Generic Suberian Course Hand-Out
Peter Suber, Philosophy Department, Earlham College

Revised October 1, 2002

I have found that many of my teaching policies, standards, and expectations are the same in all my courses. Because I am forgetful, some classes are told all about them and some are not; some are told earlier and some are told later; some are told clearly and some are told vaguely. This hand-out solves all my problems. To the extent that you rely on these policies to plan your time and labor, it should solve all your problems too. Void where prohibited or overruled orally in class.

Most of this hand-out can be summarized in one maxim: take responsibility for your education.

Paper Formalities

Here are some formal requirements on your papers. Some are finicky, I admit. They are clearly not substantive, but they greatly help me handle, read, and grade your papers.

The syllabus should indicate the length of the papers. When I give you a target length, I'm trying to give you some idea of the depth of analysis I'm after. It's possible that an extraordinarily concise paper could come in below the page minimum without oversimplifying anything, and that an extraordinarily concise paper could exceed the page maximum without flab and meandering. But unless you're confident that your paper is extraordinarily concise, aim for the page range.

A paper is better marked up than incorrect or unclear. If you do not catch your spelling, diction, punctuation, grammar, citation, and factual errors as you type and revise, then at least correct them by hand as you proofread.

I will generally return graded papers in class. However, for papers turned in late in the semester this is not always possible. If you submit a self-addressed, stamped envelope with such papers, then I'll mail them back to you as soon as I've finished grading them. If you put your Earlham box number on the front page (as I've asked), then I'll return them by campus mail. If you do neither, I'll hold them for you to pick up the following semester. After that, they go into my paper and exam graveyard.

There is a different citation format for every discipline. I care much more for the information in a citation than the format. When you cite printed books, include the author(s), book title, publisher, and date. When you cite printed journal articles, cite the author(s), article title, journal title, volume, number, pages, and date. When you cite a web page, include its author (if identifiable), the title, the full URL, and the date you viewed it.

For more on citations and related matters, see my hand-out on avoiding plagiarism.

Paper Assignment

I have moved this material to a separate hand-out.

Grading by Tape and Email

Here's the problem. You suffer when you have to read my handwriting. I suffer when I have to condense a complex comment into five words that will fit into your margin. Even if I bear this suffering nobly, you suffer when you read oversimple comments on your hard work. Moreover, I'd like to be able to converse and digress on the issues of your paper alongside normal sorts of evaluation. In short, when I grade your papers by hand, we all suffer.

There are two solutions to this problem. I can dictate my evaluation on tape, or I can type my evaluation into a piece of email.

I prefer both tape and email grading to hand-grading. But I have a growing preference for email over tape. First, you can print the email to keep the comments with your paper. Second, I only have to find a computer connected to the internet, which is easier than finding a quiet room with a tape recorder. Third, I can easily keep a copy of my comments.

In most of my classes, email grading is the default. That means I'll grade by email unless you have a good reason for me not to.


I expect all assigned work to be turned in on time. The due dates of all the papers are recorded in the syllabus and distributed the first day. If you will not be able to meet any deadline, please talk to me in advance. I will give one free extension for one day for each paper, except the last paper. This extension is yours for the asking, if you ask before the due date. But I will need a good excuse to give a longer extension. I will not give a longer extension when the only excuse is bad planning or simultaneous work for another course, or when it will unduly crowd up your remaining work at the end of the semester, or cause you to fall behind in the reading. If you have some other problem, such as illness or family emergency, I will happily give you whatever extensions you need. Remember that long extensions tend to shift your workload and distress from the middle of the semester to the end of the semester. They rarely help more in the middle of the semester than they vex at the end.

Because I publish all paper deadlines at the beginning of the semester, and because I am a pushover for the first extension, I think it is fair to grade down for papers that are late without extensions. I will take off 1/2 a whole grade (5 points on a 100 point scale) for each day of lateness. Note that this applies to papers that are late without or beyond an extension, as well as to papers that do not get extensions until the due date. Lateness penalties cannot be overcome through rewrites. Assume that I cannot give an extension for the last paper of the semester, as the grades are due shortly thereafter. Unless we make other arrangements, I will fail all late papers not submitted by class time on the last day of class. Rather than remember all these policies, just take responsibility for your education and plan ahead.

Only some kinds of computer failure excuse late work. If you negligently kill your file, cannot find a computer when you need one, or are held up by a long queue of files waiting to be printed, then you are responsible for the lateness. If your personal computer crashes, I expect you to turn to Earlham's public computers before asking for an extension. I do not consider it a hardship to plan ahead far enough to find a computer, to back-up your disks, to print out your drafts, or when absolute disaster strikes to write by hand like Shakespeare.

In many of my courses I ask you to submit the topic for a paper a week or two before the paper itself. When I have a separate due date for paper topics, then late topics will also start the penalty clock running.


