This article from the Brown University Daily Herald describes a number of student activists who claim to have suffered due to excess levels of student activism. Some excerpts from the article are included:

“There are people breaking down, dropping out of classes and failing classes because of the activism work they are taking on,” said David, an undergraduate whose name has been changed to preserve anonymity. Throughout the year, he has worked to confront issues of racism and diversity on campus.


Sampedro worked alongside the group that presented the demands for the diversity and inclusion action plan’s revision. It was a Thursday, she recalled, and she had a research presentation that needed to be completed that week. “I remember emailing the professor and begging her to put things off another week,” she said. The professor denied her request.

“I hadn’t eaten. I hadn’t slept. I was exhausted, physically and emotionally,” she said. After hours of work to compile and present the demands, she forced herself to stay up to complete the project anyway.

[...] (emphasis mine)

Deans’ notes helped Gaines to complete academic work while staying involved in student activism.

In writing such notes, deans acknowledge the difficulties faced by a student on campus and demonstrate their support for the student’s requests, said Ashley Ferranti, assistant dean of student support services.

Though it is ultimately up to a faculty member to accept a dean’s note, Ferranti estimated that notes are accepted over 90 percent of the time. Students who take issue with the rejection of a note can discuss the incident with a dean, Ferranti added.

I was under the impression from my personal experience that extension of deadlines are generally only awarded for reasons such as personal illness or family issues such as divorce, death, or serious illness.

As professors, is it generally considered acceptable to provide deadline extensions or other accommodations to students who have fallen behind on their coursework due to their involvement with activism?

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    I am surprised that majority of the answers do not mention the Dean's note. I more or less do what the Dean says.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 18:58
  • 3
    @StrongBad where I come from, the Dean doesn't have anything to say on this matters. Of course, if your university is different, you should know it and act accordingly.
    – Davidmh
    Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 8:28
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    in the real world most companies do not give any special consideration for personal time activities like this impacting deliverables unless those activities are specifically sponsored or sanctioned by the company. And even then it would be planned for and anything excessive would not be tolerated. Providing leeway would just be setting them up for failure when it really counts, in the real world.
    – user40830
    Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 22:14
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    Sounds like the prime example of why I'm ashamed to even be on the cusp any where near being compared to millennials; that self-entitlement. Luckily I'm on the North end of the cusp and can cling to Gen X actually having matters to stand for and still having the ethics to get up and be responsible for our own actions. If you fall behind student activities because of personal, it's your own fault. As to @AustinHenley, sorry, but you're just plain wrong. This is comparable to a workers strike, which is never a "full win". These kids are being coddled and will hurt in the real world.
    – SpYk3HH
    Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 14:38
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    @JarrodRoberson University is not a training ground for working for a company.
    – jwg
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 9:54

8 Answers 8


Much would depend on the concrete situation. But, by default, I would think that activism is part of student's life that the student needs to learn to manage themselves; if they do not have the resources or ability to manage their activism effectively so as not to have them interfere with their studies, then, largely, I would consider this to be their responsibility. One would probably not see any concessions given for extracurricular sports/music activity, and the question is why political activism should be exempt.

Some may argue that political activism is important as a part of society and therefore of a higher rank than, say, sports or music, but how this is evaluated would probably depend on whose side of the activism one sees oneself.

That being said, times which are more tolerant of studies as an opportunity for character development would probably give more leeway to activism, while times (such as ours) where studies would be considered more a means to an end (development of employment skills) would probably be less tolerant. I would see the former as an ideal of times past, but the latter as the reality today.

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    I will take issue with one thing in this answer: there most certainly are concessions given for other extracurricular activities like sports and music. Think about major college football and basketball teams, for example.
    – jakebeal
    Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 12:17
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    @jakebeal, agreed. Sports should also not be a justified ground for any academic concession.
    – Dilworth
    Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 13:09
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    @jakebeal an important difference is that when players enrol in the football team do so under the promise of being given concessions. They also have to manage their time, they just have different allocations. (And this said, I don't think they should be given concessions for sports either, but that is a different discussion).
    – Davidmh
    Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 13:33
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    I don't think exams should ever receive an extension for activism. If they're so busy they need to take the exam a different day, do you think they studied for it? Do you think they studied for your make-up in the short time of your extension (may be harder, much longer)? A presentation might be reasonable given a timely notice, because they're often scheduled so far out that the student will know it's due on a given day. If they choose to schedule something else despite knowing their obligation, I take issue with that.
    – CKM
    Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 16:39
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    Not acceptable. By taking part in a course, students effectively sign into a contract to work their butts off, attend lectures, take part in labs, open labs, exams, quizzes, homework exercises, etc, to earn marks. Only doctors notes and bereavement leave get any special consideration. The onus is on them to decide what's really important in their lives. Try swapping "activism" with something like "video game tournament", or "drinking" or "prank"; and "coursework" with "9-5 job" or "monthly contract that pays the bills".
    – Cloud
    Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 6:55

Lots of good and lengthy answers here: put concisely the answer is a resounding no.

