Background: I have an incomplete from an old course. I have submitted now all the old homeworks to the professor, with a couple weeks to grade them before the I lapses to an F. She wrote that she is going to a conference soon and doesn't have time now to grade it. I'm totally ok with getting a low grade in this course (just not an F; maybe a C+ or B-) even though I think my work is worth more than that.

Is it inappropriate to write the professor and suggest that she just estimates a low grade for me and not actually grade the work? I'm fine with that (and it's definitely easier for her, whether or not she'll admit it). The alternative is she slaves over grading it in a day or two (which she understandably doesn't seem excited about) or we petition for an extension from the department (or I fail). Would this be an offensive suggestion? A good suggestion? Not worth trying? Worth trying, even if she does say no? I don't want to offend anyone though (that's not going to help my cause at all).

I'm not trying to be unethical to get out of work (a short look through the homework should show that it's not just chicken-scratch and I really worked on it); this is just to try and simplify life for both of us. The idea is roughly that she can give me a grade which definitely does not overestimate my ability, so she doesn't have to feel unethical. The fact that it may underestimate my ability is my loss and I'm willing to accept it.

(I understand that I should have been in better contact with the professor about when to submit the old homeworks.)

  • Have you considered the possibility that she "lowballs" your grade and it ends up being an F? – Mad Jack Apr 4 '17 at 15:55
  • @MadJack Do you mean that she would do that as punishment for the inappropriate suggestion? I have considered it, that's why I'm asking here first... – pOmEgRaZa Apr 4 '17 at 15:56
  • No, that's not what I meant; I mean that she takes an honest stab as lowballing the grade for your work and she concludes that it rightfully deserves an F. – Mad Jack Apr 4 '17 at 15:58
  • @MadJack I suppose not, since I don't think that's likely given the quality of my work. I could always phrase the request as a conditional: 'if you feel the work seems to be no worse than a B-, feel free to just give it that grade.' – pOmEgRaZa Apr 4 '17 at 16:07
  • Why don't you just talk to the department head to get it evaluated? You don't do business with the professor. – Jacob Murray Wakem Apr 5 '17 at 1:05

In any half-way reasonable system (though I make no guarantees that you are dealing with one or not), this situation should be easily handled with a quick form or email to the administration from the professor. They need only confirm the student has turned in all work required to satisfy the incomplete, but they need additional time to render a final grade. It shouldn't be a big stumper for anyone, so I suspect there may be a communication issue - ie, the professor means they'll handle it but just was letting you know it'll be a few weeks to get your grade, but I wouldn't totally assume that.

I would suggest you simply inform the professor of your concern of the incomplete being automatically applied on X date, and ask if there is some form or something you need to do to ensure you aren't automatically failed even though you turned in the work.

That ought to be the end of it.

I would not suggest or imply in any way that the professor should BS you a low grade in exchange for being rid of you. Honestly, only a fabulously terrible instructor would go "oh good, so you just need a C - you can have one if you agree not to ask any questions, because I don't want to read this crap." Really, that's just an embarrassing attitude to have towards your job and students, though again I can't say there aren't people out in the world with this attitude.

Regardless, I have never, ever found it useful to assume or imply people are effectively an embarrassment to their field and so unethical as to give short shrift to their student by giving them a lower grade than they deserve in exchange for a quick grade. If they are not so cut-rate as to be enticed, they will either be sad that you think the system would actually work that way, think it's a silly request and ignore it, or be insulted that you think they would actually behave in such a way.

I don't know your instructor or institution, but I would personally suggest you just send a short, clarifying email ensuring they are considering the deadline from the institution and asking if you need to do anything to get an extension. Save the email to show to administrators later if there is an issue, and maybe talk to your advisor to make sure the proposed solution sounds right to them as well.

  • 2
    ask if there is some form or something you need to do to ensure you aren't automatically failed -- As an advisor once told me, "almost any problem in academia can be solved if the right person sends the right email to the right other person." +1. – tonysdg Apr 4 '17 at 19:18

It is the professor's ethical, professional, and potentially legal obligation to ensure that the grade you receive is the grade you earn, according to the grading schemes, course syllabus, and school policy. It is highly inappropriate to ask the professor to just guess at a grade, and it is equally inappropriate for the professor to actually do that.

The school grants degrees (or diplomas), and in most places the ability of a school's degree to get people a job is based entirely on that school's reputation. If a school starts randomly assigning grades, even low ones, it undermines that reputation and potentially makes their degrees suspect.

