Last year, I did an exchange semester at a foreign university as part of my master degree. I was lagging behind on homework in one of my exchange courses, and wouldn't have been able to get a good grade. Since this university allows students who fail courses to attempt them again in the next term, and I expect this grade to be important in a future application, I chose to not pass the course last year, and enrolled in its next round, which is now.

I cannot attend lectures since I am in my home country, so I depend entirely on the university's online course tracking system to follow the course and assignments. From the beginning of the term, I visited regularly the course's page, to make sure I could start working on assignments early. Since I didn't see this year's assignments appear, I assumed that they had not yet been given, and focused on my schoolwork at home.

I have discovered today that the system did not show me any of the assignments or announcements from this semester, even though I have registered correctly to this year's course round. I was only informed by a student I kept contact with on social media that there was in fact an assignment to be handed in, and that the deadline has passed a few days ago. This means that, whatever I do, I won't be able to get more than a passing grade. I still don't even have access to the course material, announcements, discussions or assignments published for this year's course round.

I contacted the teacher, who said that they could not account for technical problems, and would not grade me higher than a passing grade if I handed in this assignment now, as for the other students.

I feel that I am getting penalized for technical problems outside of my control. Since the teacher used the term "cannot", I assume that there is a rule outside of their control that prevents them from making an exception. I suppose that there is someone in the university who can make these exceptions, and would like to contact them and explain my problem.

The problem is that I don't know who this person might be, or if it would be wise to send them an email. The IT support can probably fix my problem with the tracking system, but has no control over grading. The international relations office usually directs this kind of inquiries to the course's professors. Contacting someone high-ranked such as the dean seems ridiculous to me, and I would expect no answer at best. There are various offices such as the "office of student affairs", and several contacts listed on the department's web page, but I don't know which one to choose.

At large universities, what office or person typically deals with this kind of complaints? Is it worth trying to contact them and get an exceptional deadline extension?

  • 1
    Since you were doing the course for the second time then, when the assignments did not appear, why did you not contact someone earlier? That seems to be a big error on your part. Any technical issue could have been corrected so much earlier.
    – Solar Mike
    Dec 11, 2019 at 10:15
  • @SolarMike I agree, but I remembered the assignments to have started quite late in the semester the first time. I obviously waited too long to think of this. Still, I don't think it was unreasonable on my part to assume that the tracking system was accurate, and it seems that I missed the start of the assignment by a week or two at most (the universities' calendars are so different that I have a hard time being more precise).
    – user39012
    Dec 11, 2019 at 10:20
  • You're reading an awful lot into the word "cannot" there. It's likely that the instructor has the authority to make these decisions (possibly even the sole authority), but has decided not to grant you an exception for whatever reason. Dec 11, 2019 at 14:12

1 Answer 1


I fail to see how a teacher could give you what you want, while remaining fair with respect to all other students.

I taught a course where I made clear from the start to everyone that late submissions would not be graded and would not receive any points. Around one deadline, one student decided to take a holiday in Portugal, which is located one time zone to the west of most of Europe. They submitted their homework three minutes before midnight in the Portuguese time zone, which was 57 minutes late in our time zone.

If I now stretch up the rules for this student, why would any other student ever take my red lines seriously anymore? Moreover, other students who remained in the central European timezone may have missed the deadline by, say, ten minutes, and just decide not to submit given that I had been clear that late submissions would not be graded. If a professor writes down a hard, clear rule, they cannot make technical exceptions for that rule without un-leveling the playing field. It would be unfair to other students, to make an exception for you.

It would be different, if the university's online course tracking system to which you allude, has a formal role in the examination regulations. If there are university or department regulations that stipulates that the system administrates, then you might be in your rights. But barring that, the teacher sets the rules, and is responsible for upholding them in an objectively fair manner. Objectively fair would be to not grant you the technical exemption that other students would also not be granted.


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