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Excuse Me?

By Skip Tate

When Diana Staab was a student in the early 1990s, she found herself in a position all too familiar to anyone who’s ever taken an exam—she knew the answer to a question, but no matter how hard she tried, she just couldn’t spit it out. So after a few minutes of brain beating, she got creative.

“The brain cell containing this answer is damaged,” she wrote in frustration in place of an answer. “The information is presently in transit to another location and cannot be accessed at this time.”

“I knew the answer, and I knew I knew the answer,” says Staab, now an academic advisor in the center for adult and part-time students. “But it was as though the information had slipped out of my memory bank. Too many withdrawals and not enough deposits, I suppose. Anyway, the minute my toes touched the sidewalk, the answer popped into my head. All I could do was laugh.”

Apparently, the professor did as well, giving Staab half-credit simply for the creativity of her answer. Typically, students aren’t given as much credit for their creativity as Staab, but they certainly try. When it comes to offering up excuses for missed questions, missed exams or failure to make it to class, students’ creative juices often flow wildly free. It’s an aspect of education that faculty everywhere deal with regularly, including those at Xavier.

Take, for example, the student who told her professor she missed a test because she was—seriously—kidnapped. When the professor asked her how she got free, the student said that she was let go because the kidnappers meant to capture her twin sister.

“Uh-huh,” the professor said. “And just how long will it take you to prepare for the make-up test?”

“Oh, I’m ready now,” she said. “When they kidnapped me, they let me bring my books so I could study.”

Considerate kidnappers. Go figure.

As it turns out, some excuses don’t die, they just get modernized. In the old days, it was the dog who ate the term paper. In today’s computer-dominated world, the excuses are much more high-tech, as one M.B.A. student proved when he told a professor why he didn’t turn in an assignment. “My wife and I are in the middle of a messy divorce,” he said, “and she reformatted the c-drive on my computer and wiped out my paper.”

Or, consider the message a professor received during her first year at the University. A call came from Kinko’s on the morning a 10-page paper was due. The Kinko’s employee had phoned the professor to tell her that one of her students came into the store to print her paper, but had problems with the computer disk. “That was the only time I had Kinko’s provide an excuse for a student,” the professor says.

Car problems are a common excuse. Twice, a professor recalls, he had students call and leave the message that they went out of town and couldn’t get back in time for a test because of weather or car trouble. “I’ll bet you can guess where the calls came from when I checked my caller ID,” he says.

An education professor recalls having two graduate students who were working for initial certification in elementary education call and leave a message that they were in an automobile accident and couldn’t make it to class. They were pretty shaken, they said, and didn’t think they could concentrate in class. Shortly after receiving the message, though, the professor left to run an errand and spotted the two walking up the hill to the main gate of campus. When she saw them the following week, they asked what they needed to do to make up the work they missed. Simply complete the activities, the professor said, and turn them in with a copy of the accident report.

“The accident report,” one of the students exclaimed. “Are you kidding?”

“No,” the professor responded. “The course requirements state missed assignments need a valid excuse. Besides, that shouldn’t be difficult since the drivers always get copies of accident reports.”

Stunned, the students confessed they skipped class because they had a tough exam to study for in the next class. “I had to laugh at that point,” the professor says now, “and tell them I’d seen them and wondered what the real reason was. Then, they really were embarrassed.”

Another education major was given an assignment to attend a school, observe and then teach. “I can’t do it,” he said. “I don’t get up that early.”

Student excuses aren’t always confined to the classrooms. When a hall director asked a student why he continually broke the dorm rules that prohibit drinking, the student compared himself to Jesus Christ. Jesus was a rebel and didn’t follow the rules of the time, the student explained, and he wanted to be more like Jesus. Maybe if he could turn water into wine, the excuse might be valid. Otherwise, it’s just another lesson in student creativity.

Illustraion by David Slonim

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