Computer Sciences Department Rules to Live By
November 2, 2008
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
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. Theyíve all had
to learn new ideas, new programming language, new architectures, and new
applications many times (and without the aid of classes or textbooks).
Theyíve 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
- 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 isnít always possible. Classes that use different exams each
semester may have very different score distributions from one semester to
the next so it isnít possible to know in advance what thresholds make
- 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. Itís 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
As a Student, What the Department Can
Expect from You
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:
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.
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.
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
- 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
- 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 doctorís appointment), let the instructor
know in advance.
- Donít be
disruptive during class. Donít chat with your neighbor or rustle the
- Donít allow your
electronic devices to be disruptive. Turn off your cell phone, beeper,
and watch alarm.
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. Donít 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 semester.
- A deadline is a deadline. Each
instructor will publish the class policy for turning in late work. Plan
your work accordingly. Donít push the deadlines and donít expect the
instructor to do anything other than what has been published. Even five
minutes is ďlateĒ. Your instructor canít 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. Donít 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:
- 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 wonít 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. Itís their job.
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
- Reading your email every day.
- Guaranteeing that your mailbox does not
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.
- 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, itís easy to ask a question or
make a comment that youíd never make in person. Be careful about this.
If you think that what youíre about to say wouldnít be something youíd
feel comfortable going to office hours to say, you probably shouldnít
say it in email either.
- In particular, do not send email to your
instructor (or anyone else for that matter) when youíre angry. Youíll
regret it when you calm down and youíll 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. Donít
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 itís easy for you to dash off an email
question, it takes time for the instructor or the TA to answer it. Donít
ask questions to which you can find the answer somewhere else. For
example, donít write to your instructor to ask where the regularly
scheduled final exam is. (Itís on the Registrarís web site.) Donít write
and ask how much the first midterm counts. (It should be on the class
syllabus.) Donít 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 whatís been
covered in class or youíre interested in finding out more about something,
go to office hours and ask. Youíll probably find that itís 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 thereís 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 canít make it to regularly scheduled
office hours, ask for an appointment. But donít leave this to the day
before the exam. It may not be possible to find a suitable time on such
- 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 canít make it to one
personís office hours, try someone else.
- Unless an office door is already open, knock
first and donít go in until youíre invited to do so.
- Grades are a necessary evil. You donít like worrying about grades
and the faculty hate having to assign them. Weíd 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 youíve 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 ďfeel you deserve itĒ. 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.
Donít 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
- 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 didnít 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 itís 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 youíre 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 canít 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