Friday, October 22, 2010

Bed Bugs v. Grandma

The academic year is still young, but already there is a new trend apparent in Reasons Why Students Can't Take The Exam (on the scheduled day) or Turn In The Homework (on the scheduled day): bed bugs.

Colleagues teaching large intro classes report having students with bed bug crises just before exams.

I personally would believe these students and deal with the make-up exams in my usual way. In fact, it is my policy to believe the students, no matter how many deaths, illnesses, court cases, or insect infestations they have to deal with in a term. I have mentioned before that both of my grandfathers died within 3 weeks of each other; in certain circumstances, it doesn't sound believable, but it happens.

Nevertheless, it is remarkable that my colleagues report no grandparent deaths yet. This is one of those strange little academic pseudo-factoids for which I wish I had more data. Lacking a good mechanisms to poll vast numbers of college and university teachers, the best I can do is ask you, my readers, if you have noticed any bed bugs v. grandma trends in your own classes.

A quick glance at a bed bug map of the US shows some geographical variation in bed bug reports, and there are also likely to be local variations depending on the housing situations of students at different universities. It's possible, however, that bed bugs are the new grandma.

So this is what I am wondering today:

How are grandparents doing relative to bed bugs in the lives of your students this year?

By the way, this is a test. Unlike in my real teaching life, I do not give make-up exams here. I just gave you the essay question, and there is also a multiple-choice question:

This photograph best illustrates or symbolizes which one of the following:

a. Cats at a faculty meeting. (Note: Ignore the presence of comfortable seating and focus only on the salient features of the photo)

b. Feline delusion. Older Gray Cat (right) thought he would be safe lying next to the World's Largest Kitten (left), who was apparently deep in slumber after a long night of stealth, intrigue, and rodent pillage. Older Gray Cat was wrong.

c.The US 2010 elections, with one cat representing the Democrats and one the moderate wing of the Republican party. Cats are depicted debating the issues. Not shown: Tea Party candidate.

d.
Taxidermy.

36 comments:

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

The Republicans have a moderate wing? When a center-right politician like Obama is called a socialist, the Republican "moderates" must be pretty far right.

It is true that the sleeping cat could symbolize the Democrats, who have done very little of note while the Republicans licked up all the cat food from both bowls.

Alex said...

Having had a serious bedbug infestation while doing a post-undergrad-fellowship (long story), I would urge you to be as sympathetic as you can (read: continue current policy of generously believing students' stories). They really wreck your life for that time: the effect on sleep quality and morale is enough, but to top that you have to get rid of them or they just keep multiplying. Add to that landlords who insist that you brought them and thus refuse to carry out the extermination breathing down your neck and you have a crisis that can occupy the majority of your time for a few weeks.

When I was an undergrad, the standard excuse was "tired" or "not feeling well". Profs as a rule were generous with extensions, which was naturally a double-edged blessing, but if you take the always-believe policy you avoid privileging the more skilled liars.

Anzel said...

Can I get an extension?

Also, c.

Wendy said...

I've not heard bed bugs, but I'm also not giving my first midterm until next week.

Last year it was H1N1. Faculty were told that they were to excuse students without any documentation for the flu, so this was the go to excuse for the year.

Anonymous said...

I have already had one best friend, two grandmothers and one grandfather pass away in my large class this semester. This didn't happen on exam day. I always give students the benefit of the doubt and let them make up assignments in these cases. If they go to the extra effort to make the request, schedule the time, and show up, I'm OK with that. I did miss an exam in college when my own grandfather passed away, so maybe this affects my view of leniency.

I have no reports of bedbugs, but strep throat is seemingly going around. I'd rather not catch it, so I've been excusing this as well.

I do wish we had statistics on how many of these excuses were legit. I did not excuse "I didn't have an umbrella and it was raining."

studyzone said...

I haven't had any dead grandparents or bed bugs this semester. I did have a heartbreaking case of a student who couldn't take an exam because student's mom was beaten by mom's boyfriend, and student had to care for mom and younger siblings.

Anonymous said...

No bed bugs yet, just the usual illnesses, stove on fire, parent without a job, and terminally ill grandparent.

I vote for A. We have the 5 faculty members who are represented by cat on the right, and 25 that are represented by cat on the left.

ChemProf said...

I got a bed bug excuse a year ago - the student had to move out on short notice and it was quite a big deal.

No grandparents have died yet this semester. Stomach viruses seem to be the excuse of the moment. They come and go too quickly (on exam day or lab day) for the students to get to the doctor or the health center, thus no medical excuse note. yet how can a Prof refuse to believe the student?

Cat on the right looks quite worried. I believe she was there first, then the large kitten joined her and crashed off asleep. She is trying to decide whether to relinquish her favorite spot, or hold firm.

