A Philosopher's Blog

College & Convenient Death Syndrome

Posted in Universities & Colleges by Michael LaBossiere on March 31, 2009

When I first started teaching, I would generally believe students when they said they missed class do to a death in the family or some other dire circumstance. Sadly, I soon found out what should have been obvious: people will lie about terrible things for rather small reasons (like making up a test).

Since my grandfather died when I was in college, I understand how that can affect a person and hence I am sympathetic. However, like most professors I have noticed the convenient death syndrome: near relatives dying right around test dates and paper due dates. While death is a serious thing, I have often joked that professors should send out warnings to students relatives about our exam and assignment/paper dates and the alarming correlation between these dates and deaths.

My policy on excuses involving deaths (or alleged deaths) has been to express sincere sympathy and then request documentation. I still feel a bit bad about asking for this (“oh, someone you love died…well, prove it…”). But, I’ve found that good students who suffer a death in the family generally show up at my office and have the documentation already on hand.

For students who lack documentation, I have a “mercy” policy: each student gets a “mercy” that can count as a “no questions asked” excuse for a missed exam or late paper. I did this mainly for two reasons: 1) students do sometimes have legitimate reasons for missing class that cannot be documented and 2) I feel bad when people lie to me.

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  1. biomass2 said, on April 1, 2009 at 5:01 pm

    Reminds me of the M*A*S*H episode where Henry listed all of Klinger’s leave requests, among them “half the family dying, other half pregnant.” 🙂

    Knowing Klinger’s background, determining the veracity of the excuse was very easy. Maxwell Klinger was a man who tried to eat a jeep to get discharged from the Army.

    On the other hand, it’s not that difficult to imagine a real-life scenario where “half the family dying, other half pregnant” could be tragically/happily true.

    Context is everything. Getting at it is not always easy.

  2. kernunos said, on April 2, 2009 at 11:28 am

    You can only really know if they offer the excuse for the same deceased person twice. I’m sure it has happened somewhere.

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