By Tyler Mercer–
Recently I read a play by Margaret Edson titled “Wit.” For reference, some of the editions use the original spelling, “W;t.” The main character was an English professor suffering from cancer who was having regrets about her life. In a flashback she recalls a student coming to her with an emergency. The student’s grandmother had passed away and because of this the student needed an extension on a due date.
The professor denied the student the extension in a way that sounds very uncompassionate and simply rude from a standpoint as a reader and student myself. Death cannot be planned for or anticipated, in most cases, and unfortunately, it simply does not happen at convenient times. The death of a family could happen anytime and certainly many family members have passed away right as semesters are ending when papers and projects are due and final exams schedules are written in stone.
The professor was quick to assume the student was lying and most likely acted this way after years of these same excuses. Students, put yourself in your professors’ position and think about how often they have most likely been lied to about an excuse for a late assignment or whatever it may be. After years of teaching, the number of times is probably unknown.
A philosophy professor here once told my class that she had actually been given the same obituary from a student for two different excuses. She obviously doesn’t take her students’ word for much anymore. As students, we yearn for our professors to respect us and trust us enough to know that we wouldn’t lie about something so serious. However, there are students who neither earn nor deserve that trust and respect because they will lie about it.
First I want to urge students to take a few things into consideration as the semester comes close to its end and due dates and exams creep closer and closer. You may or may not have already lost a family member or friend in your lifetime; if not, I do not wish that upon you. If so, you understand the pain and heartache this can cause. This is not a joking matter and should not be lied about or used as an excuse to avoid doing something on time or entirely.
Most, if not all, assignments are put on the syllabus you receive for every class at the beginning of the semester. We all know when our exams are and when big projects and papers are ultimately due. It is our job as students to attempt to complete each of these assignments completely and on time. If we fail to do so, we should readily accept the consequences that will come from that.
It is not just or ethical to seek exclusion from those consequences by saying that your grandmother or whomever has passed away. Not only does it show an astonishing lack of maturity, but it also displays a lack of reverence and respect for the life of someone who should be very important to you. I only hope that you don’t, someday, have to regret diminishing the importance of your loved one’s life simply because you lacked the maturity and motivation to complete your assignments or keep up with your studies.
It is obvious that I sympathize the position that professors are put in because of those students who may attempt to use an excuse such as this. However, as people who have had more time here and have most likely, and unfortunately, seen more of life and death, professors should also understand the uncertainty and spontaneity of death. It isn’t something your students can plan for. It is your responsibility to act with a sense of sympathy and compassion. It may sound rude or inappropriate to ask, but I would rather bring in proof of some sort than have to miss a loved one’s funeral because of an exam. In the grand scheme of things, I’m sorry to say, your final exam is less important to us than our loved ones and it should certainly be the same way for you.
Professors should avoid treating these situations in the way the professor from Edson’s play did. If a student is truly lying then the consequences should reflect such. However, professors are not omniscient and cannot be certain either way. The possibility of an excuse being true should be taken into consideration in every circumstance.
It is much easier for you to require proof of some sort than for you to look heartless and cruel.