Excuses college students use for missing assignments

My father recently retired after over 40 years as a college professor. During that time, he has seen all sorts of lame excuses students offer for missing homework assignments. Eventually, he got tired of dealing with them, so he instituted the following homework policy:

There are nine homework assignments in this class, broken into three groups of three. I will take the best score from each group and drop the other two. Therefore, you can turn in as few as three homework assignments and still get full credit for homework. Late homework will be graded so you can learn from your mistakes, but the score will not count. No exceptions.

He then explains to the students his rationale for this homework policy:

I have learned from my years of teaching that students are terrible drivers. Now, I know that you personally are probably an excellent driver, but trust me, your classmates are horrible. Every year, countless students come up to me and say, "I'm sorry, but I did not turn in my homework on time because I got into a car accident." I'm tired of dealing with all these excuses, so I'm going to save everybody the trouble of making them up. Whatever excuse you come up with, I accept it, and the score will not count towards the group. That way, you can get into two consecutive car accidents without penalty. If you somehow manage to get into three consecutive car accidents, then I think you have more important things to deal with than this class.

One year, one of his students gave as an excuse for missing an examination, "My wife gave birth." This excuse may have garnered some sympathy if he hadn't used the exact same excuse three months earlier.

Comments (28)
  1. Brian_EE says:

    My significant-other is a college professor. I think she'll like this one :)

  2. Steve R says:

    Twins 3 months apart (nitpick: value rounded) is possible. Definitely "more important things to deal with".


  3. bcs says:

    Wife gives birth, finds out about mistress (already pregnant), quick divorce, quick wedding, new wife gives birth. (Also: in the "more important things to deal with" category.)

  4. Dave says:

    @Steve R: I see your "possible" and raise you Occam's Razor.

  5. Silly says:

    > "My wife gave birth."

    Heh. The child could be 16 years old and that statement would still be true as worded, though not much of an excuse. Anyways for some reason this reminded me of http://www.youtube.com/watch (at approximate time 4:20).

  6. JT says:

    I once had a student want to make up an exam she missed. She had a doctor's note saying she had a "bruised brain". I think I believed her. (This took place about 34 years ago.)

  7. Brian says:

    Perhaps he said "My wife gave berth"

  8. It's fun coming up with situations where a single individual can legitimately state "my wife gave birth" twice, three months apart.

    @bcs gave one such situation.

    Another situation: plural marriage (still practiced in fundamentalist branches of the Church of Latter-Day Saints) where the individual has multiple wives simultaneously

    Another situation: individual and his brother are both married to pregnant women; individual's wife gives birth first; tragic accident claims lives of individual and his wife, while sparing him and his sister-in-law; individual marries sister-in-law; sister-in-law (now wife) gives birth

    Another situation: individual is in an interspecies marriage with a rabbit

  9. > claims lives of individual and his wife

    should be: claims lives of individual's wife and individual's brother

  10. Gabe says:

    My wife has had children, so I have the experience to say that the "My wife gave birth" excuse could easily be valid for a duration of 3 months. The first time it would be "I was in the delivery room holding her hand" and the second time it would be "I can barely keep my 12-week infant, my wife, and myself alive, let alone make it to an exam".

    In particular, I believe the Family and Medical Leave Act requires employers to be able to take 3 months (actually 12 weeks) of unpaid maternity leave.

    [The implication is that the birth was the proximate and unexpected reason for missing the exam. If you're busy with childcare, then your excuse would be "I have a baby to take care of" and you would make alternate plans for the exam ahead of time. -Raymond]
  11. Abominator says:

    @Maurits, dude, you're completely wicked! Interspecies marriage? I couldn't even type it, I had to copy-paste it… Yuck!

  12. 2014 says:

    All I have to say is, this is soooooooo much better than the dream bloggings from last year.

  13. Joshua says:

    Sounds like polygamy. State = Utah?

  14. HeadlessCow says:

    All of you missed the most awesome possibility! Uterus Didelphys! This story involves the children being born at the same time, but there's no reason why they couldn't have been conceived and born 3 months apart.


  15. TT says:

    I have to concur with commenter "2014."  As fascinating as our dreams are to ourselves when we recall them, descriptions of them are almost always intensely boring to everyone else.  I am talking pervasively, aggressively, intensely boring, with no redemption whatsoever.  When I see an oldnewthing post that starts with "I dreamt…" I immediately tune out.

