I recognize that I am unusually strict in my enforcement of word limits and tardiness penalties. Such strictness runs contrary to my own nature–I always find myself pushing up against temporal and spatial limits!–but I find that it is in the best interest of my students to proceed in this manner.

Here are the reasons:

(1) Strictness –> Higher Quality
As a teacher, I’m predisposed to care principally about the content of my students’ submissions, not so much about whether it is formatted correctly or even whether it is submitted on time. But my experience has taught me that the quality of the work is generally higher if students are pressed to rigorously observe these “finer” points. I’m not entirely sure why it is the case–perhaps such strictness “scares” students into starting earlier!–but I am certain I have observed this pattern.

Additionally, learning how to develop and present the best possible argument within exogenously determined constraints is an invaluable skill. This skill doesn’t get as much play in college, largely because we academics are lax with our students, but it enjoys real value beyond the ivory tower. (Try, for instance, publishing that 300 page review of the 2002 Nissan Xterra.)

(2) Strictness –> Fairness
My experience has also taught me that there is wide variation in students’ understanding of what constitutes an “acceptable” overrun or degree of tardiness. Some students are frustrated when others go over by 10%. Others don’t blink at overruns of more than 30%. Similarly, some students think the deadline should allow for 5 minutes of flexibility while others think 30 minutes would be preferable. (These numbers, incidentally, are based on actual interchanges with students.)

Since I can’t satisfy all of these divergent preferences simultaneously, I will instead adhere strictly to my stated word limits and deadlines. Strictness thus leads to predictability which thus maximizes fairness.

Policy Revision
While I cannot revise these policies during the term, I do frequently tweak them between terms. For instance, I have implemented the Max Levine Revision, which excludes citations from the word counts. I welcome your suggestions, which I will consider between terms.