  • 1
    I'm not sure why suspicion of undervaluing would hurt anyone. If anything it would make every graduate appear to have more potential. – pOmEgRaZa Apr 4 '17 at 15:55
  • 1
    "according to the grading schemes, course syllabus, and school policy" That's true, but this is a case of an incomplete when personalized arrangements (eg. do XYZ project instead of final exam) are the norm. – pOmEgRaZa Apr 4 '17 at 15:57
  • 1
    If a school grants degrees based on arbitrary marks, high or low, then the degree is meaningless. For example, let's say that my potential GPA at a "truthful" school is 3.4/4, but my school arbitrarily assigns me a 3.0. I can't use my degree to demonstrate my actual competency. The only thing I can say is that I didn't fail. There would be no way for an employer to take my degree seriously, or worse, they'd take it for face value and I'd be at a constant disadvantage. It might seem like a small thing, but even one suspect grade is...well...suspect – Michael Stachowsky Apr 4 '17 at 16:17
  • 1
    "I can't use my degree to demonstrate my actual competency." No, you can use it to demonstrate competency on a level at least equal to a 3.0. The fact that an employer will have to judge me as a 3.0 not a 3.4 is my loss, not anyone else's, and I'm willing to accept it. – pOmEgRaZa Apr 4 '17 at 16:28
  • 1
    Well, your original question was "is it inappropriate". The answer is yes. The consequences are everyone's problem, not just yours. You don't seem to understand this point - if your degree were compromised, then all degrees from that institution are compromised, since no one can trust that all of the other degrees are fine, it was just yours. Granted, in this one case, probably nothing will happen. However, that's not the point. If it happens once it can happen over and over again – Michael Stachowsky Apr 4 '17 at 17:04

As a professor, I would say that giving an incomplete is extra work - I still have to attend to a student from a class I no longer am teaching. So, if a student came to me with this request I would take it as "You let me take longer than allowed to complete the coursework and now I'm asking you to hurry up." Plus, why take a lower grade automatically if you completed the required work?

If your professor does not have time now to grade it because a conference is coming up (conferences only last 3-5 days), simply ask your professor when would be a good time to contact her as a follow-up before the final grade is due. This is not an unreasonable request and is more professional. It also doesn't undermined the importance and effort she gave to the assignment she developed and assigned. Also, make sure you have a record that you submitted the materials to her in time - an email documenting you sent it, her email acknowledging she received it, a receipt from Blackboard, etc. This is her responsibility to get the grade in on time. If she doesn't, you will have proof that you submitted the coursework within the time frame agreed upon.


A lot of markers at university would love to just guess a grade, because most people would agree marking is the most tedious part of the job... However they don't because doing so and being found out would get them in serious trouble. There's no harm (to you) in asking, but the answer will almost certainly be no, because there's a lot of harm to them if they're found out, regardless of if the student is fine with it.

(Obviously depends on institution, but I can't imagine an institution where there wouldn't be trouble for the marker if this happened that's also an institution that issues degrees worth the paper they're written on).

  • Sorry, markers do not do it not because it will get them in trouble but, believe it or not, because they believe that if a grade is required, it should be given at the level of their best integrity (at least that's what the vast majority of markers do). Implying that it is just the threat of consequences that keeps them from inventing marks is, for the vast majority, outright disrespectful. There will be the odd shortcutter, but I found them extremely rarely, both as student as well as module-responsible lecturer. – Captain Emacs Apr 4 '17 at 17:38
  • Doing it because you're required to and there will be consequences if you don't is not the same as being "the odd shortcutter". There is no requirement to want to do something, to do it well. Your mileage may of course vary, but in my experience the vast majority of people I have met find marking to be the most boring and tedious part of their job – Jack Apr 4 '17 at 17:44
  • It is the most boring job, indeed. But I think that there are quite a few cases where it is almost impossible to be found out and nevertheless people try to do a decent job. Therefore, I think the statement "However they don't because doing so and being found out would get them in serious trouble" is not giving them credit for doing it because they want to do it well. You seem to agree with me on this in the comment, but the formulation in your response comes across to me as contradicting that, by saying "because...being found out would get them in serious trouble". Quite different. – Captain Emacs Apr 4 '17 at 18:37
  • There's no harm (to you) in asking. Sorry but that's incorrect. No major harm, perhaps, but if I were the professor in question I would not be impressed with a student asking me such a question. – Dan Romik Apr 5 '17 at 4:06

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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