If you want to rewrite a paper, talk to me first. I will not allow a rewrite of the final paper, when the end of the semester forecloses your time, and I will not allow a rewrite of a rewrite. I will discourage rewrites of papers with fairly good grades. But otherwise I will usually allow rewrites. I want to talk to you before you start in order to be sure that you understand the assignment, the grade, the comments, the criteria, and the problems you faced the first time around. Very weak papers often cannot be improved by revision; they must be scrapped and begun anew. Let's talk to see whether this is the case with you.

A rewrite is due within one week of the day we get to talk about it face to face in my office, assuming you try to schedule this talk soon after you receive the graded original back from me. If you need more time, talk to me. Unless we've made a special arrangement, I will not accept a rewrite after the last day of class.

When you turn in your rewrite, please also turn in the following.

  1. The first edition of your paper. This must be be the very copy that I marked. When I evaluated the first edition on tape, please turn in the tape. When I evaluated the first edition by email, please turn in a printout of my email comments.
    • Why I ask for this:  I need to re-read my comments to remind myself of the problems you are trying to fix.
    • Some students write comments all over the marked copy of the first edition in the process of revising it and are embarrassed to have to turn it in to me. Some discard the marked copy of the first edition and consequently lose the chance to submit a rewrite. Tip:  when you decide to rewrite your paper, print a new copy of the first edition for scribbling on; save the graded copy for me.

  2. A cover letter, or marks in the margins, directing my attention to the parts of the second edition that are new or revised. If you've changed everything, just say so. If you've left Part 1 as is but rewritten or improved Part 2, say that. If you changed only two paragraphs, tell me which they are or mark them in the margins in some unmistakable way.
    • Why I ask for this:  I don't want to have to compare the first and second drafts word for word to see where the changes are. That takes more than twice as long as grading the new paper from scratch.

I will never require passing papers to be rewritten, although I may recommend it. I will often require failing papers to be rewritten.

Rewrites should be mechanically perfect. Errors I marked in the first edition which are uncorrected in the rewrite will count more heavily in the rewrite than in the first edition. But rewrites must go beyond the mere correction of mechanical errors, or else they waste both our times.

After I grade your rewrite, I will record only the higher of the two grades. But note that when I see a rewrite, I may see both strengths and weaknesses in the unchanged parts that I missed the first time around. Also note that to change a paper is not always to improve it, and that to improve a paper is not always to raise it to the next grade level.

You may rewrite the final paper of the semester provided you turn in the original at least one week before the ordinary due date. Talk to me if you are planning to take advantage of this option.

I allow rewrites in lieu of reading drafts. If you're having problems with a paper before it is due, I won't read a draft but I will be very happy to talk to you about the problems you are facing and try to help you overcome them.

Participation and Discussion

Many students assume that if they get A's on all their papers, they should get an A in the course. This is not always so. Look at the syllabus to see whether participation is part of the grade, and if so, what is its weight. If it is part of the grade, participation includes (1) attendance, (2) quality of preparation, (3) quality of oral contributions, and (4) anything else mentioned on the syllabus or in class, such as leading a discussion one day. The syllabus should indicate whether the discussion that counts is in-class or electronic or both.

When in-class participation is part of the grade, I do not penalize temperamental silence. I understand that some people are shy, some intimidated, some under-confident, and some simply pre-empted by others' comments. I will try to maintain an atmosphere in which each student's contribution is welcomed and respected, and otherwise look primarily to the quality, not quantity, of oral contributions.

Note for the shy: quality of oral contributions cannot be judged from a sample of zero. Note for the loquacious: quality of oral contributions is not a function of quantity, not even a little bit. Good class discussions require more than fluency in English. They require a reasonably civilized conquest of timidity, drawing the line between bashful under-confidence and what DeQuincy called "imbecile garrulity". They require good listening and good will. You should reflect before speaking, build on previous comments, help discover the meaning that others are struggling to express, be open to persuasion, and bend to the weight of evidence and reasoning. You must be prepared to substantiate your factual or textual claims, to defend your value judgments, to show the connection between your premises and conclusions, and to use the diversity of insights and perspectives in the class to advance your understanding of our texts and their themes. The ultimate premise of class discussion is that each of us can learn from each of us; otherwise we would read the books at home and never meet.

When class participation counts at all, it is usually a significant fraction of the final grade. For those who pay attention to this sort of thing, this means that to neglect class or preparation for class for the sake of a paper, or to make up for silent or sullen class presence with a brilliant paper, can be a bad bargain. Class participation is central. Philosophy is transacted through conversation.

I've found over the years that students who speak too little in class usually know they speak too little. I try to provide the encouragement and classroom environment they need to speak more often. But students who speak too much often do not know this about themselves. If you are in this category, try to realize it, and at least do not be surprised if I point it out. If you are talking more than the class average, you are not necessarily scoring points.

Discussion is group inquiry, not merely group talk. We will try to understand our texts and reach answers on the important questions they raise. Group inquiry only works when the insights of many people are made public, giving each a view much wider than they could have had by themselves. It requires that these perspectives be received with respect, but subjected to respectful scrutiny and criticism. For these reasons I want you to feel free, unafraid, and positively encouraged to speak your mind even when you suspect that others may disagree. You may feel uneasy, but I'll be pulling for you. Say anything that you believe is true and will help the group understand the issues or passages under discussion, especially if you can support your claim with reasons or evidence. Respect anything said by another for which reasons are given; and when no reasons are given, ask for them. When you disagree with others, don't rest in your opposition to their statements or conclusions; find their reasons and address them directly.

