Handling Requests for Late Withdrawals/Drops?

The department and instructors in the department receive a number of requests every semester for late withdrawals/drops.  Unfortunately, these requests by students are often not a pleasant experience and one in which students may exert a lot of pressure on the instructor.

First, you do not have to approve or sign anything.  Second, you can simply tell the student that you have to discuss it with the department.  If the student wants you to sign a physical paper, you can take that paper from the student, and tell him/her that you will talk to the department and then you will complete the form and return it to the registrar’s office.  (Whereas the student may want you to sign a document immediately in their presence).

But so that you know more about the request, let’s look at what a late withdrawal/drop is.

A late withdrawal/drop is supposed to be used only in exceptional situations.  It is supposed to be used only when something exceptional (accident, death, illness, nervous breakdown, etc.) happens after the regular drop deadline.  This exceptional incident also needs to have prevented the student from completing the course or semester in a good manner.  When a situation like this happens, a student can request a late withdrawal, up to one month into the following semester.  After that, a student is not supposed to be eligible for a late withdrawal.  Anything beyond that late withdrawal deadline stays on the transcript.

The decision as to whether the late withdrawal request is accepted or rejected lies entirely with the Registrar’s Office, but students need to collect signature forms from faculty as part of the appeal process.  The instructors’ signatures do not ensure a withdrawal will be granted, nor does the lack of a signature ensure that it will be rejected.  

Generally, a student attempts to withdraw an entire semester, but they may attempt to just withdraw from a single course (usually one in which they got the lowest grade, which is often RHET).  In both situations, as a department, we want to think beyond just signing or not signing and really see the process as a way to give valuable information to the Registrar’s Office so that they can make an informed decision on whether to accept or reject the student’s request.  So, write as many details on the form that you think might help the Registrar’s Office in their decision.  The department assistants can help with getting the information to the Registrar’s Office if needed.

The student may request that you sign the paperwork in front of them and give the paper to the student immediately.  If the situation is simple, you know the details of the case, and you feel it is legitimate you may sign the document and give it to the student, but if you have any hesitancy or concern, just take the form from the student and tell them you will talk to the department and submit it directly to the registrar’s office.

Despite the system existing for exceptional circumstances, some students will attempt to use the late withdrawal system as a means to purge their transcript of low grades, and thus to increase their GPA.  This has apparently succeeded enough in the past, or at least in rumor, that some students believe that it is a valid way to purge their transcripts of bad grades.  They will even sometimes try to do this years later.  For example, maybe during their freshman year they were not serious in their studies, but three or four years later they realized the importance of doing well in their classes and now want to purge their records.  In their eagerness, such a student may exert a lot of pressure on you to “just sign saying you agree.”

A student may even bring to you “evidence” that something bad has happened.  A surgery, a death of a family member, etc.  It is not your job to determine the authenticity or validity of these documents.  That is the registrar’s job.  However, you may want to look at your attendance records or other records to see if your records add any insight to the situation.  I once had a student come years later claiming that he had had a back surgery during the middle of the semester and was unable to attend class.  He had medical records and more.  He had also gathered signatures of approval from all of his other professors from that semester and only needed to get RHET’s signature.

While the signatures from the other professors were probably real, the situation seemed suspicious to me, because I would have likely remembered something like that.  So, I looked at my records during that time, and during the time that he claimed he was not able to attend class, my records showed that he was actually in class (for at least 50% of the time, which was about his average throughout the whole semester).  In this situation, I wrote as many details about the student’s situation as I could and submitted them to the registrar’s office.