A professor asked from me to send one of his books I've had. Because I've had to leave for some days from the country I've arranged with a relative to send the book. However, he ignore it and now the professor sent me an email asking for what happened. In my reply should I mention that the fault is not mine?

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    The fault is yours. You failed at the task of ensuring that the professor gets his book. Apologize and make sure it doesn't happen again.
    – user9482
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 13:33
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    I agree with @Roland. You should have been checking, reminding the relative, or finding some other means to get the book returned. If it has not yet been returned, find some way to get it returned ASAP. Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 13:47
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    100% agree with @Roland - this is a learning opportunity for real life. If you say something will get done, it is your responsibility to make sure it gets done. Otherwise, people will stop asking you to do things, which in a work environment is a bad thing for you. And, if there is a problem, that problem is detected early, and conveyed early.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 13:59
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    Don't exaggerate it. A firm sorry with quick and effective remedial action is a lot better than many guilt-laden apologies. Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 14:24
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    I don't think you should try to "justify" yourself. You slipped and didn't follow through adequately. You will just sound like you are trying to shift the blame to someone else when in fact it's your responsibility, no matter who you tried to delegate to. Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 18:00

3 Answers 3


It was your task to ensure the book gets returned. You need to take responsibility and apologize. You can mention that you had made arrangements, which failed unfortunately.

It's unlikely that the professor cares about the details. What he cares about is that he didn't get the book (that's why you apologize) and that he can rely on and trust you (that's why you promise it doesn't happen again and make sure it doesn't). This is a learning experience, i.e., you know now that your relative is not reliable and as a consequence your professor trusts you slightly less (but that's not permanent damage). Obviously, make sure he gets the book as soon as possible.

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    If you choose to mention the other person to the professor, only refer to them as "someone I know" or another non-description.
    – MikeP
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 15:59
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    Be sure to take responsibility if you desire to have a good relationship with either the professor or the person.
    – MikeP
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 15:59
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    @MikeP There's really no need to mention the third person, it sounds too much like "The dog ate it". Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 18:50

I disagree with the accepted answer. Yes, it was your task to return the book so, yes, you need to take responsibility and apologize.

However, you should also mention that you delegated the task to somebody else and they have let you down. Suppose you don't mention this, your relative doesn't send the book for another week and the professor sends you another mail. How are you going to explain that you still haven't done what you said you'd do?

And suppose that you later want to borrow another book. If the professor thinks it's completely your fault that the first book was late, they'll be reluctant to lend you another. But, "I'll never get that person to return another book for me!" is a concrete and believable plan for getting the next book back on time.

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    "Why does the professor care about the relative?"---well, because the relative holds his book!
    – Dilworth
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 23:20
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    @AustinHenley Suppose the asker later wants to borrow another book. "I'll never ask that other person to return the book for me!" is a concrete and believable plan to address the issue of the book being returned late. On the other hand, if the professor believes that it's the asker who's too disorganized to return the book, why would they lend another book. And, as I wrote in my answer, what is the asker going to say if the book hasn't been returned in another week? "Errrrr, it's all my fault but I haven't returned the book because... reasons!"? Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 23:27
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    Just passing the blame. Take responsibility and do not mention the relative. This is poor advice. Explain you are away but doing your best our just buy him the book and send it via Amazon. Commented Aug 25, 2016 at 0:00
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    @Ifyoudonotknow-justGIS Stop spouting slogans and explain why it's a bad idea to mention the relative. Why do you think the professor will prefer to have the actual situation hidden from them? Commented Aug 25, 2016 at 0:15
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    @DavidRicherby because the OP took his book and not some relative he or she has never heard of nor interacted with. Just as the excellent, accepted and highly up-voted answer by Roland states. "It's unlikely that the professor cares about the details. What he cares about is that he didn't get the book". Just as MikeP states in a comment, "There's really no need to mention the third person, it sounds too much like "The dog ate it." Indeed that comment currently has triple the up-votes of your answer. I am not going to dignify the stop spouting slogans part as it is just petty. Commented Aug 25, 2016 at 0:31

I believe too many assumptions have to be made in order for the above answers to be completely valid.

Starting from the moment the professor requests this book, he has sent you a task. Since you said you are out of the country, you can either be on vacation or on university work. If it's the first case, your responsibility to even answer in the first place is reduced unlike the second. Anyway, after you accept to do this, the task of getting the book to the professor is now your responsibility.

Since you are not physically able to perform the task, you delegated said task to another agent, which failed to complete it. Did you get initial feedback from the other person that they would follow up on the task? If so, they have drawn the responsiblity to themselves and then failed. If you never had any confirmation this would be performed, then you never passed on the responsibility to complete said task.

Since the professor asked you "what happened", if you think the guilt distribution on the third person is of relevant value, you shouldn't conceal it because the professor would be blaming you whilst you aren't responsible. If he "doesn't care" about the facts that led to the delay, he isn't a very reasonable person in the first place and he should apologise.

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    Focusing on correct assignment of blame does not seem productive.
    – ff524
    Commented Aug 25, 2016 at 14:20
  • I agree it's not productive but I was trying to address my opinion on the fact that the accepted answer is only valid in light of an assumed assigment of blame that I'm not so sure of. Commented Aug 25, 2016 at 14:26

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