Anonymous said...

I also believe that you should just believe your students even if their excuses seem unbelievable. Policing excuses is not part of the job description.

Anonymous said...

I have no students. Can I get partial credit on the essay, perhaps because of bed bugs?

The lack of interest shown by both (awake older cat feigning it better than sleeping young cat) is nicely applicable to (a).

EliRabett said...

Cats at a faculty meeting are a great idea. Petting one of them rather than choking a colleague is a plus

Anonymous said...

No bed bugs yet this year. Absences have been due to:
illness of grandfather
illness of grandmother
death of grandfather
family funeral
parents' renewal of vows
court appearance
cousin's wedding
suspension from school
Two students have experienced more than one of the above.

Isabella said...

I didn't get released from lab for the 90th birthday of my grandmother. She died the next day, and I still wish I'd have been a more skillful liar, I would have seen her a last time alive. Of course I got a release for the funeral.

Alex said...

First, I'm the person who usually comments as "Alex." I have no idea who that other one is. Well, I'm clearly the better Alex, so maybe I'll append "the great" to my commenting name? :)

Second, I had bedbugs a few years ago and never missed a day of work, even though the infestation came during a particularly intense phase.

Third, my students are boring. So far all I've heard about this quarter are car accidents, church choir trips, and knee surgery. And they're actually contacting me well in advance of the church choir trip and the knee surgery. Usually I hear about it afterwards, something about "My church choir scheduled a last minute event on the day of my 5th grandmother's surgery for knee cancer."

Mom, Ph.D. said...

No bed bugs or Grandmas yet! But two car crashes and one flat tire on the highway. So the trend is vehicular problems--which statistically seems plausible to me.

Last year I had a whole variety of excuses in one class. It seems news of my leniency spread like wildfire and students took advantage of it/me. So this year I was very clear that all excuses needed some form of documentation, plus also stressed planning ahead for assigned papers, etc. Big difference this year.

Alex said...

P.S. If you're going to blog about student excuses, you totally need to check out the site "College Misery", the descendant of "Rate Your Students."

Anonymous said...

Here in Vancouver, Simon Fraser University has had fairly major bedbug problems in their dorms causing a great deal of stress to those living there...

http://www.vancouversun.com/life/residence%2Bbedbugs/3663578/story.html

Anonymous said...

answer: a, reminds me of what my afternoon will be

Haven't heard the bed bug one yet, but there have been a few other good ones in our department.

A coworker last year with an intro-to-major lecture course told me of a student that claimed H1N1 just about every week (there was an attendance requirement). It was also the same semester that the university dispensed with their usually doctor's note requirement because they feared the lobby of the medical center would become transmission central. But yet the student seemed to have no trouble attending classes held after 10 a.m. . . .

We had a student a few years ago that pulled the grandparent line about once a semester - last count she lost 6 grandparents and also developed some amazing maladies. I don't ask for letters on the grandparents, but several students volunteered to bring me copies of the obituary.

As we have a large pre-vet program in my department, its not uncommon for some of my students to have vet emergencies involving their dogs, cats, horses, etc. Its not university policy, but I have been known to accept vet clinic receipts, and a few vets even have a form letter available.

The one that irks me is the student who tells me they need to miss class because their sister/cousin/sister-in-law/high school best friend is being induced on a particular day. I don't have kids, and my siblings that do have opted for minimal family in the hospital at time of delivery, so I don't get this trend. Some of these are not the first-born either. I haven't had one of these fall on exam day yet.

On the other hand, there have been several students with family members in serious medical crises that I let go, order to go, or even consider giving gas money so they do get the chance to go be with them that one last time.

Anonymous said...

Would anyone give a make-up to a student who scheduled elective plastic surgery during Thanksgiving week, even though there is an exam that Monday?

Anonymous said...

Regarding the plastic surgery, it depends. Mine was classified as elective, but it was for medical rather than vanity sake. Then again, I knew up front I would need two weeks to recuperate so I scheduled it for semester break.

Pagan Topologist said...

The only excuses I have encountered this year are job interviews and Varsity athletic events.

These just look like two sleeping cats to me.

Anonymous said...

My policy, which works well, is to state in the "Course policies" that Exams must be taken on the dates indicated during the regular class period; no makeup exams except in special circumstances, i.e., medical or family emergency documented in writing. The makeup test may be an oral exam, and then be much more lenient in reality. This reduces the number of folks who need this to one or so per semester (now that i no longer look young!!) and the folks who are doing this to get away with something flunk the exam anyway.

Anonymous said...

