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CYNN: Extend the deadline for incomplete grades

Four weeks is simply not enough time for students who have experienced crisis or trauma to complete all of their necessary assignments

By the time you familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of a college semester at the University — usually by the end of your first year — you should have a general sense of how your routine will look for the rest of your time at the University. As a student, you expect to absorb information from your lectures or classwork, work on course assignments and complete your final exams. Now, imagine that towards the end of one semester, your life is totally upended by significant extenuating circumstances — tragedy, crisis or some kind of emergency. After seeking guidance from your professors and University administration, you might be advised to take an incomplete grade for one or two of your classes, which is a temporary grade designed to accommodate students who experience unexpected or sudden mitigating factors like illness or a death in the immediate family. However, an IN only offers an extension of up to four weeks after the end of the final examination period. Overwhelmed with the time crunch you are now facing, this deadline can be demoralizing and even debilitating, especially when enduring personal hardship.

This is oftentimes the reality for students at the University who seek an IN. When the student has submitted all of their work within the extension period — exactly four weeks — the temporary IN grade is replaced with the final grade. If the final grade is not posted by the professor by the end of these four weeks, however, the IN is automatically and permanently changed to an F. This is scarcely enough time for a student to reasonably complete weeks’ worth of papers, assignments and tests, especially considering the student is likely also balancing the other logistical or emotional responsibilities that required them to take an IN in the first place. The University must display more understanding for students requesting an IN and extend the hard deadline — ideally to the end of the next full semester.

An IN is framed as the most lenient option offered to students who still want to complete their semester without a withdrawal. The only other real options are to tough it out and finish all assignments by the original deadline or withdraw from the entire semester — and sit out the next semester if it takes place after the official withdrawal deadline. Getting an IN request approved is complex, as it requires both approval from the professor teaching the course and authorization from the student’s Association Dean. To receive an IN, the student must not be failing the class and must have had both a consistent attendance and participation record. They also must have completed 75 percent of the classwork for the course — meaning that it is intended for those who were on track to pass. But why put students who have demonstrated their capacity to succeed in the course through more strain during what is already a difficult time? These students have already shown that they are capable of completing the class — meaning that a hard and fast deadline with little room for error might actually hinder them, rather than help. For instance, the IN deadline after the final examination period in the 2022 fall semester was just five days before the start of the 2023 spring semester. Students going through turmoil in their private lives — whether as the result of crisis, health concerns or other impediments to their learning — are thus placed under an unnecessarily rigorous academic standard, which unduly jeopardizes their success in the course.

One only has to look at incomplete grade policies from other universities to see that the University places a harsh burden on students who take an IN. At George Mason University, students taking an IN must complete all requirements by the end of the ninth week of the next semester to receive full credit for their course. For The College of William and Mary, that deadline is pushed back to the last day of classes of the following regular semester, or an earlier date specified by the professor that must be agreed upon by the student. Having an entire semester to work on past assignments is far more understanding of students’ plights than the deadline the University imposes on its student body. 

Some may argue that the University maintains a strict four-week extension policy because it expects its students to be of a certain academic caliber, to uphold the University’s reputation as an academically exceptional school. But look at at policies upheld by top-tier universities across the country — if a student’s incomplete grade request is approved at Harvard University, for instance, the maximum amount of time a student may be given to complete all assignments is also one full semester. And even if a deadline extension runs the risk of causing students to get behind in their work, it is still ultimately the student’s responsibility to manage their time and ensure that all assignments are completed — which would be expected of them for any deadline. These students have proven their ability to pass their courses under normal circumstances. Why not extend that trust and have faith in them to balance their time accordingly when given the chance? Students should not be expected to be productive automatons, least of all in the face of tragedy.

Students that are in need of an IN extension are already going through hardship and are often isolated from their peers by their experiences. Students at the University who choose to take an IN do so not because they want to get out of doing work or see it as a get out of jail free card, but because they are determined to succeed academically in spite of their personal struggles. Because of the hoops one must jump through to get an IN request approved, the circumstances for students who receive an IN go beyond the superficial — they are dire. The threat of having an IN converted to an F after a mere four weeks puts an extra level of stress on students who need compassion the most. Conditions beyond a student’s control should not be a barrier to passing a course. The University should follow the lead of peer institutions and offer its students a helping hand — not one that, even unintentionally, hurts its students in the long run.

Samantha Cynn is an Opinion Columnist who writes on Politics for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at 

The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors alone.