Wait! Wait! Don’t tell me

Robert Valentine Senior lecturer in advertising

Last week, I missed a meeting. I could list 20 things that were occupying that little speck of burned-out cells between my ears where a happy brain used to be. I’m not a bad person, and I have great respect for other people.

But I missed the meeting.

I have to admit my first impulse was to find an excuse or shift the blame. Of course, there was no one else to blame. So, most humbly, I apologized. There was nothing more I could do. An excuse — even a good one — wouldn’t change anything.

I mention that because other people do not extend the same courtesy to me, or to most other instructors on campus.

Instead of confessing a preference for partying over writing a paper (and who would disagree?), professors and teaching assistants alike hear a long litany of reasons that a 200-word paper didn’t get done on time.

A scientific survey would probably show “non-working printers” as the principal cause of late work. This is a pretty feeble excuse from a generation that knows more about electronics than the guys who sent the first men to the moon. All at once, at 8:18 a.m., all the printers in all the labs on campus collapse just as your printer, your roommate’s printer and all the other printers in Hart Residential College did at 8:08.

In the 60’s, packs of tame, herbivorous dogs roamed the campus eating homework on the very morning it was due, because we didn’t have printers. It’s one of great mysteries.

From magically malfunctioning automobiles to grandmothers in declining health, the list of creative excuses is as varied as it is unlikely. However, it isn’t suspicion of “creative truth telling” that bothers the faculty.

It is the lack of literary creativity and artistic panache that disappoint the poor professor. He just wants to take his collection of written wonders and spend an entire afternoon reading the Millennial version of pure genius. A better excuse would, at least, lighten the burden of having to look at your desperate, last-minute travesty in his non-existent spare time.

Remember: all these gullible, innocent profs got here by spending an absurd amount of time at college – more than you. Most of them, like you, had periods during which they had a great time being young, unburdened by children, houses, jobs and the smothering presence of well-meaning parents. There is no excuse you can produce that they haven’t either tried or observed with fascination in the hands of a roommate or boyfriend. They have heard it all before, from near-fatal crashes to alien abduction.

As alumni from across the planet descend on Murray State for Homecoming, you should take the time to ask them about the wildest con they ever pulled to escape the penalty for late work or an unauthorized month-long holiday. It will amaze you.

Short of time? The problem is that instructors don’t have time, either. It takes time to receive papers in two different forms over a one-week period. That’s why the good ones force you to produce a repair bill or a death certificate. The tired ones just nod and say, “Sure; of course. Sorry for your loss. Better luck next time. Turn it in when you feel like it.” If you don’t care what you’re doing, why should they?

Try this: “Oh, crap! I didn’t know you meant for me to write a paper, too! I thought that was just for muggles!” It may re-energize them. It will certainly make you unforgettable.

Look: We all come up short in our intentions at some time or another. This is a good time to discover how to avoid that. Sure: sometimes the car breaks; sometimes you feel lousy and sometimes Grandma is seriously, terrifyingly ill.

At the other times, however, you should just do the work the same day it’s assigned; give it a day or two and then improve it. When it is time to turn it in, drop that proofed, stapled work of art onto the desk with pride. Everybody wins, but mostly it’s you.

Column by Robert Valentine, Senior lecturer of advertising