Pagan Topo: FAIL. One cat's eyes are open, even if the cat looks a little blank. Unless you can present research showing that cats sleep with their eyes open, only 50% of the cats are asleep. 50% might also be your grade, unless you can get partial credit for writing your answer in a complete sentence.

Casey said...

I had a professor who claimed that about 10% of students' grandmother died each time he gave an exam. This meant that, since he gave a midterm and a final for each course, if you took five courses from him your grandmother was virtually guaranteed to die.

PhysicsUndergrad said...

I'm an undergrad, so I don't have any students to talk about, but I did have a professor refuse to give me an extension after I was in the hospital on suspicion of appendicitis (it wasn't that, but it took a couple days and some painkillers to clear up). The health center sent out a note and everything.

Just giving the extensions seems like the safer route to me, because after all, if the students get behind they'll suffer anyways, even though they got to turn everything in.

FrauTech said...

That is clearly a meeting. No faculty here, but my cat (who could be related to your two cats) does that exact same position as the cat on the right. I suspect she's about to lead a board meeting as she gives me an impatient look indicating I'm late in getting the minutes started for her meeting.

Anonymous said...

I believe all the excuses, but I don't give make-up exams. We just add the weight of the midterm to the final exam. It seems to do a pretty good job of keeping the grandparents alive.

Lesley (and Eric) said...

My cousin is at UCLA. Her grandmother died about 3 weeks ago, and a week or 2 ago, she was evicted from her dorm due to bedbugs. I am NOT making this up!

Anonymous said...

I had the following when I taught:
1) Student who missed class in order to go to the hospital when her friend was giving birth
2) Student who missed class and an exam because her boyfriend's mother died. They are married now, but at the time, it seemed a little odd.
2) Student who had a panic attack during my exam. He jumped up out of his seat, ran out of the classroom, and fell on the floor in the hallway. We called the paramedics immediately, but when he was able to speak, he told me he'd been seeing a counselor for anxiety. But it's not like you can announce that to a classroom of students who now think that my exam was SO difficult that it caused the panic attack. Under direction from my chair, I had to write another exam and give it to those who wanted to take it (all but one in the class took the exam over).

Anonymous said...

I haven't gotten bed bugs as an excuse but actually had them in my NYC apartment (or rather, my future husband's apt). It was a week I'll never forget- we washed everything made of fabric and boxed up all his belongings. All while I suffered swollen red welts on most of my body. So that excuse I'll take any day!

I have the same excuse policy- believe them all and have the same positive attitude regardless of whether I think they're lying out their teeth. Honestly, it has made my life much easier to stop worrying about whether I'm being biased when I judge their excuse. Not to mention it meets my new university's official policy that gives a long list of excuses for tests and requires me to give them all makeup exams, no questions asked.

Anonymous said...

This is my first semester teaching, and I borrowed a more senior colleague's policy of not giving makeup exams no matter the excuse -- I just substitute the final exam grade for the lowest test grade during the semester. I'm not sure if this has lessened the number of excuses I've been given anyway, which includes the deaths of grandparents, breast lump biopsy (of the student), military drill exercise with the student's reserve unit (I wrote a letter and got his drill exercise postponed instead of the other way around), court appearance, car theft, student's birthday and mother visiting (tests aren't fun!), and those are just the ones I remember off the top of my head. Surprisingly, no bed bugs, even though I'm at an urban campus with a high percentage of students coming from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10/23, 10:20am:

Anyone can get bedbugs - they are not associated with being "disadvantaged". Jeez - get out of the ivory tower much?

Bagelsan said...

I have the same excuse policy- believe them all and have the same positive attitude regardless of whether I think they're lying out their teeth. Honestly, it has made my life much easier to stop worrying about whether I'm being biased when I judge their excuse.

It's nice that the students don't have to worry about whether bias will work against them either. Sometimes you just can't stand having a professor put your personal problems under their judgmental scrutiny, and sometimes even if you could stand it there might be negative consequences down the line. Sexism, ableism... there have been very valid reasons I've not wanted to give the "real" (or complete) reason for my absence to a professor.

Candid Engineer said...

Your cats are gorgeous. They look like they are also enjoying an ikea poang- my cat is obsessed with ours. He jumps all over it, perches on the top, bites the leather straps, and also lies on floor pieces as if attending a faculty meeting.

Female Science Professor said...

I am going to have to take points off for that IKEA comment. The chair is not from IKEA. Just because this comment is irrelevant to the exam question doesn't mean I can't take off for an incorrect statement. These lost points might be offset, however, by the extra credit awarded for your saying my cats are gorgeous.

adamgal said...

A long time ago when I was grading homeworks I got one handed in late, and attached to it a note from a doctor about contusions and such, and an X-ray!
Talk about overdoing it...