The Unluckiest Student in the World

Halfway through last term, I received an e-mail from a student lamenting that he had been unable to attend my class for the previous eight weeks. His reason was fairly singular. For the sake of argument (and student privacy), we'll give him (more) made-up excuses. Last term, he said to me that "he had lost his right arm and had spent the term in physical therapy." This was after having "survived a wild groundhog attack" the previous term in a colleague's class, and having brought "a note from his chiropractor explaining he'd misplaced a vertebrae, and it had taken nine weeks to find it in the cushion of his couch."

You can imagine my surprise then - my sheer and utter joy - on receiving an e-mail from that same student today informing me that he had again "lost his right arm and spent the term in physical therapy." That's right, my darlings, he gave me the exact same preposterous excuse he gave me last term. Moreover, he sent me the exact same e-mail.

Now, lest we venture into the realm of Rate Your Students, here's my real gripe: when I pointed this out to the Powers that Be, their response was essentially "We should make sure the student passes your class so we can get him therapy."

Yes.

Yes, that is what I'm here for. To pass anyone so long as they have a reason for not doing any work or coming to any class that includes the following:
  1. words
  2. what? you want more than words? Alright. They should be in English.
Seriously, who needs standards? Not me. This has got to be one of my biggest gripes about (what I perceive to be) life at an SLAC: the mistaken notion that student retention is about keeping any one who has had the word student used for them rather than making sure those who really want to be students have the opportunity to be.

Argh.

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Professor Zero said...

Amazing. And on SLACs, true.

October 16, 2008 at 11:24 PM
Belle said...

Oh yes. Personally, I like the idea of the missing vertebrae and the groundhog attack.

You've also provided no little comfort that my SLAC is not the only one that has such quaint ideas.

I have to go attend to my wild groundhogs now; their vertebrae are slipping into the ether....

October 17, 2008 at 8:50 AM
Notorious Ph.D. said...

That is amazing. I'm simply speechless. You know, I went to a SLAC, and I'm sure there were a good number of "gentleman's C's" handed out, but this just blows me away.

October 17, 2008 at 3:17 PM
ash said...

Oh. My. God. This made me laugh so hard. And then groan because I can imagine the exchange you had. And then curse because it's unfair that you're dealing with this. But in the process I misplaced a vertabrae, so I'm not sure I'm going to be able to finish this comment. Do you think I could get an extension?

October 17, 2008 at 5:54 PM
Dr. Crazy said...

Please tell me that you responded to the student by saying, "How awful that you lost your right arm twice within the span of a year! You must have been born under a very unlucky star!" or something like that. Or, if you still had the email from last semester, you could have just forwarded it back to the student. That would have been classic.

I seem to recall us discussing attendance policies at some point and me saying that I give everybody a week's worth of freebies and that I don't want excuses - ever - for absences. Perhaps such a policy seems more attractive to you now? (Students surely screw with me in other ways, but they don't even bother to screw with me in this way. And thus I don't have to go to the powers that be with this sort of thing. And so I don't need to become irate at their responses. I'm telling you: think about it.)

October 17, 2008 at 6:46 PM
Dr. Crazy said...

Oh, and another thing: does your SLAC have an honor code? I feel like if they do, this would fall under the heading of breaking it, if it includes something about lying in the service of a grade....

October 17, 2008 at 6:48 PM
Dr. Curmudgeon said...

Thankfully, from my end, most of the problem is handled by syllabus design. My reply to the student said something to the effect of my syllabus has very specific guidelines about how to submit late work to ensure that all students have the same opportunities to complete the course regardless of circumstance.

My syllabus is set up in such a way that students can turn in late work fairly late in the term, but with substantial penalty. And so that anything done in missed class sections can't be made up. Certainly someone higher up can force the policy, but it'll set a bad precedent because of all the noise around here about "syllabi as contract" and "assessment strategies to learning outcomes." That isn't to say it won't happen, of course. But it won't be a decision I have to have any part of.

The frustrating part is what happens on the university end, where the pathology (I won't say the culture in this case) is to always find another chance for a student, regardless of how many they've burned through before. I'm not sure whether it is some sort of institutionalized guilt because of how much we charge or whether it's a consequence of some other idea (probably it's a lot of things), but it bothers me that we're extracting consequence from choice.

October 17, 2008 at 8:52 PM