Have you ever purchased a new item and found, in the packing box, little packets of silica gel desiccant that say "Do Not Eat" on them? The packages of desiccant (a drying agent) are put in the box to absorb moisture and keep the item rust- or tarnish- or wrinkle-free. But why do the packets say "Do Not Eat" on them? Who would want to? Clearly, someone, at some point, must have decided that those silica packs would make a good snack, and subsequently got sick. So, ever since, silica packs have the patently obvious instructions printed on them: "Do Not Eat." We may feel insulted by the warning-- after all, it's obvious you shouldn't eat desiccant. But, one person in a thousand may really need to be told that desiccant shouldn't be eaten.
It is in this spirit that I list the following class rules. To the vast majority of students, I am merely stating the obvious on this page. Beyond that, I list classroom rules that apply to my classes in particular. Ninety-nine percent of students don't have any problems with my class rules, but you might, so this is your chance to review them before you take the class. Read them over, and if you can live with them, great--glad to have you on board. If you stay in my class, that indicates you are willing to abide by the rules that follow.
1. Finding Time for the Class. If you can't find time to participate in this class, or you can't attend regularly or on time, you shouldn't take this class. Please don't ask me to reschedule class deadlines around your work or personal commitments, or to give you a lighter load than the rest of the students in the class--that communicates to me that my class is a "second priority" to the rest of your life. That's fine with me, but understand your grade may reflect your prioritizing. If you must miss class because of your work load, class load, important personal commitments, relationship, family, personal issues, aging automotive hardware, etc., by all means do what you need to do in order to remain safe, healthy, and sane. There are many things in life that are more important than getting top grades, but remember that not attending class (and the penalty associated with it), at the end of the day, is still your responsibility. If you choose to maintain a heavy work load, or take a ton of units so you can graduate at a certain time, or if you have a fabulous opportunity to do a once-in-a-lifetime thing, remember that there are other students who have chosen to earn less and go slower so they can invest more time in their classes--don't be surprised when they get higher scores! You are responsible for your attendance and for the choices you make in prioritizing your time, so please don't ask me to make special allowances for constraints that keep you from attending. If you ask me, "Can I be absent from class?" I'll always say yes, because you're a free agent and you can do what you want. That doesn't mean your absence goes unrecorded. Health issues are another matter, and we will abide by USC's guidelines for health-related absences. Your personal life, values, and commitments are more important than getting every possible point in my class. But it's not my responsibility to "comp" points in the class. ("Comps" are extra benefits that casinos use to encourage continued gambling.) As soon as I start "comping" points, I'm no longer running a fair classroom; I'm running a casino! "Comps" penalize the students who've made it to class and done the work. Good attendance is expected. Exceptionally poor attendance (missing the equivalent of weeks of class) can lower your final grade considerably. See the absence policy on the main syllabus page and USC's attendance policy for more information.
While we're on the topic of making time for the class: take a moment now, and check the final exam time for our course, to be certain you can attend. It's posted on the class calendar.
2. Class Policies. There are a few policies that are mandatory to insert into any Annenberg syllabus, found in the Statement on Academic Conduct and Support Systems. In addition, there are policies unique to this class. The policies indented below are mandatory USC or Annenberg policies:
If you are one of the rare students who think that any of the class policies or topics are not to your liking, this is your chance to reconsider taking this class. You aren't required to engage in anything you find reprehensible, so please find a class with which you're comfortable. Remember, you're in this class because you choose to be, so make your choice carefully. I've done my best to give you an up-front view of what the class will entail, so you aren't stuck in a class you don't like. This is one of the reasons I want you to read the syllabus carefully, to decide whether you like the topics (found in the class calendar), and whether or not you can live with the policies of this class.
