My English professor recently asked us to bring in all of our graded essays from the whole semester in order to fill out a 'rubric' of sorts which tallied the various types of mistakes we had made. She will be grading the rubric, and previously stated that if we did not have all the essays from the past semester in class that day, our grade would be comparably lower than otherwise. She made no mention of 'keeping all graded work' at any point during the course, and in my current institution, I have never been expected to keep past work for any specified duration. There are a multitude of reasons why a student may not have been able to keep particular (or any) essays, which my professor did not take into consideration.

Is it fair for my English professor to expect us to keep all of our past graded work, and then grade us on our possession? If unfair, how can I bring this issue up with her and dispute her expectation?

Note that I doubt that this is because she lost the essays; they’ve already been averaged into our final grades.

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    Have you scoured the syllabus for any mention of this policy? Apr 16, 2019 at 23:52
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    – eykanal
    Apr 18, 2019 at 1:05
  • 2
    Did you have to turn your work in electronically? ( via turnitin or similar) If so, it's a question of downloading it from the system. Your prof might not want to do that herself for her whole class. I'm not saying that's the case, it's just a speculative question.
    – user96809
    Apr 18, 2019 at 15:05

6 Answers 6


If this was not mentioned in the syllabus (or at least announced prior to the papers being returned), this is totally inappropriate. While it may be foolish for students not to keep their graded work (at least until the end of the term), if it was not established as a requirement before the students got their papers back, it cannot reasonably be made a retroactive requirement.

You should bring this problem to the attention of the instructor. You do not need to reveal whether you actually have all your past papers when you bring this up, lest the instructor try to wave your concerns away if you say that you actually do have all the papers and are just complaining as a matter of principle. I would also suggest having multiple students come to her together to make the same objection; that may make it more likely that she will relent. However, if the instructor does not agree to make a change, you should take this up with someone higher up. That could mean the department chair (or another departmental official, such as the director of undergraduate or graduate studies) or a student ombudsman, if one is available.

  • 74
    "If it's not mentioned, it's inappropriate": +1 - however, if it has been mentioned, I still would expect this to be prominently featured, ie. both in syllabus, and in class, and ideally somewhere else (e.g. on the task sheet of at least the first or first two essays). It is absolutely not standard to being expected to keep past homework (and the rationale is also obscure to me, to be honest). Apr 17, 2019 at 0:44
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    – eykanal
    Apr 18, 2019 at 1:06
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    – Wrzlprmft
    Apr 19, 2019 at 7:47

I'll first say that if the Professor needed a copy of the graded assignments, she could have and should have just made the copy when grading, and kept it. This sounds like an arbitrary "trap" for people who are a little absent-minded, or mere arbitrariness.

First order of business IMHO is talking to the Professor, preferably out-of-class. Explain that you have not kept copies of all your work, and that you were not aware (regardless of who is to blame for it) that you had to do so - and you would like to ask for an alternative w.r.t. grading.

Considering what you've said, this is likely to fail. While waiting for the above meeting to occur, also talk to: 1. Your fellow students in this class. 2. Your student union representative (assuming you have one; otherwise - higher-ups in the student union). If they are willing, consider planning for some sort of collective action or intervention which would force the Professor's hand in case she doesn't agree to flex her positions. It's much easier to avert inappropriate grading before rather than after the fact. What could such an action be:

  • Most or all students simply fail to bring any graded assignments as requested. They collectively agree to say they haven't kept copies of them. The Professor would not be able to just fail the whole class (or rather - is unlikely to do so and would be unable to defend the action) and would likely cave either at that point or earlier.
  • Student union starts some sort of publicity campaign against this Professor's policy.
  • Student union petitions for disciplinary procedures against the Professor (in some universities there's a legal right to start such formal procedures; in some you have to beg).

It's not that I think that these things should be done, but they are not impossible nor inconceivable and should be made possible as fallback in case things turn sour. Regardless of whether such action is agreed upon and readied for execution, either a student union rep or a group of students, and even better - both, approach the Professor collectively to try to change her mind.

But let's parallelize some more. Next step up after the personal meeting with the Professor is the Professor-in-charge for the course (in case it's a different person); then, next up - the person in charge of (undergraduate?) studies in your department. Again, student union rep + many students is the best combination from your side to meet with people further up the chain of authority.

Good luck!

PS - @Buzz's answer also makes some good points - especially about not saying which assignments you have or don't have.


