What makes for a good excuse for not having your homework done on time? 

Once upon a time, "the dog ate my homework" might have worked. That age-old excuse probably won't pass here at Duke though, unless Nugget gets ahold of your work. 

“I think some students think themselves very clever when they 'make up' excuses but what they don’t realize is that their 'novel and creative’ excuse has actually been in circulation forever,” wrote Alexander Glass, lecturer of earth and ocean sciences, in an email.

Back in the 1990s, The Chronicle held an annual competition in which professors could submit the craziest homework excuse they had heard. In 2018, The Chronicle decided to ask more than 20 professors their favorite excuse for missing a homework or exam that they had heard in their years of teaching. 

Most didn’t reply or couldn’t think of any good excuses. Professor of Sociology Jen’nan Read wrote that throughout her many years of teaching, she has heard some “incredulous” excuses, but no single one stands out.

Nevertheless, a handful of professors did reply with their favorite excuses. Here they are.

Royalty and fencing

Some students have legitimate reasons why they have to turn in homework late or miss an exam—it just so happens that those reasons are somewhat out of the ordinary. 

Typically, going home doesn’t get students off the hook for their assignments. However, when one particular student had to go home, Sherryl Broverman—associate professor of the practice of biology—didn’t have much choice but to give him more time. 

“I once had the son of royalty from another country have to delay an assignment as he needed to return home for an event,” Broverman wrote. “Getting an email from a palace asking for an extension was a new one for me.”

Michael Gustafson, associate professor of the practice of electrical and computer engineering, had two students whose sports got in the way of their work. Gustafson wrote that he had a student miss a lab because they were at “the finals table of a major Texas Hold’em poker tournament.”

Another time, a student wrote him a matter-of fact excuse. 

“For test 2 I will not be here,” the student wrote, according to Gustafson. “I have a fencing tournament in Slovakia.”

Bus drivers and Shooters II

Other excuses are not quite as exciting as a poker tournament. Some students have more disappointing or lame alibis. However, a select few are gross, outlandish or embarrassing enough to really stick with professors. 

Connel Fullenkamp, professor of the practice of economics, wrote that he’s had some students cite their court dates as reasons for missing homework. Fortunately, he hasn’t had any Duke students miss work due to jail time.

Gerald Wilson, an academic dean in Trinity College, typically asks students who arrive to class late to explain their tardiness. Most of the time, he wrote, it’s because the bus was late. This semester, however, a student shared more detail than was necessary—the bus was late because “the bus driver had to get off and poop,” Wilson wrote in an email to The Chronicle.

At Duke, students will do—or say—whatever it takes to get a passing grade. Glass recalled a student with a memorable excuse in his Earth and Ocean Sciences 101 class.

“I once had a student who told me that they would be deported back to their own country where they would likely be executed as a political traitor, IF they got an F in EOS 101,” he wrote. “Needless to say that student spent another three successful years at Duke and ultimately graduated—with an F in EOS 101.”

Many of these excuses aren’t relatable to the general Duke population—not everyone can claim their royal status as an excuse to miss an assignment deadline. 

However, this excuse that someone told Karen Murphy, lecturer of psychology and neuroscience, can happen to any Duke student who’s having a little too much fun—one student told her that they were in the hospital because they broke their ankle falling out of the cage at Shooters II.