Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Dead grandmother season begins

Let my start by saying my grandmother is actually quite ill. Last week she went into care after living with my aunt for all of my adult life. My grandmother was born in 1916 & was lucid (well, consistent anyway) for most of the time I have known her. That ended quite abruptly, recently.

This has put me in mind of that old college stand-by, the dead grandmother. Tonight is the first exam of the semester & the dead grandmothers will be coming out of the wood-work. A does not but I know of two in his department who do keep a running tally of dead grandmothers for every class they teach. Last time I heard the record for a single semester was 7 but the other prof objected that his 5 should stand on the grounds that he was teaching a much smaller class. That's right kids, some of your professors actually know each other.

I had a roommate who killed off three grandmothers in two semesters. Only one of her grandmothers was above ground before the carnage & the old lady survived it, I am glad to say. A** would have felt very bad had her one remaining grandparent actually kicked while she was killing off imaginary grandmothers.

Sometimes grandmothers actually do die, but lately it is siblings-in-combat. The professors have the same requirement for this as they do for dead grandmothers: documentation from an unimpeachable source. It is always very awful especially as no one ever fakes this one. The student explains why the exam will be/was missed, A grits his teeth & explains the make-up exam process, & a truly horrible event is made just a little bit worse. A is actually relaxed compared to some: he offers a cumulative make-up right around the time of the final (also a cumulative exam). If you miss two exams, that grade counts twice, three exams it counts three times, etc. It just is not possible to do custom make-ups for the 5% that might miss any given exam, even if their reasons are good ones (for you not-math-types 5% of 500 is 25. 25 times three exams plus one final is 100 custom exams per semester).

I admit I do rubberneck all the other reasons an exam was or will be missed: football (I understand the players, cheerleaders, marching band, but random students who did not even travel to the out-of-town game. Really?), fraternity/sorority formal, wedding (not the students own), other celebration of a personal nature, the babysitter was a no-show, car would not start, went to the room the exam was held in last time having no idea it might be somewhere else, etc. This brings us to my all-time favorite, the student who missed his exam because he was doing a religious fast, passed out & did not come to until after the exam was over. No it was not Ramadan or Yom Kippur or Lent. To this day, I am not clear what the kid's religion was.

Before you kill off your grandmother, let me give you some tips:

1-an excuse submitted BEFORE the exam is more credible than the one submitted after. It just is. This is a fine life lesson in general. Someday when you have a job where they pay you to show up, calling in sick in the morning will get you sympathy; calling in sick at the end of the day will get you fired.

2- be consistent. If for example you are missing this exam because of a religious holiday be certain that other holidays requiring your attendance at church or temple or mosque have also been observed. For example, you want to avoid being orthodox for your Engineering final but not-so-much for your Fine Arts final the previous year/same holiday. This just looks fishy. As a rule I would steer clear of this one (unless of course you really are that religious), because it does not work as an afterward reason (did you forget this so-important-holiday was coming up?) & letting prof know ahead of time means there is time to confirm your story. There are few things less fun than saying you cannot take an exam because you need to say rosaries for the Feast of the Ascension only to learn your TA will also be saying rosaries & now you really have to go to church or no one will ever believe you ever again.

3- consider the possibility your professor might not have wanted to be there either. I know a guy who has missed his wife's birthday every year but two for the entire 14 years of their marriage. It is my fault for being born during mid-terms but there you are. When you tell your professor you missed because you had something more fun to do, chances are pretty good he had something more fun as well. The only reason you are not killed-on-the-spot is that there were 400+ other students who DID show for the exam so your not being there did not change whether or not he had to be there. When you ask for the recommendation for grad school or an internship or whatever, though you can be sure this will come up.

There is a trend in higher education to view professors as service providers & students as customers & well, the customer is always right. I naturally come down on one side of this issue rather strongly, but that is not really relevant because with any luck no one will spend more than six years as the customer in this scenario. Then you will be the service provider for the rest of your days.

Employers frown on people who miss presentations because their 5th grandmother has died, they got too drunk at the football game to drive home or they are attending a special mass for Saint Blaze (not the patron saint of strippers, which would be interesting, but the patron of wool carders, so all you knitters out there get to your knees, today is your day) & did not think to mention it beforehand.

If all this sounds a bit brutal, you should know I used to be in the position of hiring newly graduated computer engineering students & nothing surprised them more than the expectation that work (& expense reports) needed to be handed in on time, that they would be at their desks by 9am (not strolling in with a cappuccino at 9:15), & finally that I would rather fire a second-time offender & hire someone new than explain why this would not cut it in the real world. I quickly learned that seeing the guy they cut class with get escorted out of the building by security guards for playing golf on my dime had a way of inspiring a work ethic in everyone else.

1 comment:

  1. I never knew that connection between St Blaise and the wool carders. Looked it up and now wish I hadn't. I do remember the children going to church on his day to have their little Catholic throats blessed. St Blaise was big on throat health.