February 6, 2023

PAPPAS | The Petition Pioneer

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I’ve read lots of articles that condemn Cornell for failing its students (I’ve even written some of these!), but there is one thing that I think Cornell does right: Cornell is extremely accommodating when it comes to course scheduling. Although I can’t speak for all departments, I can speak for the English and other humanities departments. I can confidently say that these departments have been extremely helpful to those students who can’t ever seem to keep the schedule they set for themselves in the beginning of the semester. I’m one of those students.

For my six semesters at Cornell, my schedule has not once looked like what I planned for it during pre-enrollment period. My freshman and sophomore schedules didn’t see too much movement, just some swapping in and out of classes during the first two weeks of the semester which was within the add/drop period. However, my first semester junior year schedule saw an unusual amount of movement that began about five weeks into the semester and continued for three weeks after. I dropped two courses within the drop but outside of the add period, added an independent study late, entered a class past the “add” deadline and began my honors thesis a semester late. I knew then that these changes were ambitious. A previous advisor even called them “unprecedented” and, although I doubt it, maybe he was right. Maybe they were “unprecedented,” but I know they weren’t impossible. 

As a self-proclaimed petition pioneer, I wanted to provide some tips and tricks that I learned in the midst of submitting petitions for late adds, independent studies and various other non-traditional ways of obtaining credit so that you might be more prepared to petition yourself, should you ever need to. I hope that this article can shed light on the positive aspects of Cornell’s scheduling, so that more students are less afraid to request the changes that they need to make to their schedules and to their lives to ensure a happy, healthy and successful semester. 

First, identify the professors and administrators who will support you in your endeavors, and reach out to these people in the beginning of your petition process. Do not consult parties that you know will be difficult if you can avoid it. If you can’t, consult them last. This will only complicate the process and can obstruct your plans completely, if you let it. Do not let it. Advisors will scoff at this, but I’d urge you not to place too much faith in the academic advising system. Oftentimes, the most helpful advice I’ve ever received has not come from traditional academic advisors but rather from other mentor-like figures, be it professors, coaches or even parents. 

Approach your professors and administrators with humility. I was fully aware of just how many accommodations I had requested at the time, but I was also entirely appreciative of everyone who supported me in my endeavors. There is absolutely nothing in it for an administrator to add credits to your study or for a professor to let you into his or her class five weeks late. Know that your petitions and emails add to their already-too-long lists of things to do, so thank them for their time and effort in helping you. 

Devise a completely feasible plan to fulfill your goals and confidently present them to the people from whom you will need approval, signatures and support. Make it impossible for them to say no, but be wholly prepared for a no. One “no” won’t ruin your plan if you have enough yeses behind you (not everyone needs to sign your petition — I know this from experience!). Respect their decision not to support you, but don’t surrender to defeat. Pushback is a part of the process, not a decisive outcome. 

Finally, and most importantly, accomplish everything you said you would do. Do not submit a petition to add a class five weeks into the semester if you know that you won’t be able to make up the work from the beginning of the semester. Do not agree to write a thesis paper for eight credits if you won’t produce the fifty pages by the end of the term. Do not make all those who signed petitions for you regret doing so. Prove to yourself and to everyone who stood behind you that you can accomplish what you said you could accomplish when you asked for their support in the first place. 

Isabelle Pappas is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. Like It Iz runs every other Monday this semester.