Students can get creative when they offer excuses for missed classes and deadlines.
Excuses cover the spectrum from good to bad to just plain hilarious. But as English churchman and historian Thomas Fuller wrote more than 400 years ago, “Bad excuses are worse than none.”
BYU professors have heard them all.
“One student said, ‘My jewelry box got lost in the move and I don’t have any earrings to match my outfit and fingernails,'” Associate Professor Bryan Hopkins said.
Although her excuse may seem extreme, at least this student is not like Kimberly Du, a woman from Des Moines, Iowa, who faked her own death in 2006 just to avoid paying traffic tickets. Luckily, most students never become so desperate and stick to comparably menial excuses about things like finishing tests on time.
“I thought I just had to start the test by midnight, not that it was due at midnight,” Hopkins wrote, quoting what a student said to him.
H. John Pace, manager at the BYU Center for Conflict Resolution, said some of his students have used the excuse of forgetfulness and misunderstanding.
“Some unusual ones: ‘I totally spaced out and forgot to come,’ (and) ‘I thought you changed the syllabus,'” Pace said.
Students’ excuses are typically a result of falling short in an academic expectation. Benjamin Franklin bluntly stated, “He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.”
Misunderstandings about tests and forgetting assignments are the fault of students themselves, but sometimes late students will blame their tardiness on others.
Hopkins had a student say, “My girlfriend just wouldn’t stop kissing me and I couldn’t get away from her.”
Relationship excuses can also include crises that occur between roommates. Stephanie Fugal teaches Health 100 at BYU and said she has had several students blame their roommates for missing class or tests.
“(A student) said she missed the test because of a quarrel that broke out with the entire apartment,” Fugal said. “All the roommates got into a big fight so she couldn’t take the test. … Another girl said her roommate broke up with her boyfriend so she couldn’t take the test.”
Students have also been known to give excuses for their spouses. Fugal once received a phone call from the husband of one of her students — with an unexpected concern.
“I had a husband that called and said that my test was too long,” Fugal said. “He was worried his wife might get carpal tunnel.”
Whether it is the fault of the student, a roommate or spouse, sometimes students have real crises and need to miss class and get extensions on assignments. Anne Turner, a graduate instructor at BYU, said sometimes students are sick and need to miss class, but they should let their teachers know early.
“Students who have real difficulties should talk to their teachers as soon as possible,” Turner said. “It just makes their life and their grade so much easier and so much better, especially if they are student athletes or they need accommodation. It’s much better for students and much better for professors if students just come forth and talk about these issues with their instructors. … I take students at their word. I’m not thinking they are trying to skip out, because most of the time they aren’t and they really are ill.”
Betsey Denney teaches ballroom dance at BYU. She said being honest is what is most important to her when it comes to tardiness.
“My favorite is when people … say, ‘I just slept in,'” Denney said. “I just appreciate it when people are honest.”
It is not difficult to differentiate between an excuse and the truth, so perhaps excuses are better avoided. As legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden put it, “Never make excuses. Your friends don’t need them, and your foes won’t believe them.”