New Semester Results in Huge Loss of Life Among Grandmothers

Alan Defibaugh for The Chronicle

September 26, 2010

Just days into the fall semester, professors say the excuses for missing class have already begun to flow: food-borne illnesses, fender-benders, roommate squabbles, registration snafus.

Then there are the grandparents, those poor souls who wander about dead but unaware of it—like Bruce Willis's character in The Sixth Sense—conveniently killed off by college students whose tuition they might even be paying. One commenter on a Chronicle Forums thread on student excuses suggests sending out warning notices to the old folks: "The midterm exam for [course and number] is scheduled for [date]. This puts your life in danger. We recommend that you get a physical exam before that date and avoid all unnecessary travel until the test is over. Grandmothers are particularly at risk."

Another asks, "Is it just me or is the 'grandparent who dies' excuse being replaced with other family members, which makes it more traumatic for me to even question the veracity? Such as, 'My brother died today so I won't be able to complete the homework and test' on the day the first exam is due for an online course!"

Below are a few of the most creative excuses e-mailed to us, posted in our Forums section or submitted as comments on the Tweed blog.

• This is one I received this morning after a student missed my 8 a.m. class:

"Sorry I missed class this morning but I woke up so stiff I could barely move and didn't no [sic] why so I ended up going to the hospital to see what's wrong and it turns out when I was born my spinal chord didn't grow properly so I ended up pinching some things and that's why I wasnt able to move. Sorry I missed class though but I will bring by my author summary to you. Thank you and sorry."

I asked for a doctor's note.

• One student missed my class because his truck window wouldn't roll up. He showed up to the next one, but with no homework. Not sure how he's blaming the truck for that.

• Last semester I did have a student not come to class because, she said, some stalker was licking her windshield, and campus security towed her car. Yes, licking. Tongue. She dropped the course and turned up on the "withdrawn" list with a different last name.

• E-mail just received from student who missed first two classes. Unfortunately it is a once-a-week 3-hour block class, so she has missed two weeks of class:

"I just found out I am registered for your Wednesday class. I didn't realize I was registered for it. Now that I've found out I'm registered, I would like to attend. Do you think I can still catch up? May I stop by your office and get the syllabus?"

I wonder who registered her.

• This one is verbatim: "I am really sorry I was not in class today. I some how came down with ammonia and have been really sick for the past 2 days."

• I have two favorites. 1) "My father owns a liquor store and we got a big delivery right before your 11:00 class"; and, 2) "I was absent for yesterday's test because my girlfriend was having a baby." These are just two of the best; after 43 years, the collection of excuses seems endless.

• I had a student once tell me he missed class because he feared for his life. He said that while visiting another city he had witnessed an "accident" that was apparently a mob murder. The day before the class he had escaped out the back door of his frat house just as some thugs came in the front. I checked with the dean of students, and his story was true! I told him it was fine to miss my class, and he didn't need to meet with me again either. Phone calls were fine.

• I had a TA with a student who said his father died. The TA said it wasn't possible. The student got upset, accused the TA of being insensitive, etc. The TA said—yes, your father died—but a year ago. The student suddenly gets silent. The TA continues—how do I know. I was on call as the chaplain at the local hospital when your father died, and I ministered to your family.

• I have had graveyards full of dead family and friends, hospitals full of sickness, courthouses full of summonses and trials, and stadiums full of sporting events, but one of my favorites was a guy who said he was going to attend a riot and couldn't come to class. There wasn't much to say to that.