Karen’s post on her professors being very understanding of her requests for deadline extensions/pass-fail grades as she struggled with depression was a touching piece, all the more so as I invariably compare it to what I’ve heard of in NUS: would professors here show a similar level of sensitivity?
The first anecdote I remembered was Isaac’s. His grandmother had just passed away, and he had a paper due that week. Chinese wakes last from 3-7 days, with relatives– depending on how close they are– having to pull all-nighters to keep vigil over the dead. Isaac asked for an extension; his professor rejected him. In response to Isaac’s appeals, the professor demanded proof: first, that she had just passed away, and second, that Isaac was expected to be there. As friends, we were aghast at such insensitivity; Isaac was prepared to appeal to the Dean, and postulated that the professor might not be acquainted with Chinese rituals, as he was a foreigner.
From what has such a difference in treatment sprung? There are several possible reasons I can think of, the first being class size. It’s not uncommon for professors in NUS to have a few hundred students taking a single module under him, and when class sizes are that huge, it’s hard to establish a basic level of trust towards most of the students taking the course. From the student’s perspective, the level of investment he has in the course is also more likely to be lower in such a class where one can slip in and out unnoticed; perhaps the most apathetic of them would tell a white lie now and then to ease their workload. Second, the selectivity of admissions could have been a reason as well– when the professor has the assurance that every student attending his course has displayed some form of enthusiasm towards learning (at least in their admission essays), he can then operate under the assumption that his students want to be there, and want to do their best. In NUS, admissions into most courses are based purely on ‘A’ level grades, and these grades have too little correlation with a student’s drive and passion to bring out that trust.
Of course, it could simply be that the professors that Karen had were exceptional, just as Isaac’s professor could have been part of the minority. A question I have: do good professors necessarily have a higher level of trust in their students? If you guys have experiences with regards to testing a professor’s trust, or are professors who have entertained or rejected students’ requests before, do share them with me.