There is a great post today on Inside Higher Ed on the importance, and more than occasional disregard, of deadlines in higher ed. The author describes different types of deadlines, from the hard deadlines for tenure and promotion, to the less firm deadlines like textbook submission dates, to the almost illusory self-imposed deadlines for our own research and return of student asignments. Two of the author's observations particularly resonated with me. First, as an administrator, I see the costs of missed deadlines that are often invisible to students, faculty, and others. Second, I found myself nodding as I read the following account of faculty feedback on student writing assignments:
Deadlines matter in our interactions with students as well. My feeling is that if I am going to hold students strictly accountable to a deadline, then I too need to be accountable in similar ways. When I give my students writing assignments, each assignment is accompanied by a specifically articulated series of deadlines for when drafts and peer reviews are due, a deadline for each stage of the writing process, each of which students are expected to meet. But my assignments also include deadlines for myself, essentially promises of when I will return things like graded papers. Holding students strictly to deadlines, but then failing to return work in a timely manner, sends a message of hypocrisy to students that they immediately detect and disdain. I hold myself as accountable to self-imposed deadlines, just as I hold my students accountable. By advertising my own deadlines for tasks like grading, in this case on the writing assignment itself, I create a mechanism that forces me to be accountable.
I follow the author's practice of announcing a self-imposed deadline for returning student assignments, and I find that the deadline both focuses and disciplnes my work. If I miss the deadline, I then owe students an explanation that I would find worthy for excusing late submission of their part. Not only does this respect their efforts, but I hope it models behavior that will be expected post-graduation. How many faculty do something similar?