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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

August 23, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Columns2013-2014

Now you know: debunking the 4.0 myth

Editor’s note: This column is a new weekly feature investigating some unanswered questions on campus.

It’s known to some as the “legend of the 4.0,” the “automatic 4.0” and sometimes even as the “suicide 4.0.” It’s the nationally acknowledged rumor that morbidly declares the death of a roommate as a 4.0 GPA-haven. In other words, if your roommate were to pass away, it would bump your GPA up to a perfect 4.0 that semester. But is this actually true, or is it simply an urban legend?

To dispel the rumor, I went to the big man on campus, the guy who holds the key to your academic transcripts and therefore holds your future: Brian Scholten, the registrar.

“Ithaca College does not have such policy,” he said.

In fact, there are few to no colleges that have a policy like that. None that my research was able to uncover. Yet, let’s face it, what college would ever want to admit it slips students a four-course meal of As to take away the emotional strain of a lost friend?

“I dont know if faculty would be willing to entertain the idea of giving a student in that kind of situation a better grade unless the student had earned it academically,” Scholten said. “It would hurt a college or university to put something like that out there that would otherwise tell folks that we consider other things than academics in grading students.”

No one knows where this myth came from, but Hollywood certainly has not helped debunk it. In the 1998 movie “Dead Man on Campus,” two students set out to recruit a roommate who is on the verge of suicide to hopefully collect the As after his passing, and that same year in “Dead Man’s Curve,” two students kill their roommate and make it look like a suicide for a 4.0. On TV, “The Simpsons,” “CSI:NY” and “Law and Order: Criminal Intent” have all had episodes on the issue.

Bonnie Prunty, director of residential life and judicial affairs, said professors are usually understanding and work with the student. She said the college also works individually with the student whose roommate has passed to figure out what kind of support they need, which could come in different ways.

Sometimes students decide they need to move to a different residence hall. Sometimes they need the room for themselves and request no new roommate be placed in the room. The student can also request a friend move into his or her room, or the student can even request to have a pet, which would require documentation from a therapist, Prunty said. Let’s face it, what could be more helpful in the grieving process than the comfort of a pet?

Academically, it’s more or less up to the professor to give the student some time to recuperate, Prunty said.

“[We work] with the student to help them notify their professors and their academic schools so that people are aware that they are not going to be here, and they can make arrangements in terms of how they might need to make up work when they return,” she said.

There is no real policy or plan that clearly states what steps the college needs to take if a roommate dies, but the college proceeds with a case-by-case review.

Interesting  fact though, in 2011, the college approved a policy concerning granting posthumous degrees, which are diplomas for students who have passed away before completing their degree, to those who meet certain criteria.

So rest assured, even if you pass away, and your roommate doesn’t get a 4.0 upon your death, you could still get your diploma. Now you know!

If you are seeking help, the college’s Center for Counseling and Psychological Services is offering group meetings where students can drop in for one hour at 4 p.m. on Oct. 10 and Oct. 24 in the Phillips Room in Muller Chapel.