Amber Schuler, Purdue University-Calumet
Student: “Omigosh, I missed my appointment the other day because I was so sick. I had a 103 degree fever, and my eyes were watering, and I was throwing up all afternoon, and my leg fell off; I had to call my mom, who called my aunt, who sent my cousin to help me find it. But I’m better now and just have a little cough. *coughcough*”
As academic advisors, we have heard our share of wild and outrageous excuses for missed appointments and missed classes. However, within the last few semesters, it seems to me there has been a marked trend upward in the frequency and intensity of these exaggerated stories. As an advisor, I am concerned when I hear these lies. For some students there seems to be a clear disregard for truthfulness along with a lack of ownership and responsibility for their actions. I find this frightening.
Most students have enough integrity to suffer the consequences for missed appointments and skipped classes. However, there are a handful of desperate individuals who use embellished lies as excuses. For example, there always seems to be a flood of apocalyptic proportion, illnesses that border plague, and abominable snow beasts who appear around midterms and finals. What would push a student to use such exaggerated excuses?
A variety of reasons and situations come to mind: lack of preparedness, laziness, too much Guitar Hero, or just not enough maturity to handle college at the moment. The fact remains that we are their advisors, and they are telling us these huge falsehoods. In other situations, when honesty is also important, what are these same students telling their doctors, teachers, parents, and significant others? Are they being honest about their actions, or are they answering with extreme lies there, too?
In such situations, academic advisors may find it difficult to subdue the urge to scream out “LIAR!” reminiscent of Valerie in The Princess Bride. Is it our role to correct negative behavior? If it is, then how do we correct these behaviors while maintaining open advising relationships? There is no cookie-cutter answer to these questions. Instead, this is something each of us must figure out for ourselves. Nevertheless, there are some strategies that are helpful in creating appropriate responses to these situations.
It may be helpful to discuss with students how their actions impact their future. It could be as simple as asking students if they are aware that these behaviors are negative. Some students may not have the critical thinking skills to realize how their decisions contribute to their character development in both positive and negative ways. Students may not associate bad choices, such as dishonesty or an inability to assume responsibility, with poor character development. Advisors can help reinforce that accepting one’s mistakes and growing from them are good habits to establish. These good habits can lead to good choices, and good choices produce positive character development.
Another approach might involve “care-fronting” students. “Care-fronting” is a term used in residence life circles for approaching situations from a place of concern. Some of us may not feel comfortable confronting students on obvious lies, but can address these issues out of concern. Advisors can use hypothetical situations—for example: “I hear you telling me (insert lie), and hypothetically speaking, if what you are telling me is not true, what do you think the ultimate consequences would be?” The discussion generated by use of this technique can help students learn that they are not doing anyone a favor when they are dishonest. In fact, they are short-changing themselves in the process.
Another suggestion may appeal to the completely exhausted and fully frustrated advisors among us who have heard every excuse in the book. This approach involves creativity. Since students’ lies are their reality, play along with the students. Take the situation presented as “reality” and go with it. If the story involves extremities that suddenly do not work, then ask for a doctor’s note so the students can access services legally available to individuals missing the aforementioned extremity. When plague-like symptoms hit and students cannot get out of bed to come to their appointments, indicate that they should not see anyone until they have obtained a doctor’s note assuring all that they are no longer contagious. After all, we do not want them to infect everyone on campus!
As advisors, we must learn not to become frustrated by student antics. Instead, we must play the hand, or the stories, dealt us. When confronted with their behaviors, hopefully these students will learn that it is a lot more work to maintain lies than it is to opt for honesty in the first place.
The strategies suggested here for dealing with student lies allows advisors to teach students that:
Most advisors encounter student lies during our careers. It is helpful if we have a game plan ready to address these issues with students and still maintain a professional advising relationship. As the semester progresses, be aware, an abominable snow beast may have eaten your next student’s leg!
Center for Student Achievement
Cite this article using APA style as: Schuler, A. (2010, March). Student lies. Academic Advising Today, 33(1). Retrieved from [insert url here]