    However, as long as you're reading this… Last night I dreamt I was on a pony that had starfish-shaped hooves and whenever I sneezed I experienced a flashback to college where I knew how to fly but only when I was accompanied by my firstborn child who incidentally did not exist when i was in college but in the dream was full grown and strangely experienced in starfish-hooved horse-training and zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

  16. Neil says:

    Well at least he didn't use the conception as an excuse.

  17. Mityador says:

    @Maurits: Yet another possibility is that the wife was traveling very fast (close to the speed of light) during her 2nd pregnancy. Especially if it was a physics class, the excuse would surely be accepted ;-)

  18. Matt says:

    I'm not sure the Professor is obliged to hold the student's excuses to a criminal level of proof (beyond reasonable doubt). In fact, the Professor would be entirely within his rights to say "Nope. You knew you needed to sit the exam – no excuses. Got a problem? Go see the Dean".

  19. Mott555 says:

    I had a great moment back in elementary school. The teacher asked for my assignment and I said she wouldn't want it because the cat had vomited on it. She assumed I was lying and didn't have it done, so I pulled out a ziplock bag containing my finished assignment, complete with cat vomit stains.

  20. Jeff says:

    Honestly, I loved the dreams. They were a lot of fun. There were probably too many of them though, so it detracted from the interest.

    Perhaps a good excuse would be "I was trying to explain my dream on my blog and it was so complicated that it took several hours"?

    But really, why are you grading homework anyway? Homework is only there so people that don't understand the concepts can still get a decent grade after doing poorly on the tests.

  21. SimonRev says:

    @Mityador wouldn't the class have needed to travel at near light speed for that excuse to work.  If the woman had been traveling at light speed it would appear that less time had passed for her and the births would have been more separated.

  22. Anon says:


    I posit that when students are paying six-figures for a mostly useless, outdated "education," with no guarantee of ever actually obtaining a net positive return on their investment (and, today, more than likely ending up homeless due to that debt, which is not even eliminated by death), the professor should be substantially more forgiving lest their source of income dry up.

  23. Rob says:

    That's a great way to do homework.  My other favorite one was my digital design fundamentals class – a 100-level course which intro'd CS students to the basics of electrical engineering (at a microprocessor level).  We had probably 12-15 hours of homework per week, but the total weight of all homework was 8% of our final grade.  I did enough of our homework each week to learn the lessons needed for the tests – probably 3-4 hours worth – and still cruised through the class with about a 95%.

    It's always nice when professors understand they're not the centers of the universe.

  24. Brian_EE says:

    @Rob: "It's always nice when professors understand they're not the centers of the universe."

    Yeah, because let me tell you from personal experience, professors *LOVE* to grade all those assignments and tests, as if they have nothing better to do with their evenings and weekends.

  25. bzakharin says:

    One of my professors would hand out the answers to his homework assignment the moment class began. If you were 10 minutes late for class, you couldn't hand in the assignment. Of course, with a legitimate excuse, he'd let you make it up with a different assignment, but it was effective in keeping students on time, at least.

  26. Engywuck says:

    @Boris Zakharin: one of my professors tried the same. Result: One out of ten or so was on time and copied the handout for the others. Problem solved (for the students). If homeworks are graded it's a better idea for the professor if he only accepts result submissions in paper and in the first ten minutes of class. That is, if he wants them on paper instead of per mail :-)

    [I don't see how that worked. Once the answers were handed out, late homeworks were not accepted. So if somebody copied the answers and turned it in, it would be considered late and rejected. -Raymond]
  27. Brian_EE says:

    @Engywuck: Then your professor didn't do it right. I think the missing piece is keeping track of which students received the answer sheet, so you know to only grade the homework from those students.

    Of course, this is only effective if the homework is a significant-enough portion of the final grade.

  28. smf says:

    >I posit that when students are paying six-figures for a mostly useless, outdated "education,"

    > with no guarantee of ever actually obtaining a net positive return on their investment

    > (and, today, more than likely ending up homeless due to that debt, which is not even

    > eliminated by death), the professor should be substantially more forgiving lest their

    > source of income dry up.

    Most debts aren't discharged upon death, however in the US your student loan should be studentaid.ed.gov/…/forgiveness-cancellation

    I believe in the UK that when you hit retirement age then the debt is automatically written off & you don't have to start paying anything back until you earn a certain amount of money.

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