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Sometimes flunking a college course takes more effort than passing it

By June Mathews

All the recent late spring talk of exams and grades and graduations reminded me once again of the time I flunked music appreciation. Yeah, you read it right: music appreciation. The crip course to end all crip courses has a big fat “F” next to it on my college records. But there’s more to the story than you might think.

Despite the whole flunking thing, I fondly remember the instructor who taught the course. A church organist when he wasn’t teaching music appreciation and related courses, Mr. Williams (not his real name) was a talented man dedicated to making life better for others by sharing his passion for music.

And he was no difficult taskmaster, either. His lectures were fairly interesting, and since I enjoyed the subject, I passed the exams without a whole lot of extra study.

Mr. Williams did, however, have one hard, fast requirement: During the semester, each student was to attend five music-related events of any kind and write a two-page review on each one. Which I did. But man, was it tough. You see, about midway through the semester, my dad was hospitalized with a heart attack, and two weeks later a second, massive attack ended his life.

But being that my education was important to my parents – probably having a lot to do with the fact that they were paying big bucks for it (no scholarship student here) – I slogged along through those weeks of worry and grief, managing to meet at least the minimum requirements of each course I was taking, including music appreciation.

For some reason, though, Mr. Williams failed to note one of my five reviews in his records. Thus, when my grades arrived at the end of the quarter, music appreciation was marked “Incomplete” on the transcript, but I had no idea why.

So I called the registrar’s office, only to learn Mr. Williams was taking the summer off. But a sympathetic lady gave me his home number, which I immediately dialed. When he answered, I identified myself and inquired as to the reason for the incomplete grade.

“Let me see…” I could hear the sound of shuffling paper on the other end of the line. “Ah, here it is. I received only four reviews from you.”

“But I turned in five!” I exclaimed and rapidly rattled off the events I’d attended and reviewed. I also reminded him of my personal situation over the past couple months and that while meeting his “five events, five reviews” requirement had been difficult, I’d done it, by golly. It never occurred to me to retain copies.

After a few more pitiful entreaties on my part and paper-shuffling on his part, it somehow became apparent to him that I had indeed fulfilled the requirement (I suspect he found the fifth review in all that shuffling). So before we hung up, he’d agreed to change the incomplete grade to the grade I deserved – which probably wasn’t an A, but it wasn’t an F, I assure you.

Then long story short, in the wake of Daddy’s death, the rest of the family moved back to our hometown, requiring a 300-mile relocation effort, and I enrolled in a local university. In all the changes and chaos, I never followed up with Mr. Williams, and he clearly never followed up with the registrar’s office. A year or so later, I received a notice in the mail that the grade had been changed to an F for lack of further action.

By that time, I was in the midst of finishing the last of my college courses, working a part-time job and planning a wedding, so dealing with the undeserved grade never made it to the top of my to-do list. Getting it changed, I’d learned, would require a formal appeal, and too many other things were begging for my attention. It wasn’t affecting my ability to graduate on time, so even though I really should have pursued it, I let it go.

So that’s how I became a musical dolt on paper. I mean, really, who flunks music appreciation – especially when they pass all the tests and fulfill all the other requirements?

Oh yeah…That would be me.

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