3. Grades. Your grade in this class will be based on merit and results (not effort, or improvement, or the desire for a certain score). It's the output that counts for grades--I can't grade based on input! Neither will your grade in this class be based on grades you've earned in other classes, or other variables that are not relevant to your grade. Grades are earned by you, not "given" by me or the TA. To be fair to the whole class, I don't dispense grades as favors, or as signs of personal approval, or as acts of individual concession, or out of sympathy--grades must be based on merit, or the grading system fails. I strive to assign grades based on your results and in accordance with the school's protocols. I design my grading process so that bargaining, influence, and appeals to sympathy and victimhood (see an analysis of such tactics here) have as little impact on your grades as possible. Although I will likely be personally sympathetic, and may be able to offer advice as it pertains to this class, please don't ask me to turn my personal sympathies for your situation into grade increases--that's manipulating the system. Some students have gotten lower grades in my classes than they get in other classes -- and some, higher. The letter grade of A is reserved for the top performers in the class, and Bs are for good students. I use objective multiple-choice tests in my classes, because I want an objective portion to the grade. Some folks (particularly graduate students) complain about tests. If you object to objective measures, be forewarned: I use exams. In courses where there are multiple exams, I tend to grade the first test (where you get accustomed to my test style) higher than subsequent tests (by which time you will know what my tests are like, and will have had more chances to 'learn the ropes'). Both high and low grades are likely when the curve is used for grading, and while grade inflation has affected my grading as well as most other professors', most of my classes are graded on the curve to some degree. Grade inflation, where all students get high grades, has a backlash effect, since good graduate schools and employers have become aware of which institutions artificially inflate grades. Regarding the curve -- I use the word "curve" in the statistical sense-- I calculate z-scores ((score-mean)/standard deviation). Z-scores have the benefit of being truer gauges of performance relative to the class as a whole, since they consider your distance (deviation) from the class mean. That means, in essence, that the difficulty of the test is factored out, since your score relative to the possible score isn't a factor. Instead, your score relative to the average score is measured. Also, z-scores effectively curve from the middle of the class, not the top, so the geniuses in the class won't ruin the curve (as they can in classes that don't use z-scores). I have never taught a class where the curve didn't benefit students--almost every test I've ever written, if it is curved, has been curved up, not down, so the curve is almost always to your benefit. Note also that I often factor student ratings into the grades. I may ask students to read your report and rate it, along with others. These student-generated rankings will factor into your grade. I've noticed that students will often put more effort into an assignment if they know their peers are rating the presentation.
4. Active Involvement. Effort and benefit are correlated in education, and my tests and exercises are designed to require effort, not merely presence or memory. Intuition alone will not get you a high grade. There are dry, boring, difficult, and unpleasant tasks and topics in almost every class, but you must still master them. The whole point of formal higher education is that we make you think about things you wouldn't have otherwise. If not, you could have gotten educated without our help and saved a lot of money. Keep in mind that this is the nature of our relationship--I'm supposed to challenge you; I'm supposed to get you to read, to take notes, to think critically--that's my job. Still, your best educator is you. Your peers can be another good source of education, and so is your textbook. Seeking entertainment rather than education, some students ignore the text and concentrate on the entertaining portions of my lectures. This is a mistake. As your professor, I'm only one source of information to which you need to attend, and I can't lay out the material during a short oral presentation the way your text author can. So don't overlook mastering the reading assignments. In addition, your in-class involvement should rotate around class discussions, not interpersonal communications. I enjoy an informal and friendly classroom, but please don't hold running conversations while lectures are in progress, and be prepared to explain in-class exclamations.
5. Ideological Agendas & Diversions. I strive to avoid off-topic discussions (far too often about Hollywood glitterati, pop-tarts and popular singers), as well as divisive, ideological, and snarky comments in class--and I ask that you help me do this. If you're one of the rare folks who has an overt political or ideological agenda, prone to making political ejaculations in class, taking "shots" at leaders of an opposing political party, if you have a narrow ideological perspective that you feel compelled to share, if you are driven to make snarky comments about other people's political parties, gender, race, or belief systems, please don't do it in my class. My class is not a recruiting zone for ideology. If you want to talk about subjects other than those prescribed in the syllabus, please take a class that covers those topics. If you're off-topic, or ideological, or attempt to promote your activist cause, the rest of the class won't appreciate it, and you'll make it difficult for me to teach the conscientious and open-minded people who want to learn about the topics we're studying.
6. Seeking Feedback. If you want more feedback than I or the TA have given you about how you're doing in the class, first schedule a time to meet with the TA (or me) to review your progress. It is your responsibility to seek out information about your progress, if you want more than we have supplied. Neither I nor the reader can project with any certainty what your final grade will be until all the grades are in. You'll need to make your own estimates about how you're doing, and manage your study time likewise. Be certain to give yourself a comfortable safety margin, so that you overshoot (rather than undershoot) your grade goal. Grades tend to go lower, not higher, toward the end of the semester, so you need to apply yourself steadily throughout the semester. I prefer to talk to students in office hours, or by telephone. Email is not an acceptable medium for grade feedback, for special requests, for negotiations, etc. Never assume I've received an email; pick up the phone instead.
