Faculty Focus


A Smart Way to Handle Student Excuses

Students and excuses seem to go hand in hand. Sometimes the excuses result from real events and personal problems that legitimately prevent a student from being in class, completing an assignment on time, or doing what some other policy or procedure may stipulate. Not having the wisdom of Solomon, most faculty struggle to fairly adjudicate between the real and unreal reasons offered for noncompliance.

Professor Daniela A. Feenstra, who teaches a variety of business classes at Central Pennsylvania College, has developed an interesting way through this dilemma. On the first day of class she gives each student a “Stuff Happens” card. It’s about the size of a business card and also includes the semester date and a place for the student’s name. In the syllabus (and in class) she explains that this is a student’s “one time only” forgiveness card.

If a student is late for class or might need a one-day extension on a paper, the student may trade the “Stuff Happens” card for this exception. Students don’t have to get her approval or permission to use the card. Use of it is entirely at their discretion. However, each student gets only one card, which is not transferable and won’t be replaced if lost.

If no “stuff happens” during a given a semester and a student follows all classroom policies and procedures, the “Stuff Happens” card may be traded in the last week of class for 20 bonus points.

Sometimes more than one “stuff happens” event may occur during the semester. When it does and the student presents the excuse or excuses, the teacher once again faces the problems described at the beginning of the article. However, Professor Feenstra notes that the “Stuff Happens” card takes care of most emergency situations. It covers the conscientious student who may occasionally have a problem. Other students are probably going to need more instructor feedback anyway.

Excerpted from Use ‘Stuff Happens’ Cards to Handle Student Excuses, The Teaching Professor, June-July 2007.