What if my instructor states that I must follow blindly the rule that.....?

What if my instructor states that I must follow blindly the rule that.....?

Then follow it---unless....

Someone we know who was an undergraduate at Harvard was told that the term paper must absolutely not be less than 20 pages, double-spaced, Times New Roman, 12 point, 1" margins left, right, top, and bottom.  She wrote a paper that she was sure was the best thing she had ever written.  The trouble is it was 12 pages.  She wondered what to do.  She had another day before it was due, and she knew she could add 8 pages.  But it would weaken the paper.  She knew that 12 very strong pages are way better than 20 almost half of which are weak.  She rightly figured that if she quickly wrote 8 more pages, the prof would like most of it but grade her down for the weakness of the rest.  Moreover, she did not want to ask for an extension because even if she got it, and spent several days finishing the paper, it would be weaker.  

She emailed the paper to the prof one day early (since it was finished) with a note just saying: "I realize that normally I would need to spend another day adding to this paper, but I am convinced that that would weaken it, so I am sending it to you as is, finished, even though it is at 12 pages shorter than the requested length."  She counted on the prof replying if the prof considered it to be an issue.  The prof did not reply until four days later, when she gave her appreciative and valuable comments and an A+, not mentioning at all the issue of length.  

Would this have worked had the paper not been of superlative excellence?  Very likely not.  She got by with it, probably, because the paper was too good for her not to.  
Moral: Rules can sometimes be violated.  Why is this?  Because professors are intellectuals who care more about ideas than anything.  They really don't like being bored.  

But often instructors do have rules that they are sticklers for.  The lower the instructor is on the totem pole, the more likely you are to find such rules.  If they are a graduate student, they will likely be less indulgent; if they have tenure, that are likely to be more so.  If the rules conflict with excellence, and this is obviously the case, and the instructor is fairly high up and not worried about covering his or her own ass, you may have a chance.

More importantly, servility is a hurdle in academia.  If you feel you are being asked to toe the line on a bunch of meaningless rules and you feel that to be constraining, sign of mental and moral health in this world is that that does bother you.  Consider that you are being asked to toe the line on the rules and think about interesting things in interesting ways at the same time.  Like a traditional poet who must write in rhyme and meter.  Then that's a game you are playing.  You have to have or find a way for the tedious rules to not eat you alive, because when it gets to be like that, there can be no fun in it and you may as well thrown in the towel.  

The person grading your paper may care about ideas or not.  Hopefully they do.   If so, then you are either looking for a form in which to pour the molten lead of your soul's thoughts, or you are looking for the best compromise.  If you're lucky you only face rules that don't bother  you.  

You could also think of it as a challenge: How to treat this assignment as if it's not at all what it seems, which is that you are being asked to sell your soul to the devil.  (Hoping only that you get a good grade and ultimately some good job).  If it were really that bad, you might be at the wrong university or in the wrong field, or your instructor might be.   



William Heidbreder