If you accept the principle that discussion is group inquiry, then your uncertainty about a question is a good reason to speak, not a good reason to remain silent. If you don't have answers, but feel uncertain, then you can help the cause by asking questions to zero in on what is difficult. Identify what sub-questions we must answer before we can answer the main question on the floor. If you agree with others, support them instead of remaining silent. If the atmosphere of the course ever prevents you from speaking up, proposing new ideas, asking questions, or disagreeing with anybody (student, teacher, author), whether the cause lies in me or your fellow students, please let me know. Beyond what I can do, however, students should take responsibility for the quality of their discussions.

If you accept the principle that your uncertainty is a good reason to speak, not a good reason to remain silent, then you will understand my expectation (in seminars and discussion courses) that everyone should speak every day. To take responsibility for the quality of discussions means, at least, to come prepared every day to listen and speak, learn and teach, and to participate without being called on. While discussion is group inquiry, we are not just struggling for the "right answers", but also to explore and develop the process of this joint inquiry for answers. As Quakers say of the consensus process, aim for a "balance between being persuasive and being persuasible". If you want respect, insights, seriousness, and a healthy balance of speaking and listening from others, you must give the same to them.

If discussion is group inquiry, then fear of speaking will distort and harm our inquiry. You may feel a fear of saying something stupid, alienating friends, incurring stigma, giving offense, provoking anger, or violating political correctness —many people do. I'm not asking you to summon the courage to be stupid or friendless. But I am asking you to help the inquiry by sharing your perspective and your response to the perspectives of others. This will often take courage, which is never easy to summon. But if you need help summoning it, ask yourself this question. If you can't acquire this courage by practicing in our comparatively safe classrooms, when do you expect to acquire it?

A tension. I want class discussions to be open and vigorous; I also want no student to feel harassed or intimidated. But I know it is impossible to have it both ways at all times and I want you to know it too. If our discussions are open and vigorous, then some assertions, even if made in a civil tone, and even some topics, may offend some students. Conversely, the claim that one is offended tends to silence others, especially in an environment like ours in which many people think it ought to. I will try to lead discussions that preserve the conflicting values of openness and safety as much as possible, and I count on you to help by recognizing the importance of each. But when they conflict, my choice is clear. While it can be made civil and respectful, philosophy cannot always be made safe. Philosophy asks ultimate questions and critically examines our most fundamental beliefs. If it didn't, it would not be a serious subject deserving our attention.

Reading in a Foreign Language

If we are reading any non-English texts for this course of whose original language you have any knowledge at all, or if any library research is assigned for which you could use your foreign language skill, then try to use what you know. There will be many ways to use your foreign language competency in this course, even if you cannot read without a dictionary. There are opportunities for all levels of ability. I will be happy to discuss some with you in class or in my office. I strongly encourage you to read important texts in the original language, or at least to consult the original for vitally important passages or passages that are murky in translation. If you cannot read a word of the original language, it often helps to consult other translations, if only to approach the author's meaning by triangulation and to see more vividly the limits of translation.

Where Am I?

My office is Carpenter 328. My office hours will be posted on my office door, and on the web, as soon as I set them for the semester. If they are inconvenient, we can almost always arrange to meet by appointment. Feel free to drop in for any reason any time during my office hours. I am always willing to test ideas and paper topics, continue class discussion, give personal assistance on any aspect of the course, suggest supplemental reading or study tips, or improvise sage-like® advice on any problem.

My campus mailbox number is 84. Please do not turn in papers to my mailbox (I will not get them soon enough) or to the rack on my door (they might disappear). Valuable messages and papers should be shoved under the door, turned in to me personally, or given to Dee Airgood, the philosophy secretary. If you shove a paper under the door, or give one to Dee, write the date and time of submission on the paper.

My office telephone extension is 1214 (from off campus, 765-983-1214). If you call when I'm not in, you can can either talk to Dee, the philosophy secretary, or leave a voicemail message. (If you have a choice between voicemail and email, I strongly prefer email.)

My home telephone number is 962-2533 (dial WOBBLED). Please do not call me at home after 9:00 pm or before 9:00 am, unless there is an emergency. But if there is an emergency, do not hesitate to call.

My email address is peters (from off-campus, I read my email several times each day during the semester and answer it immediately. Email is the best substitute for a face to face meeting if my office hours don't fit your schedule. For questions you wouldn't have bothered to see me in person for, clearly it is even better. But unless we make a specific arrangement to do so, please do not submit papers by email.

My web site is For most of my courses, it will contain online versions of our hand-outs and links to other relevant web sites.

Ribbon] Peter Suber, Department of Philosophy, Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana, 47374, U.S.A.
765 / 983-1214. Copyright © 1982-2002, Peter Suber.