UTCS Rules to Live By

The Computer Sciences Department is a community of scholars and students. Each of us thrives if the community thrives. Each of us thus has an individual responsibility to strive, not just for our own goals, but for the goals of the larger community. In this document, a group of the faculty have laid out a set of ground rules designed to make our department the kind of community in which we all want to live. If a professor in one of your classes has pointed you here, you should view this document as part of the syllabus for that class.

As a Student, What You Can Expect from Your Department

The CS Curriculum

The faculty as a whole have the responsibility to formulate a curriculum that will prepare you for a lifetime of work in the field of computing. Yes, some of what you learn will get you a job right away. Some of what you learn may seem more esoteric and less essential. But remember that the faculty have lived through a lot of changes in the field. They've all had to learn new ideas, new programming languages, new architectures, and new applications many times (and without the aid of classes or textbooks). They've got a lot of first-hand understanding of the fundamental concepts that make it easiest to adapt as new things come along. Trust a bit and take advantage of this expertise. Try to like every class you take.

Each Class that You Take

The most important thing that each of your teachers should give you is a guided tour through the subject matter of the class. After all, you can go to the bookstore, buy books, read them, and write some code without ever signing up for a class. But, whenever you do sign up for a class, you have the right to expect that the instructor has read a lot of books, solved a lot of problems, and then chosen, from all of that material, 14 weeks of the most important ideas presented in the clearest fashion.

You have the right to expect that every instructor will show up for class on time and be prepared to conduct the class.

Responsiveness from the Instructional Staff

In most of your CS classes, you will have an instructor, one or more TAs, and possibly a set of proctors. This group of people, working as a team, has the responsibility to do everything they can to help you learn.

Your instructor, TAs, and proctors should treat you with respect and encourage you to seek help when you need it.

Grades

Publication of the Grading Policy: You have a right to be told, within the first four days of the semester, how grades in each class will be determined. You will be told what the basis of the grade will be and how much weight will be assigned to each component of the grade. In some classes, you may be told even more, for example, what numeric scores will be assigned what letter grades. But keep in mind that this isn't always possible. Classes that use different exams each semester may have very different score distributions from one semester to the next so it isn't possible to know in advance what thresholds make sense.

  • Fairness: You have a right to expect that grades will be assigned fairly. Every student who turns in the same quality of work will receive the same grade.
  • Feedback: You have a right to see your graded work and to understand what, if anything, was wrong with the work you submitted.
  • Punctuality: You have a right to expect that exams and assignments will be graded in a timely fashion. It's hard to be more specific on this since the amount of time required to do a good job of grading depends so heavily on the kind of work and the staffing level of the class. One concrete thing you should expect is that you will have gotten some substantive feedback on your performance in each class before the Q drop deadline.

As a Student, What the Department Can Expect from You

Academic Honesty

The University and the Department are committed to preserving the reputation of your degree. It means a lot to you. In order to guarantee that every degree means what it says it means, we must enforce a strict policy that guarantees that the work that you turn in is your own and that the grades you receive measure your personal achievements in your classes:

Every piece of work that you turn in with your name on it must be yours and yours alone unless explicitly allowed by an instructor in a particular class. Specifically, unless otherwise authorized by an instructor:

  • Students may not discuss their work with anyone except the instructor and other members of the instructional staff (TA, Section Leader or Lab Proctor).
  • Students may not acquire from any source (e.g., another student or an internet site) a partial or complete solution to a problem or project that has been assigned.

You are responsible for complying with this policy in two ways:

  1. You must not turn in work that is not yours, except as expressly permitted by the instructor of each course.
  2. You must take all reasonable precautions to prevent your work from being stolen. It is important that you do nothing that would enable someone else to turn in work that is not theirs. Do not share your work with anyone else. Make sure that you adequately protect all your files. Even after you have finished a class, do not share your work or published answers with the students who come after you. They need to do their work on their own.

IMPORTANT: The penalty for academic dishonesty will be a course grade of F and a referral of the case to the Dean of Students Office. Further penalties, including suspension or expulsion from the University may be imposed by that office.

