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A University Student's Responsibilities

High School

In high school, teachers have a more in-depth role in making sure you learn. Lessons cater more to a lower common denominator, proving that you get the basic idea is rewarded more than proving you can apply the idea in a complex manner, and you're given all the basics for things like how to write a sentence, a paragraph, a story, etc. High school is the time to practice learning and to practice the skills of literacy.

By the time you get to university, you are expected to know the fundamentals of grammar, basic mathematics, personal conduct, and study habits. While the actual information you know about a given topic may be minimal, you should at least have the tools necessary to go on and learn more without having to have the basic building blocks of literacy shown to you.

If you have graduated from high school without learning these things, your school system is at fault for graduating you. All high school graduates in a first-world nation should be able to construct a grammatically correct sentence or paragraph. All high school graduates in countries with reasonable education systems should be able to do basic arithmetic without a calculator. All high school graduates in countries with reasonable education systems should be able to locate their country on an unmarked map or globe. They should be able to read comprehensively, to formulate and back up opinions, to use dictionaries and other reference materials, and to effectively self-evaluate on all of these things.

High schools that churn out graduates without these skills are not helping students. They're intellectually crippling them, and setting them up for failure at the university level. If you graduated without these skills, go back to your high school principal or school board and tell them that their educational structure needs to be improved for the benefit of the students.

University or College

Once you are in post-secondary education, it is no longer the teacher's role to supply you with the building blocks of literacy. It is no longer their role to coddle students and cater to the slowest in the class at the expense of those who understand.

The responsibilities of post-secondary educators are:

  • To present all relevant course information in a clear manner.
  • To ensure that the relevant material is covered within the time allotted for the class.
  • To make all reading material available or to indicate where it is available, such as the library or book store, and to ensure there is enough for every student to have reasonable and fair access.
  • To have office hours during which students can ask for help, clarification, etc.
  • To ensure that either their office hours fit the academic schedule of all students or to make time available by appointment otherwise.
    • It is not an instructor's duty to schedule around non-academic schedules such as sports, work, parties, frat/sorority events, etc.
  • To show up to class and not let the TAs do all of the lecturing.
  • To be able to effectively communicate in the language(s) of the university, both orally and in writing (except in language immersion courses).
  • To be respectful to students asking questions and not insult, put-down, mock, or otherwise belittle a student for not understanding.
  • To grade all tests and assignments fairly and on an appropriate schedule.
  • To set up tests and assignments to demonstrate learning, not to demonstrate how well students cope with stress.
  • To be flexible and helpful to students with special needs, such as disabilities or terrible emergencies (ie family death).
  • To give students all of the information necessary to succeed.

It is not the professor's job to give you a passing grade when you don't deserve one. It is not their job to grant you exceptions that would be unfair to everyone else. It is not their job to chase after you to come to class, nor to give you special attention if you skip classes and are completely lost later.

Professors who give special leniency to those who do not deserve it are being unfair to students who fulfill their obligations. For example, if a prof declares a make-up test to only those students who failed the first test, or extends a deadline only for those students who didn't make the original deadline, those students who did pass or did hand the assignment in on time are being penalized.

Students have to fulfill their obligations before expecting professors to give them consideration.

The responsibilities of post-secondary students are:

  • To be polite in all dealings with the professor, the TAs, and the other students.
  • To show up to class on time and ready to participate in the learning process. This means:
    • Bringing all the paper, pens, pencils, calculators, books, etc. you will need.
    • Reading the required readings before class.
    • Turning off all cellphones and pagers. If there's something more important to you than giving your full attention in class, don't bother to show up, because you're only going to distract those who are there to learn.
    • Not leaving in the middle of class and interrupting everyone in it unless it's crucial. Go to the bathroom BEFORE class. It's one thing to have an emergency due to something like colitis, and another to walk out and disrupt everything because you're bored. If you know you may have to leave part way through class, have the courtesy to sit near an exit.
  • To ask questions, participate in discussions, and otherwise speak up when appropriate.
    • If you don't understand something, ask. Chances are, others in the class don't understand either. If the prof is unable to assist you, they should be able to do so after class or during office hours. If you don't ask and as a result you do not understand, that's YOUR fault, not the prof's.
    • If you think the professor has made an error, politely point it out during class. Profs are human. It is easier for them to correct a mistake and set the learning back on track at the same time rather than having to wait until next class. If you are wrong about the mistake, the prof should indicate why the item is correct. If the prof is rude when you have been polite, that's their fault, but you should make sure your education comes first.
    • This also means that you should certainly NOT be talking when inappropriate, such as during a lecture. Don't interrupt other students just because you're bored.
  • If you are registered as a full time student, it is your responsibility to BE a full time student. Your job and your social engagements come second.
    • If you have to decide between completing an assignment or going to work, the decision should favour the assignment.
    • Your job's schedule should be sacrificed to your academic schedule.
    • The only exception to these things is if you cannot pay for the post-secondary education without the job. This means that you need the money from the job to pay for food, lodging, books, equipment, and tuition. If your job money is funding social or leisure activities, it is extra. If you do need to work to stay in school, the university should be able to assist you in creating a schedule that fits around your job. You may not be able to be a full-time student. There are also often funds available to poor students, particularly in socially responsible countries such as Canada. It is your duty to seek this help out, not your prof's duty.
  • If you become ill, it is your responsibility to catch up on instruction you have missed.
    • If you are ill enough to not go to class, you are ill enough to see a doctor and obtain a note proving that you were that ill, or to have proof of an ongoing condition (like migraines).
    • The prof should be helpful if you need to catch up, but it is your responsibility to go and see them and get that help. It is your responsibility to provide proof that you were ill. It is not their duty to take your word for it.
  • To do all readings, research, and assignments on an appropriate schedule.
    • If you leave an essay to the last night and fall ill, it is not the prof's duty to give you an extension unless you can prove that you had done most of the work already. You should also have the doctor's note for this. If you suffer from an ongoing condition, it is entirely your responsibility to build in enough buffer time around that.
    • If you leave research so late that all the good materials are unavailable from the library, this is not the professor's fault. You do not deserve an extension on a deadline for this. If, however, you can demonstrate that you were on a waiting list for the library item for the duration of the semester and still did not get it, alert the professor to the problem before the deadline.
    • If you take a holiday and fall behind, you do not deserve extensions.
  • To plan non-academic events around the academic schedule.
    • If you know when the exam is scheduled or during what week it is likely to be scheduled and you book plane tickets home in such a way that conflicts with the exam, that's your problem. The prof should not give you a means around it, regardless of how much money you spent.
  • To ensure that you comply with assignment specifics, and ask for help if you are not sure.
  • To inform the professor if you have a special need or emergency as soon as possible.
  • To make use of the unversity's help services such as writing workshops, tutors, etc. if you need help with the basics.
    • Do not expect your professor to teach you how to read and write.
    • Do not expect lenient grades on assignments just because your skills are lacking.
  • To ensure that you do not plagiarise in any assignment.
    • Most universities can expel a student if plagiarism can be proven. Don't even try it.
  • To take ahold of your education and make it work.

University education is not easy. It is a challenge. It is not handed to you on a silver platter. You must work for it and work hard to earn good grades. If a professor is failing his or her duties, inform them about it politely. If you are met with a negative response, elevate the complaint to the dean of the department. But make sure that you are fulfilling your obligations first!

Remember, the point of a post-secondary education is to learn, not to get good grades. Grades merely reflect whether or not you have learned the material that the university has decided is relevant to your field of study. Just because you don't agree that the material is relevant is not an excuse to be impolite or not bother. Not all areas of study are exciting and fascinating all the time. Sometimes learning the basics is dull. That's the price you pay for being an educated person. It is not the prof's job to entertain or babysit you.

If you give a second-rate effort, you deserve second-rate grades and all that comes with that. Don't blame the prof if you didn't learn the material because you failed to show up to class or to do the reading and assignments. Don't blame the prof if you didn't get your assignment done on time because you left it all to the last minute and disaster hit. Don't expect the prof to make exceptions for you that wouldn't be made for other students.

If you feel that these responsibilities are too tough, don't go to university. You don't belong there. It's for people who want to learn, not people looking to get a meaningless piece of paper that says "I killed time for four years at an educational institution."

Last updated in February 2005.

Copyright © 2000-2005 Kimberly Chapman. All rights reserved.

This original work is available for distribution, provided the following: it is only distributed in this complete form, it contains my name and copyright, it is not altered during distribution without my consent, and it is not used to generate income for anyone without my consent. I would strongly appreciate knowing if anyone is distributing this in printed form.

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