by Holly Genovese
Holly Genovese is a Ph.D. student in American Studies at UT Austin, with graduate portfolios in both Black Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies. Her work focuses on African American aesthetic resistance to incarceration in the American South. .Her article “The Only Panthers Left: An Intellectual History of the Angola 3” was published in the Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice Working Paper Series and she has also been published in Quaker Studies, Fabric Journal and the edited collection Invisible No More. Her essays and criticism have been published in Teen Vogue, Jacobin, The Washington Post, The LA Review of Books, Literary Hub, Electric Literature, Public Seminar, and The Chronicle of Higher Ed.
Refusing extensions doesn’t make you a good teacher. But it does make you an ableist one. As we have returned to the in person classroom, the predictions of disabled academics everywhere came true: the unprecedented access to virtual and at home resources, and to grace, that came with the pandemic have been rolled back. Some events are still being live streamed, but expectations to attend events and classes in person are returning (even as we know the technology is there to avoid this). And the extensions, shifted assignments, and generally lax policies of the last year are slowly being rolled back for firmer deadlines. Of course, some universities require this. But for those that don’t have restrictive university policy about deadlines during the semester, what do you lose from giving extensions? And what do you have to gain?
Why have strict deadlines? Why require doctor’s notes? Why does it matter if your student was “legitimately” sick and how do we even define that anyway? Many of my absences would never be counted legitimate, as why would I go to a doctor for the symptoms of chronic illness and pain that I am left to manage on my own? And how can you expect students, who often go without health insurance, to get a note? Why do you need to see proof of death, of loss, of trauma, when hundreds of thousands of people are dying?
The primary answer, the answer that nobody wants to give, is power. If we give students extensions or allow them greater freedom in deciding when to do their work, instructors lose power. We also lose the illusion that our students are children who cannot decide for themselves their priorities. But our students, no matter how young, are adults with other courses, full time jobs, children, and illnesses. Adults with lives, and the right to make choices about how they live them and prioritize their time. Why not allow flexibility on a paper so that your student isn’t completing 5 in one week? Why not allow an extension because your student is having an emotional crisis or is just so tired from pretending that life during a pandemic is somehow normal? If your answer involves the “real world,” you are denying that your students are living in it right now.
In a twitter thread on the subject, I’ve seen a few legitimate answers: giving incompletes (which are different than a simple extension) often leads to more stress, rushed work, and less time to manage responsibilities in future semesters. In some STEM fields, students struggle to move on with their work if they haven’t mastered earlier concepts. And for adjuncts, or others who are only paid during the semester, extensions and incompletes amount to unpaid labor. But these are problems of the university, not the students.
I’ve all but gotten rid of deadlines in my class. Students can turn their work in, at any time, by the end of the semester. If they need an incomplete, and their advisor agrees, I will grant it. I set due dates as guidelines (and make this explicitly known in the syllabus), so that students don’t get too behind if they can help it. And the result has been better work, more detailed papers, and students who are less tired, less stressed, and feel more like collaborators than ever before. Deadlines are seen as an integral part of higher education, but what if they weren’t?