A huge benefit of choosing to do something extracurricular in college is learning the consequences of failing to balance responsibilities. By giving extensions to a student that chooses to spend time doing something outside of coursework, you fail to help them find this balance.


I try to always spell things out like this in my syllabus, and I would hope others do, too. For me, I would excuse a small number of minor things, so long as warning is given in advance, but it wouldn't be a valid excuse on a test or especially major assignment.

I don't have a specific clause for activism, nor have I gotten excuses from that activity, but I've given leeway for other legitimate student activities (sports, coding camps, etc.) and this would be no different.

Other teachers in my department would feel differently, not giving excuses for anything but medical or religious leave, but the point is that this is spelled out in advance, which is the only way it ever should be. Students should understand the consequences of their choices and be bound by them.

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    Nice and concisely spelt out - Explaining your policy beforehand, especially on the first day of class and especially on a written syllabus handout, is a huge way of both being convenient to the student and protecting your own best interests.
    – Zibbobz
    Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 18:22
  • Hello @RichardRast I am just curious about the "religious leave". In your experience, the restrictions that a student's religion impose in his or her life are accepted by professors as a sufficient reason to change, for instance, the date of a test or a presentation? Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 15:18
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    My university has a policy that no major assignments will be due and no tests will be conducted on religious holidays. In practice this just means dodging the Jewish holidays. I also have a policy where I (strongly) ask students to notify me well in advance of any religious holidays which will occur during the semester which will cause them to miss class (cont.) Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 17:04
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    @Vitor if one is a public university, not allowing students their civil liberties when it comes to observing major religious holidays can certainly lead to legal issues and that's not even covering other tricky questions of religion and student bodies. Note you even have to watch what you says as Richard's statement this just means dodging the Jewish holidays could be seen as very offensive (I'm assuming he meant none). Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 1:11
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    What I meant is that if a holiday (a) has a significant number (at least one in my class) adherents who would miss class, and (b) occur on days when there is normally school, then that holiday is usually Jewish. I meant nothing more interesting than that. Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 1:47

I would like to offer an alternative, possibly unpopular answer: professors should try to err on the side of making accommodations for extracurricular activities. This includes allowing extensions for student activists when the requests are reasonable.

Of course academic work should always be students' first priority. However, for better or worse, colleges and universities in the United States are not exclusively academic institutions. Universities frequently promote themselves as offering students the opportunity to learn and develop in and out of the classroom, and many students feel that success in college depends extracurricular activities in addition to academic performance. This may frustrate professors, but it isn't entirely baseless; post-graduate success may result from extracurricular involvement such as internships, volunteer experience and yes, activism.

None of this is to say that students should focus exclusively on extracurriculars. If a student is consistently incapable of completing coursework due to nonacademic obligations, they should either scale back their competing interests or suffer the academic consequences. However, in the event that a student requests a short extension because they are organizing a protest, playing a concert, training for a big game, or completing a task for their job or internship, I believe the request should be granted (provided it does not seriously inconvenience the instructor or disadvantage other students). After all, even a student who seriously prioritizes academics and manages their time excellently will experience an occasional deadline conflict and time crunch.

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    I agree. But one thing consider is timing. The student in the OP's example didn't contact the professor until the day before the project was due. A better approach would have been to e-mail the professor when the protests started and say "Though I can get the project done on time if you absolutely require, but I'd really like to be involved in the protests and so, if you could allow it, would appreciate being able to turn it in by Monday instead." I always refuse non-emergency last hour requests, but given enough notice, I'm far more accommodating. Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 2:32

Student activism would not be something that I would normally grant an extension for. If however, my Dean asked me to grant an extension (either for an individual student or the entire class), I think I would side with my Dean well over 90% of the time. If the Dean made a habit of "interfering" I would likely talk to my Department Chair and complain. I would also consider making a "letter from the Dean" an official avenue of getting an extension similar to a "letter from the doctor".

