Monday, November 27, 2006

Student Excuses

The ever excellent RateYourStudents blog announced a new project, in combination with The Chronicle of Higher Education. The project is to collect "the best student excuses you'd care to share with us - the absurd, the imaginative, the ridiculous, the sublimely outrageous." I encourage everyone to send in their favorite howlers.

Perhaps my favorite excuse of all time arrived when I was quite a green teaching assistant, in graduate school. One of the students in the class I was looking after explained that they could not hand in their paper on time, as their brother was a computer hacker. At first, this excuse did not quite add up. However, the student continued on to tell me that the security services had paid their house a visit and taken away the family computer for further investigation. The only copy of the paper, it was claimed, was on the hard drive of the now confiscated computer.

On the face of it, this excuse was so out of it, that it seemed to have a ring of plausibility. I told the student that they should try and get some evidence, like a property receipt, or something from the relevant authorities. They promised to try. After puzzling over this tale for a while, I decided to do my own investigation. I discovered that there was an 800 telephone number for the security services listed in our local telephone book. So, I gave them a call.

The lady who answered the telephone was initially somewhat amused, but took my request seriously. After a certain amount of being shunted around their internal telephone system, I was eventually put through to the national head of computer crimes. He too took my request very seriously, took down the necessary details and promised to get back to me. About an hour later, my office telephone rang and it was the computer crime head honcho. He told me that he had looked into the matter. It turned out that the last computer seizure had happened about three weeks previously in a city a long way away. Thus, he concluded that the students amazing story was just that -- a story. A few days later I received a letter from this man, confirming in writing the results of his investigation.

The next class, I took the opportunity to have a quite word with the student. First, I asked about the evidence they had promised to try and find for me. They assured me that they had tried, but had found that it was impossible to contact the security people. To my amusement, they suggested that not being able to find a telephone number for these people was probably a national security thing. The student did promise though that they would try and write a letter. The following class, when my letter had arrived, the student went a very funny color when I showed it to them. The student got a zero for the paper, but I got a great tale to tell. I will be submitting it.

The CP

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