding to a comment to a different answer in your answer? It dilutes the point you're trying to make. – Beska Dec 4 at 15:58
  • 1
    @Beska: I'm not sure what you mean. I responded to comments on my answer. – einpoklum Dec 4 at 16:27
  • 2
    @einpoklum Beska is referring to your quoted text. That is a comment on Solar Mike's answer by someone who is not the OP. I'm also confused as to why you posted a response to a comment on another answer as an answer. – kuhl Dec 4 at 20:28

In my experience, there seem to be (at least) two different kinds of professors/teachers: those who believe that it is their purpose to convey knowledge and those who believe it is their purpose to fail students. At this point, I'm making to judgement here; it is easy to find ethical and rational reasoning for both approaches (i.e. the 'high washout rate' used in some colleges) but I will leave judging the ethics of those as an exercise for the reader.

So—you probably want to ask yourself what your purpose in teaching is.

Is it to teach students, proliferate knowledge, and make sure people learn what you want to course to convey? If so, be lenient.

If, on the other hand, you think your principal job is to filter students by failing them hard and early, this is a perfect opportunity to do so.

  • 2
    could you please clarifythat you are not being sarcastic to make your point, or edit it to make your point without sarcasm. You seem a little new and sarcasm is usually not accepted on SO. Not downvoting, just trying to br helpful. – Jesse Steele Dec 6 at 14:36
  • 1
    @JesseSteele Like so? Or am I still coming across as sarcastic? – Bex yesterday
  • 1
    On the contrary, I'd say there are two kinds of students, those who are there to learn, and those who are allergic to effort. Professors, depending on where they are, and how much it bothers them to be lied to, lied about, etc., will have very different experiences teaching and will develop different kinds of standards for their classrooms. – A Simple Algorithm yesterday
  • 1
    @Bex, what you added made tons of sense to me and I know exactly what you mean. So, I edited it to make it a little more clear and used terms that convey your point. One example I know of is the Cooley law school in Michigan that actually uses that, but I didn't want to get specific in the post. You really do have an objective idea here, it defends a lot of professors, saves students grief later on, and I hope this helps people see that in your post. Thanks for doing this and sticking to it! – Jesse Steele yesterday
  • 1
    @JesseSteele Thank you for your understanding and for your edit. – Bex 15 hours ago

I think there is no other choice for you than to excuse your student. As he/ she already mentioned that he/ she follow calendar day deadline instead of calendar date which is also clearly mentioned in your submission deadline . So being a very valid reason and a typo mistake on your part, your student should be given excuse .

New contributor
Ahmad Raza is a new contributor to this site. Take care in asking for clarification, commenting, and answering. Check out our Code of Conduct.
  • The student doesn't need to be excused, because he/she was not late. The deadline was "Saturday", the work was turned in before the deadline. There is nothing to excuse. – Ben Voigt yesterday

protected by Alexandros Dec 3 at 20:05

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.