One final word: This policy is not intended to discourage students from learning from each other, nor is it unmindful of the fact that most significant work in computer science and in the computing industry is done by teams of people working together. But, because of our need to assign individual grades, we are forced to impose an otherwise artificial requirement for individual work. In some classes, it is possible to allow and even encourage collaboration in ways that do not interfere with the instructor's ability to assign grades. In these cases, your instructor will make clear to you exactly what kinds of collaboration are allowed for that class.

Attendance at Classes and Exams

Specific policies on class attendance will be set by individual instructors. Make sure you follow those policies.

Whether you come to class or not, you are responsible for keeping up with what happens in class. If you miss a class (other than for illness or an emergency), it is not reasonable for you to expect your instructor or TA to repeat just for you the material that was covered in the class that you missed. This applies both to the content of the class as well as to announcements about class policies, events, deadlines, or whatever.

Final examination schedules are published at the time of preregistration. If you are making end-of-semester travel plans, make sure that you will still be here to take each of your finals at the scheduled time. Travel plans are not a valid reason for missing an exam or asking for a special exam time.

The policy on makeup exams will be set by individual instructors. Sometimes a makeup will be allowed, but many times it will not be. Except for emergencies, you must take each exam at its scheduled time unless you have made prior arrangements with the instructor. Keep in mind that is often difficult or impossible for an instructor to create a separate makeup exam that is guaranteed to be of equal difficulty as the regular exam.

Demands of a job or job interviewing are never valid reasons for missing a class (or a deadline or an exam).

Classroom Behavior

You have the right to learn in every class you attend. But you have the responsibility to help assure that every other student shares that right. Specifically:

  • Come to class on time. Do not leave early. These things are very disruptive. Recognize that the buses and the parking space situation are unpredictable elements and allow for that. If you must come late or leave early (for example because of a doctor's appointment), let the instructor know in advance.
  • Don't be disruptive during class. Don't chat with your neighbor or rustle the newspaper.
  • Don't allow your electronic devices to be disruptive. Turn off your cell phone, beeper, and watch alarm.
  • Participate.

Academic Work outside the Classroom

The only way to learn computer science is to do it. You should plan to spend a substantial amount of time outside the classroom working on each class that you take. For some classes, that will mean programming. For others, it may mean reading, studying, working problems, writing, or whatever. Don't let this work slide. It will not generally be possible either to do a programming project or learn the material in a theoretical class the night before the due date or the exam. You should be working on your own every week of the semester.

A deadline is a deadline. Each instructor will publish the class policy for turning in late work. Plan your work accordingly. Don't push the deadlines and don't expect the instructor to do anything other than what has been published. Even five minutes is "late". Your instructor can't just acquiesce and accept your project five minutes late. Then what about seven or ten or fifteen or thirty? What about the other students in the class who had to miss some other event in order to get their work in on time? Is it fair to them to accept your work late? No. Plan that the printer will be down and the busses will be late on the day your assignment is due. Don't cut it down to the wire. And, if you do, accept the published consequences with grace.

Faculty and Staff Interaction

Your instructor, plus any TAs and/or proctors assigned to your class will work as a team to help you learn. But you need to interact with them in a reasonable way. Specifically:

  1. Remember that the instructional staff are a team. They will not all do everything. The instructor will tell you who will be responsible for what. Respect that. If you ask the wrong person your question, you probably won't get a reasonable answer and you will waste their time as well as yours. For many kinds of questions it really is better to ask the TAs or the proctors. This is particularly true of nitty gritty questions that arise in the labs, since the TAs and proctors are likely to spend more time there than the instructor does. It's their job.
  2. The University's electronic mail policy recognizes email as an effective way for your instructor and TAs to inform you about important things that may be happening in class. You are responsible for:
    • Making sure that your instructor has a valid email address for you. If you do not want to use the one that the university has on record, then make sure to give your instructor another one.
    • Reading your email every day.
    • Guaranteeing that your mailbox does not overflow.
  3. Excuses such as, "My email box was full", "I don't use that email address any more", "I was too busy to check my email", "I was on an interview trip and couldn't check my email", or "My computer crashed and all of my email was destroyed" aren't acceptable.
  4. Email is also a very valuable way for you to communicate with your instructor and TAs. But be sure you use it appropriately. Specifically:
    • Using email, it's easy to ask a question or make a comment that you'd never make in person. Be careful about this. If you think that what you're about to say wouldn't be something you'd feel comfortable going to office hours to say, you probably shouldn't say it in email either.
    • In particular, do not send email to your instructor (or anyone else for that matter) when you're angry. You'll regret it when you calm down and you'll have antagonized someone who is important to you.
    • Remember that the instructor has a permanent record of every email message.
    • Feel free to use email to ask questions about projects and homework assignments. But keep in mind that, although email is available, neither the instructors or the TAs are responsible for replying to email the instant it is sent. Don't wait until the last minute before something is due to ask your questions. Also, keep in mind that, if you ask a question that has a nontrivial answer, it may not make sense for the instructor or TA to write a small book for you. Sometimes it will be reasonable for them to ask you either to bring the question to class or to come to office hours to discuss it.
    • Although it's easy for you to dash off an email question, it takes time for the instructor or the TA to answer it. Don't ask questions to which you can find the answer somewhere else. For example, don't write to your instructor to ask where the regularly scheduled final exam is. (It's on the Registrar's web site.) Don't write and ask how much the first midterm counts. (It should be on the class syllabus.) Don't ask what happened in a class that you missed (unless you had an emergency).
  5. Office hours are there for you to use. You can expect that the person who is teaching your class loves the material and wants to share it with anyone who will listen. If you have questions about what's been covered in class or you're interested in finding out more about something, go to office hours and ask. You'll probably find that it's hard to get the faculty to shut up. The one thing that most faculty hate is students who only come to office hours to ask questions about grades. If there's been a mistake in grading your work, of course, go and ask (see below). But think twice before you go to office hours to ask questions that give the impression that you care less about learning than you do about grades. A few other points to keep in mind about office hours:
    • If you can't make it to regularly scheduled office hours, ask for an appointment. But don't leave this to the day before the exam. It may not be possible to find a suitable time on such short notice.
    • Again, remember the team concept. The faculty and TAs for your class will try to schedule their office hours to cover as wide a range of times as possible. If you can't make it to one person's office hours, try someone else's.
    • Unless an office door is already open, knock first and don't go in until you're invited to do so.

Grades

Grades are a necessary evil. You don't like worrying about grades and the faculty hate having to assign them. We'd all rather focus on the content of our classes. But your degree is a commitment from the University that you have achieved a certain level of expertise in the classes you've taken, so we need some way to measure that. To make this process work, you need to understand:

  • The grade you are given, either on an individual exam or assignment or as your final grade, is not the starting point of a negotiation. It is your grade unless a concrete error has been made. Do not go to see your instructor or your TA to ask for a better grade because you want one or you "feel you deserve it". Go only if you can document a specific error in grading or in recording your scores.
  • Your grade is a reflection of only one thing: how well did you do in the class. Nonacademic circumstances have no bearing on your grade. Don't go to see your instructor and explain how important a better grade is in your life. It would be unfair to other students and it would undermine the meaning of the degree if the instructor responded to such issues.
  • If you believe that an error has been made in grading your work, you have one week from the time that the work was returned to the class to file a complaint in writing to your instructor. Note that this is one week from the time that the instructor made the work available to the class. If you missed class and didn't get your work until later, there is no extension of the one week deadline. If you decide to submit a complaint about the grading of your work, make sure to describe the issue clearly and return the original work and your note to your instructor.
  • Errors can certainly be made in grading. But keep in mind that the errors can be made either in your favor or not. So it's possible that if you ask to have a piece of work regraded your grade will go down rather than up.
  • Remember that the most important characteristic of any grading scheme is that it be scrupulously fair to everyone in the class. Keep this in mind if you're thinking of asking, for example, for more partial credit points on a problem. The important thing is not the exact number of points that were taken off for each kind of mistake. The important thing is that that number was the same for everyone. So it can't be changed once the grading is done and the papers have been returned.
  • You instructor will decide what it takes to get an A or a B or a C or D in the class. Deciding the boundary cases is always hard. Your instructor is under no obligation to make score cutoffs public or to tell you how far away your were from the next higher grade.