Did the dog eat your homework?


The Appalachian Online

Aleah Warner

With the start of college, students are presented with a new set of freedoms they didn’t have in high school including the ability to create their own schedules, choose their professors and, perhaps the most enticing, the ability to skip a class.

Professors are in agreement that there is a problem with attendance in their classes and many attempt to combat this by enforcing attendance policies. While each professor has freedom to create their own attendance policy if they choose, three missed classes can cause a grade to be deducted by one-third of a letter grade for each missed day.

Paul Gates, a professor in the communications department, said his attendance policy serves as an incentive for the students to show up and keep them engaged in their classes.

“I think it’s kind of like a little stick, they don’t want to get hit,” Gates said. “It’s hanging over their heads, it’s just a little more incentive to do what they should be doing. Sometimes they need a little kick like that.”

Even with an imaginary stick hanging over their head, students still find reasons to skip their classes, he said. The most common are below.

“I don’t feel well.”

This is the most frequent excuse professors here in regard to missing a class. Though not always untrue, this excuse is hard to prove unless the student shows up to class or provides a note from their doctor.

Professors know it’s inevitable for a student to become sick at some point during the school year, but it usually will not count as an excused absence because the student still missed the assignments and materials covered in class that day. With serious illness or injury, a note from a doctor can provide validation and professors can work with the student to make up the missed material.  

“My alarm didn’t go off.”

Similar to getting an illness, a faulty alarm clock is another excuse that professors hear from students. Gates said he hears this excuse most often for students that are late or absent on test days.

“Of course, part of that is, the alarm goes off but they didn’t hear it because they stayed up until two in the morning studying and you can sleep through almost anything when you’re that tired,” Gates said.

For students struggling with waking up for early classes, setting multiple alarms and keeping the alarm farther away from the bed can help.

“I missed the Appalcart.”

Missing the Appalcart bus is a more common excuse among students living off campus who are too far away to walk to their classes. If a student misses their bus, it can be a challenge making it to class on time when waiting for another bus to pick them up.

Instead of planning to take the last possible Appalcart before class begins, students can try to get on at an earlier time to have the option of waiting for the next one to come around if the first is full. Gates also encouraged students to ask a friend for a ride if they missed the bus.

“I can’t get there because of the weather.”

Weather is a serious obstacle keeping students from getting to class, especially in the spring semesters where snow and ice are more common. For those who live off campus or far from an Appalcart route, attempting to get to a class in the winter could even be dangerous. If weather conditions are bad enough, however, Appalcart routes typically won’t run and the university will cancel classes.

“I had a student last year who lived at the top of a hill and couldn’t come to class because of the ice. He couldn’t leave his house because if he went down the hill he wouldn’t be able to get back up,” Christopher Bartel, a philosophy professor, said. “That sounds utterly insane unless you live in Boone, then it makes perfect sense.”

“My grandmother died.”

This can be a tragic event in a student’s life but professors said one of the more morbid excuses they hear is of a grandmother passing away, typically around a “convenient time” when assignments are due.

Bartel said he had the same student over the course of three semesters, and each semester the student said his grandmother died as an excuse to miss class.  

“Every semester this student would say ‘My grandma died, I have to go home,’” Bartel said. “The first time I thought, ‘Oh, that’s awful!’ The second time I thought ‘Oh, what a coincidence, you lost both grandmothers,’ and the third time I realized ‘You just think I’m an idiot.’ They forget where they told the lie.”

This is not to say that professors aren’t sympathetic to the death of a family member. Instead, when a family member dies, Bartel said he encourages his students to speak with the Dean of Students. The student can provide the necessary documentation to the Dean, who will then share that information with the student’s professors and tell them if they need additional absences or extended deadlines.

Professors also admitted they can be understanding to absences because they remember skipping classes when they were in college. Now, they use their own college experiences to help create attendance policies that encourage students to come to class.

Browning doesn’t have an attendance policy, but instead gives a daily quiz for his students based on a reading assignment. He said he recalled his study habits when he was developing his curriculum and created a system that will keep students in class and also make them accountable for knowing the material he covers.

“I developed my quizzing method to defeat me, to hold me accountable because I was the kind of student that would do the least amount of work possible and still get an A, or at least a high B, but I would have gotten so much more out of it if I had just done everything that was asked in the class,” history professor Judkin Browning said.

Instead of repeating their behaviors, Gates said that he encourages students to take advantage of the opportunities for learning that the university presents. He said that students are paying for their classes and should make an effort to attend them.

“I think attendance is important,” Gates said. “You’re paying to go to school, you made the decision to come here and I think you should really put this ahead of most everything else. School needs to be taken seriously. You come here with a purpose and you owe it to yourself to do your best.”

In addition to some of the run-of-the-mill, typical excuses that students provide, many of the professors were eager to share some of the more outlandish tales that they heard from students regarding missed classes, both true and false.

Gates shared a story of a student that faked a program for a funeral. The student adjusted an existing program, fixing the date and changing out information. Gates said that the program was cut and pasted, and the student admitted to it being phony.

“That is more effort than actually going to class,” Gates said.

Browning said that one of the strangest stories he heard was from a girl who had missed an exam when she and her boyfriend had gotten injured on a hike. The girl had fallen and broken her wrist, and her boyfriend had fallen while trying to help her. Fortunately, she was able to make up her exam, proving her story to be true with her arm cast and medical documentation.

Throughout the school year, it is inevitable that a student will miss at least one of their classes. Instead of worrying about covering their tracks, communications professor Judith Geary stressed that students should focus on getting the notes or information that they missed.

“I’m not going to count you as being in class,” Geary said. “You missed, you were somewhere else, I don’t need to know why, but what are you going to do about it now? Just because you were not in the class that day does not mean you are not expected to know what we covered.”

No matter the reasoning, professors seem to share the belief that if it isn’t something serious, students shouldn’t worry about providing an excuse to explain their absences.

Story by: Aleah Warner, A&E Reporter