The Irascible Professor SM
Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro

"It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one."...  ...George Washington.

Commentary of the Day - April 9, 2004:  The Excuse Machine.  Guest commentary by Beverly Carol Lucey.

Someone must have invented it before the Industrial Revolution.  It works without water or a combustion engine.  Likely they've become so cheap of late that almost everyone has the latest model.

Years ago, when I taught high school, I had a rule posted on my wall.

No Lame Excuses.

It appeared under the rule that said: No Whining
It appeared above the rule that said: No Topless Drinks

Students tried anyway. Most were shamefully dull.

"I forgot."

"I did it, but I don't have it with me."

" You never told us when we had to have it done."  (I always give out assignment sheets with due dates.)

" I got called in to work."

"The puppy piddled, the cat horked up a hairball, the macaw named Moe had an incident with a mango right in the middle of my collating."

I'm looking for some really Class A, Division I excuses.  Or at least a few that will make me laugh.  I appreciate a creative approach, since I don't care to be put in the position of determining who is telling the truth versus who is a lying sleezeball used to charming unsuspecting instructors, or making them cry with tales of woe.

I've been teaching at the college level for a number of years now, and since my students are older they've had more practice -- not in increased wisdom exactly -- but an upgrade in the level of embellishment.   A return to rococo.  A desire to come up with fanciful but graceful asymmetric ornamentation surrounding the same limp or dry rot filled reasons for not meeting the deadlines or the requirements.  Such as this one from Michael last week:

I would have been in class but my paper was destroyed.  On X period, I was making one of my appetite suppressment smoothie things when I took the top of it off too soon and the smoothie exploded and got everywhere.  I had to take a shower because it was all over me and it got on everything.  I cleaned it all up and took a shower.  Well I didn't notice that it also flew on the breakfast table.  It got all over my paper.  So, I had to fly to my office in West Little Rock to get another copy of it.  Well, corporate goes through our computers and anything that is not business related, they erase it.  Of course my paper had to get erased.  I had it originally saved on the computer at my mother's so I had to go to her house in Bryant to get it.  I got to your office at 5 after 5 and you were already gone.  Please don't hold this against me.  I have to get a good grade in the class.  I will do anything to make it up.  I am sending you my paper and my questions.  They are in two emails because they won't fit in one.  I am bringing you hard copies Thursday.  Please I beg you, accept this!
Complicit in the architecture of a college campus' intellectual machinations are professors who dole out "Incompletes" like lagniappes on top of the extra credit given for going to hear a speaker they fear will not garner a crowd, or to a job fair that would be for the student's own benefit anyway, or for showing up to class on a regular basis.

It's a given that students will miss class when relatives die.  I do wonder though, if there is a data base that could be established to indicate whether Student M has had seven grandparents buy the farm.

Here's a few more from this year:

A student leaves a phone message inquiring if he has to attend the first day of class or will I be just going over the syllabus?

A student shows up to campus three weeks after the semester starts because there was a death in the family.  And then he got a bad cold.

One, two, or three students have very undependable cars.  Lots of things have gone wrong with them.  Also, they are late because they can't find parking places, or wind up behind wide loads with great frequency.

One wants to make up work missed because he took his Spring Break when the other colleges had theirs, not when ours was scheduled.  He felt our calendar was "unfair."

Thieves have broken into vehicles, taking cell phones and text books, plus the notebook, assignment sheets, and completed papers for our course.

Technology has fostered a raft of new 'I swear it's the truth' reasons for not turning in work:

I emailed it to you. You didn't get it?
I couldn't find a computer on campus that could read my disk.
My computer crashed.
My roommate wouldn't let me use his computer.
My boyfriend wouldn't bring his computer over to my dorm.  And you said we had to type it.
We lost power, and I forgot to save it, and then I missed class because the alarm didn't work because when the power came back on I was already asleep.

A student gets up in the middle of class saying, Sorry but I've got to go get tickets to MOMIX before they are gone.

A euphonium player must leave my class early on a regular basis to warm up his lips because he is more afraid of his music professor than me.

None of the aforementioned attempts matter a whit when we are talking about missing a couple of classes during the semester.  The trouble is, that things happen to certain people in clumps.  Or so they would have me believe.

Every year I teach, with the exception of five years at a woman's college, there turns up in front of me a handsome young man who I've come to call The UberExcuser.  The university version is even more dramatic than the high school version.  However almost all of them have had unisex family type names such as Bradley, Carson, Nolan, and Dylan.

The high school version was always a private school reject from Deerfield Academy or Northfield Mount Hermon.  Expelled for mysterious reasons.  Very articulate, very superior, very challenging.  Rarely was the actual work submitted worthy of an A, however.  Such students were always stunned, insulted, and threatening after grades came out.  They called meetings.  Or their parents did.

Years ago one such student noted after I picked him up hitchhiking, that while he received a C in composition from me, who attended UMass, he was now getting a B from Mrs. L.  And, he asserted, Mrs. L went to Radcliff.

Excuse me.

The UberExcuser this year has upped the ante beyond my wildest imagination.  Hence, I had to enter his fragmented world.

Reasons for lack of attendance:

Allergy to some new medication
Insomnia lasting longer than two weeks
Legal issues in California over an inheritance
Specialized training from Psyop

Reasons for no work completed:

Disliked assignment
Lost next assignment
No one would understand his point of view so it wasn't worth trying
Can't write on assigned topics. Has to wait for inspiration.
Deadlines are stupid

But if I could give him a chance, just a little chance, he would make everything, EVERYTHING, up by next week.

Dear Reader, I dropped him.

One young women missed a week of classes because her deaf sister became ill, causing her deaf mother to need my student's attendance at the hospital because a sign language interpreter was required in a life and death situation.  Now that is a great excuse.  It's not an excuse; it's an actual reason.

I love my students.  Most are sincere, motivated, and assets to any classroom. I n fact two of them this semester have not registered on the Excuse-0-Meter once.  That's significant because one was very pregnant, has given birth, not asked for any extensions and kept up with all the work so far.  The other student is in a wheelchair, and prone to leg and kidney infections.  If he misses something, he merely apologizes and we move on.

Excuses remind me of The Trouble with Tribbles from the early Star Trek series: a space trader, Cyrano Jones, gives Uhura a purring ball of fluff known as a tribble.  Charmed by the creature, Uhura takes it back to the Enterprise.  However, as McCoy soon learns, tribbles are born pregnant and the more they eat ... and they eat constantly ... the more they multiply.  Soon the starship is overrun by the furry creatures.

Dignity and personal responsibility should not be in such short supply.  Right now, it's hard to breathe with all these tribbles piling up around the joint.

©2004 Beverly Carol Lucey
In addition to her work as a college teacher, Beverly Lucey publishes several ezines.  See Tulip Tree Publishing for more information.

The IP comments:  The IP always has some trepidation about giving exams because he knows that doing so is likely to cause the demise of several of his students' grandparents.

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© 2004 Dr. Mark H. Shapiro - All rights reserved.