The Computer Sciences Department Rules to Live By
January 2, 2002
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
I. 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 language, 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.
II. 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.
III. 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, have
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.
- 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
- 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
I. 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 on
Every piece of work that you turn in with your name on it
must be yours and yours alone. No co-working is allowed on any test,
project, or homework assignment unless explicitly allowed by an instructor
in a particular class.
- You are responsible for enforcing 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 not 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.
II. 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).
III. 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.
- 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.
IV. 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 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
- 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.
V. 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:
- 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.
- Electronic mail is a very valuable way 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
- 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
- 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).
- 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
- 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
- Unless an office door is already open, knock first and don’t go in until
you’re invited to do so.
- 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.