Problems arise when graduate students have signed up to teach a course and then obtained funding from another source and told us that they no longer want to teach the course.  Meanwhile, undergraduate students have signed up for the course and thus face the prospect of scrambling at the last minute to find a substitute course.  This is particularly problematic when the course is one for our majors and the cancellation puts them behind in their program.

Our policy is that graduate students who sign up to teach a class are given three opportunities to withdraw from the class, after which they will be fully committed to teaching it or face the prospect of losing funding in subsequent semesters.

First, the ideal time to cancel a class would be before it actually appears on the registrar’s website.  If the course is pulled before then, no students will even know that it was offered and there will be no problems with shifting them to other courses.

Second, the next best time to cancel a class would be before anyone actually signs up for it.  This is the time in between when the course appears on the registrar’s website and when registration opens for seniors.  If registration were canceled before registration opens, no students would yet have signed up for the course and thus there will be no problem with trying to find alternative courses for the undergraduates involved.

If a course is not canceled before registration opens, there is always the likelihood that it will fill up fairly quickly, surpassing the College’s threshold of 10 students to “make” a course.  At that point, it becomes difficult for us to cancel the class, because now we are talking about a significant number of students who will need to be resettled.

Third, the final opportunity graduate students will have to cancel a class they are scheduled to teach will be after registration opens but before the class enrolls 10 students or more.  Once a course hits the 10 student mark, and the graduate student has not canceled, then that student will be committed to teaching the course.

The only exception we make to this third rule is if the graduate student assigned to a course can find an acceptable substitute who is willing to take on the course.  The substitute instructor must be in good standing in the program, willing to teach the course, and adequately prepared to do so.  In this case, no penalty would be assessed against the original instructor.

If, nonetheless, a graduate student insists upon withdrawing from teaching a course in no acceptable substitute can be found, they will be moved to the bottom of the priority list for the subsequent two semesters, regardless of their previous semesters of support, and may not be supported in subsequent semesters.

One method that students can use to head off problems with course cancellations is to talk to the associate chair about plans for an upcoming semester.  If a student has applied for external funding, from whatever source, and thinks there is a reasonable chance they will get the funding, the student might ask the associate chair for a teaching assistantship rather than to be assigned a course.  It is much easier to rearrange teaching assistantships than it is to cancel or reschedule courses.

To make this policy work effectively, faculty advisors should make certain that their advisees understand it.