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    While this is an answer from the perspective of a professor, it kind of passes the buck. It doesn't answer the question for the dean, who is now the one who decides policy on the matter for every student in every class on every assignment. Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 22:57
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    @ParthianShot it is the Dean's own fault and he/she should stay out of the business of granting extensions.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 23:34

Another issue is that it is difficult for the professor to evaluate the level of engagement of the student. Some activists are working long and hard on noble causes; it would be easy for a lazy student to show up for the parties to get an extension.

The personal opinion of the professor in the matter may also influence the results. So, someone may decide that racism is a worthy cause of a week of extension, but the same effort for gender equality (or the welfare of the campus' trees) is not.

As Captain Emacs says, time management is one of the things you should learn at University, and if delaying the deadline a week would have made it possible, they could also have postponed their activities for one week, after doing the assignment.

So, all in all, I believe most cases don't merit special dispensations, and if a student believes something does (for example, participation on an event with fixed date), it should be requested in advance, so that the student can act on a rejection, show they aren't just running out of time, and arrange what would be s suitable proof if the professor requires it. This also gives time for the professor to rearrange the schedule, as they may have been planning to, for example, go through the solutions of the problems once they were handed in.

Finally: some of my friends were very active in different activist movements (and me too, to a lesser degree), at times, to great personal sacrifice; and yet no one of us ever thought to be entitled to any special treatment for this.

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    "someone may decide that racism is a worthy cause" -- the ugliest consequence of this is reprisals against those whose activism is directed against the school itself. "Yeah, sure, you're opposing racism, have an extension. Oh wait, you think my friend in the History department did something racist? No extension for you". Of course it's the academic's responsibility how far they can go down the road of personally assessing the student's cause without risking this, and "not at all" has the virtue of simplicity. Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 13:38

It is up to the professor's discretion whether or not this is a reasonable justification for an extension.

Ideally, said professor has already outlined the criteria they will accept for academic extensions - usually as you said, serious family issues and illness/death - but individual cases should come down to the professor's own discretion.

This may seem a petty way of handling a situation, but a professor cannot be expected to anticipate all possible reasons for a student to request an extension, and when a student comes to them asking for one, it is up to that professor's judgment whether one is justified or not.

Some professors are more lenient and will allow for occasional (or frequent!) extensions on personal matters, others are strict and will not allow any extensions past due dates (professors typically lay out the exact time each assignment and exam is due on the first day of class, so that there is no question whether or not the student should have been prepared for the exam/due date).

For this particular case, professors may handle it differently - some more lenient than others - and that's perfectly acceptable. It is a personal matter, and unless the academic body itself has a policy on such events (which the professor should definitely adhere to if one exists) then it falls upon them to decide, based on the circumstances of an individual event.

That being said, a dean's letter would certainly override a professor's decision. But this does not invalidate the professor, nor does it mean they should necessarily excuse students in the future for similar reasons (unless said letter has explicit instructions to do so). This just means the individual student has sought a specific exception to this rule, and got one.

Important Exception

That being said, if many students request such an extension, it may be in the best interest of the professor to offer one - the nature of today's socio-political society makes it very dangerous to take on students, especially a large body of students, on moral grounds. And for the sake of the professor's academic career, they should consider picking their battles carefully.

This is not to say that students are justified in choosing to fight a professor on their deadlines (in fact they are probably not if all the above laid out facts are true) but that the professor, unfortunately, will probably not be able to force these students to accept their deadline, and should not sacrifice their position for it.


Having attended Brown (long ago, but still...) I am not the least bit surprised. That school has a long history of considering diversity and activism (both) as more important than scholarship. Though, as I recall, in the late 80's Amy Carter was expelled from there "for academic reasons," specifically because she had spent too much time in jail and not enough in class, as a result of her activism. Today, she would be more likely to receive a special President's award.

So, it certainly depends on the School. I doubt the same consideration would apply to a student at RPI, for example.

I added this "answer" because I believe it is an important bit of context that was missing from the discussion.

  • 1
    Why are you singling out RPI? I don't see what it adds to the answer.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 15:41
  • Just an example of a school where academics is taken seriously.
    – Jeffiekins
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 19:24
  • Specifically, where academics is taken more seriously than "diversity" (such an example is getting harder to think of every year).
    – Jeffiekins
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 19:30

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