7. Special Cases & Negotiations. Again, this writeup is for the small minority of students who need to hear it; the vast majority of students are responsible, mature, ethical, and don't try to negotiate special deals. I strongly resist negotiating special deals or personal accommodations for the sake of fairness to the whole class. The last thing I want to do is hand out favors that may disadvantage the students who handle the inevitable difficulties of college with fortitude and maturity. But I have met more than a few students who have the motto, "It doesn't hurt to ask for a special favor or a higher grade, you might get one." Don't be surprised if I say "No," or in rare cases, "Yes, but there will be a penalty." If I feel you are trying to 'game the system,' the penalty may be substantial. I welcome your calling grading errors to my attention, and making a case on objective and policy grounds. But when it comes to aversive and repeated grinding on the reader or me for a higher grade, we'll pass. The way I handle 'bad' test questions (on tests where the class performs poorly) is to throw out those that seem to confuse the majority of the class by employing a curve. I seldom give points for ideosyncratic readings of test questions. (Ideosyncratic readings are uniquely convoluted readings of, "reading into," or parsing the meanings or words in questions in an elaborate or excessively literal way until the reader can claim an ambiguity. See the page on Student Spin for examples. Obfuscation of this sort is a talent cultivated by attorneys, but this isn't a court room!). If you feel you need special accommodation, talk to me in person, and put your request in writing and hand it directly to me on a piece of paper for consideration (email is not accepted for any negotiations, no matter how minor). Please understand that a professor must attempt to be universal and timely in the way he or she redresses class issues, as well as conform to University guidelines. Class deadlines are firm. If you have a legitimate and documented reason that I have pre-approved for missing a class deadline, understand that your make-up work and subsequent deadline will be at my convenience and your makeup work may not be the same as your classmates receive. Please submit documentation of any excuses that foreseeably relate to missing deadlines or to absences in classes before they occur, and refer to USC policies that favor your request. In the case of a medical emergency that causes you to miss a test or presentation or report, please have someone contact the TA or the professor within 24 hours of the emergency, and be certain to collect a physician or emergency medical service report. The University's policy on incompletes requires documentation of an illness or grave emergency, and the illness or emergency must have occurred after the twelfth week of the semester.
8. Workload Flexibility. You may not be asked to do exactly the same amount of work that another person in this class does. You may be asked to work harder in this class than in some others you have taken. Your article to review might be longer or shorter than another's, or harder to find. You may have to go to several libraries to find your assignment where others may not. You may be having a difficult semester while someone else is not. You may get a version of the test that's more difficult or easier. Your partner in a project may not be as good a student as you are, and you may have to bear more of the load in group projects. You may have to sit in the back or the front of the class. Your seatmate may distract you, may forget to wear deodorant, may have a large chunk of spinach on her teeth. While I value a fair classroom, I can't guarantee absolute equivalence of experience in this class. Take comfort that random distribution is the next best thing to ideal fairness.
9. An Imperfect Professor. If you can't learn from a professor who's error prone, forgetful, inflexible, biased, and easily distracted, then this isn't the class for you. I have all the above faults and more! Please keep in mind that I am adjunct faculty (click here for a short explanation). That means that I am an independent businessman (I'm in the business of corporate, governmental, and political influence consulting & training), and also that I teach part-time at the university. You'll notice that all of my materials (overheads, website, presentations, handouts, etc.) are copyrighted, because they are part of the proprietary teaching and training program owned by Working Psychology. You may take notes from whatever materials I share with you in class, and you may keep any hardcopies of documents I hand out in class. On the other hand, please don't audio record lectures, or take photographs or movies in class; please don't copy, duplicate, audio-record, photograph, or distribute any of Working Psychology's copyrighted materials--they are how I earn my livelihood. Any overheads used are not for duplication or distribution, and copies of overheads will not be handed out in class. Please remember that being an adjunct professor means that, unlike assistant or associate professors, I'm not supposed to be on campus for long hours during the work week; in fact, I've signed a document promising the administration that I won't be! You are, however, welcome to call me during working hours. You'll receive my phone number in class.
10. The Syllabus. If you are unwilling to abide by the rules that I have made for the class, or accept the grades I ultimately give, this is your chance to find another class better suited to your preferences. If you stay in my class, that means 1) you agree to abide by the class policies I've set forth and will make allowance for the subjects enumerated above, and 2) that you agree to not eat silica gel packets or any other sort of desiccant while in my class!
Copyright © 1998-2017 by Kelton Rhoads, Ph.D.
All rights reserved.