To make a somewhat contrarian answer with a somewhat obvious point: is the teacher's request actually causing problems to someone in the class?

If it does, then I believe it is completely reasonable to complain, and also to side with the people affected even if you do not have the problem yourself (e.g., you have your past assignments).

However, this isn't obvious to me because the question doesn't say there is evidence for it. So, if it so happens that everyone has all their assignments at hand (or that people who didn't were not actually penalized for it, e.g., because the teacher realized on her own that it was a bad idea), then I wouldn't think it's a good idea to complain just out of principle because it could have put someone at a disadvantage or because the policy was bad. This could be given as feedback to the teacher once the class is over (e.g., when evaluating the class if this is done) but I wouldn't appeal to challenge a rule if it didn't actually affect someone.

In summary I'm just saying that it's OK to complain about an actual injustice but I wouldn't complain as vocally about the fact that an injustice could have occurred if there is no evidence that it did.

  • 3
    I was victimized by this exact thing many years ago. I didn't keep a graded paper, and then the instructor wanted it back. It made no sense to me, or anyone else, but what can you do? This was a long time ago, when I couldn't just print another copy from a computer. I had to recreate the paper from memory as best I could. To top it all off, the instructor graded the recreation and gave me a lower mark than the original.
    – Mohair
    Apr 18, 2019 at 15:46

Recommend the instructor use BlackBoard, Canvas, or some other LMS (Learning Management System) -- the "papers" are all online, so both students and instructors can access them again. (Most US colleges have an Instructional Technology division that can assist with setting this up, if it's not already being used.)

It would be then fair to ask the student to do a final paper that reflects on their patterns and improvements over the semester, which would make specific reference to certain past papers.

And to make it easier for the instructor to only grab the parts that are in mentioned in the "portfolio," the instructor can request the students re-upload the relevant files (with screengrabs of comments, perhaps, if they're on the LMS Rubric, instead of embedded like Word's TrackChanges comments).

A final word for the instructor -- in professional life, a portfolio is curated -- not everything is included - only the best or most relevant works. If there's portfolio grading, not only should it be mentioned early, students should be allowed to make (some) selections. Since it is educational, however, to have a gradeable standard, she can require some things be the same for all: Maybe students can choose 1 of 3 short essays, and 1 medium essay, but everyone has to include the research paper and the very first essay of the semester.

Source - I was a perma-adjunct for about 12 years, mostly teaching ENGL100. I did use reflections on students' first papers (with specific questions) at the end of the semester, but rarely portfolios. I also heavily used BlackBoard to coordinate everything and not lose physical papers.

  • 1
    Same here, current LMS is Canvas, it actually added a feature back in 2016 to allow you to download/view any submitted paper for any class regardless of the status of the class (closed, etc) or your enrollment (deleted due to being dropped, etc)
    – ivanivan
    Apr 17, 2019 at 17:29

One unmentioned possibility is to file a petition with the dean for credit/no credit grading on this course, citing this retroactive requirement as the reason. While this doesn't help the rest of the students, it does get the point across and protects you.

Late filing of credit/no credit (and this would be very late if you're on the quarter system) doesn't have to get approved, but this puts the thing on record in case you decide to appeal the grade later. Effectively retroactively changing the grading metric is a good case for credit/no credit.

  • Diasgree....if the student wans a letter grade, they shouldn't have to accept credit/no credit because of this professor's arbitrary actions.
    – cag51
    Apr 19, 2019 at 16:15
  • @cag51: Perhaps, but fighting for a fair letter grade is a lot more effort.
    – Joshua
    Apr 19, 2019 at 17:04
  • It might be more effort, but it's potentially career-determining, so...
    – Equinox
    Apr 22, 2019 at 4:04
  • @Equinox: Are you a native English speaker?
    – Joshua
    Apr 22, 2019 at 4:05
  • Yes, indeed I am.
    – Equinox
    Apr 22, 2019 at 19:55

The school and the professor have the right to determine fairness in their institution. Outside opinions are mostly just opinions. If you dispute the professor, follow the school’s guidelines for academic appeals. Don’t be surprised if they support her side.

  • 3
    Sure, but I think this is a fair question -- OP is asking whether this policy would generally be considered fair, and what to do about it if not. It goes without saying that it's the school's opinion, not that of SE, that matters.
    – cag51
    Apr 19, 2019 at 16:17

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