Mason faculty have heard it all
By Tara Laskowski and Lynn Burke
The end of the semester brings with it deadlines for student papers, projects, and exams. Although most students dutifully meet those deadlines, a few don't for a number of reasons—some are run-of-the-mill, others, not so. At George Mason, however, "my dog ate my homework" is apparently passé.
Lee Talbot, visiting professor of environmental science and policy, reports that none of his students have been the victims of homework-hungry dogs, although one did have her notes somewhat chewed by her pet prairie dog.
"Another brought her ferrets into a discussion of a late paper, but I never found out what relationship they had to her homework," Talbot says. "I am also regularly given travel excuses—Africa, East Asia, Eastern and Western Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, and various domestic destinations—but as long as students notify me well in advance, they are excused (or the assignment postponed, as the case may be)."
For two of Talbot's students, childbirth was the excuse: one on a class day when she was to give a presentation, and the other on the day of the final exam. "I informed both that I thought they had gone to rather extreme measures to avoid the assignments, but I did excuse them," he jokes.
"I also had three other students who resorted to auto accidents to avoid classes," says Talbot, who races cars in his spare time. "I gave them a much harder time (as you would expect from my racing background), especially since this was the third for one of them."
Auto accidents seem to be high on the list of reasons students miss assignments. Steve Klein, visiting instructor of communication, reports students in his course having multiple fender benders and court appearances, causing him to wonder whether the students were running into each other. Klein also notes that along with the epidemic of auto mishaps, his students seemed to fall victim to an epidemic of appendectomies during October. "I hope I'm not getting cynical," he says.
Sometimes it's hard not to become cynical (or suspicious at the very least). "One student left me a message in a pitiful voice saying he had been in a 'terrible' car accident, was in the hospital and would be out for a few weeks, and he would provide doctors' notes," says David Beach, assistant director of English composition. Three weeks later, Beach saw him in the hallway joking around with his friends, amazingly recovered from the car accident and sporting a killer tan. Beach says he walked up to him and said, "You look like you're much better! How was the hospital stay? What had to be done?" (Beach admits that he knows it really was none of his business, but he just wanted to hear the story himself.)
"I had to go into a nursing home for two weeks to recover," the student replied, according to Beach. "But I had the accident in Miami, so the nursing home was down there."
"Well, let me know the name of the doctors at the nursing home so I can get them to fax me a note," Beach said. He never saw that student again.
Every now and then, a student presents an excuse to beat all excuses. "A student once told me that she had been unable to attend class the previous week because an airplane had crashed into her house," says Roger Lathbury, professor of English. "I thought, in any case, that this was the sort of excuse that couldn't be re-used. Of course, it turned out to be true: there was a photo in the Post."