Dean’s Extensions: A (Sort of) Get Out of Jail Free Card

A get out of jail free card from Monopoly.

I think it’s safe to say that most people come to Yale to be a student. Ideally, you’d like to do your work well, and even turn it in on time. However, sometimes life gets in the way of that. Maybe you’re a varsity athlete and you have a huge game the day of an exam. Maybe you have a family emergency and have to travel out of town for a week, so you’re missing lectures and a couple homework assignments. Maybe you just caught a really nasty cold. What should you do?

Well, more often than not, your professors will be more than happy to accommodate you. However, sometimes you’ll be in a class where deadlines and attendance are “non-negotiable”. Maybe it’s too large of a class for them to consider every extension request, or maybe your professor is a real stickler for the rules. Maybe you just don’t feel like explaining the intimate details of your current food poisoning to your English professor. Well, lucky for you, no deadline is truly “non-negotiable”. It always comes with a little asterisk; that asterisk is the Dean’s Extension.

I’ll give you the administrative definition first: dean’s extensions (formerly known as “dean’s excuses”) “authorize the postponement of written work or exams during term-time.” They’re granted by your residential college dean in extenuating circumstances, and professors must accept them. They don’t receive any information regarding the circumstances (though you are welcome to share); they are to trust your dean’s discretion. Usually, you and your professor will then settle on an alternative due date for your work. Essentially, your professor receives a message like the one below. You’ll notice that it is both sparse and unambiguous.

 I write to inform you that in accordance with the Academic Regulations of Yale College governing work missed during the term, I have authorized a postponement of James Mullins Jr's work in ECON 159 (12760), which was due on 09/16/2021.  The student will complete their work by arrangement with instructor.  My apologies for any inconvenience this postponement may cause, and thank you for your understanding and support. If you have questions or concerns, please let me know.

Now would also be a good time to touch on why your dean wields so much power. In case you’re unfamiliar with the position, your residential college dean is your primary academic advisor, but they also serve as a personal counselor throughout your time at Yale. They also live in the college with you, which is important to highlight. Your relationship with your dean isn’t just one between an advisor and their advisee; you share the residential college community in a very literal sense. Dean Rosas (my dean) sees me in sweatpants in the dining hall probably three times a week. He’s also the only administrator I’ve talked to about my family, my schoolwork, and even my health issues. This personal relationship also makes it much easier for him to advocate on my behalf, which is why he has the power to unilaterally grant me an extension in dire circumstances. It’s his job to be in my corner (and I’m very grateful that he is!).

Two horses, one small and one large, sticking their tongues out
Dean Rosas backing me up while I ask for an extension.

Still, I wouldn’t want you to get the wrong idea about dean’s extensions. If I decide to skip an exam to watch my Chicago Bulls lose yet another playoff series, I can promise you that my request for a dean’s extension would be swiftly denied. Generally, the rule of thumb is that one must be enduring an incapacitating illness, traveling for a family emergency, or undergoing something of a similarly serious nature. After all, your dean is making a unilateral decision based on your request, so they can’t just be handing these extensions out like candy. You’ve got to really need it. In fact, I sincerely hope that you don’t ever have to request a dean’s extension, because it usually isn’t cause for celebration. However, I can tell you firsthand that if such a time comes, you’ll be incredibly grateful to have the option.