- Dear Professor, I cannot be in class on Tuesday night because I am rushing a Greek organization and we have an event.
- Hello teacher, I need to reschedule my presentation on Monday because I will be out of town for an athletic competition.
- Hi, did we do anything in class on Thursday? I was sick.
It is that time of year when you are probably being inundated with requests to adjust your schedule or help a student make up for lost time. Some of you are reading your email and thinking “Do I have to? Unsurprisingly this issue is complicated, but my office has been doing a little legwork to help faculty deal with attendance issues in higher education.
The first and most important thing to remember is that the vast majority of students who miss class do so because of legitimate reasons and are looking to get a high quality education while balancing other commitments. There are students who are looking to take advantage of your willingness to accommodate, but they are an exception rather than a rule. First, let’s sift through the reasons students miss class and what we can do to accommodate.
Greek Life: Most fraternity/sorority events take place in the evening hours after most classes have concluded, but not always. Even so, many of us teach in the evenings and must resolve requests to miss class. Fraternity and Sorority Affairs Program Coordinator Malcom McLemore was unequivocal when he told me “We do not encourage or imply that missing class for any event is beneficial.” I appreciated his sharp response. Rescheduling class around social events sends an odd message to both Greek life students and other students in the class that is inconsistent with the academic mission of the University.
Athletics: Chico State is the proud sponsor of a great many intercollegiate student athletes and their success is a point of pride for many of us. Sometimes participation requires travel that results in missed classes. In a conversation with Faculty Athletic Representative Jim Morgan I learned a couple things about how the programs negotiate this conflict. First, these problems with intercollegiate schedules are predictable and students are encouraged to find course schedules that line up well with their athletic schedules. Second, as a faculty member you should receive a letter with a roster, and a schedule from the student at the start of the semester. Third, ultimately the decision resides with the faculty member as to what constitutes a sensible accommodation.
Health: We all get sick and most of us are quite accommodating when students have physical or mental health issues that prevent them from coming to class. Health Center Director Deborah Stewart mentioned a few things in our conversation that faculty members should keep in mind. First, a sick student is often also a stressed student who is worried about missing class time. Second, if the Health Center is unable to see a patient they may still issue a note recording the “student reported being sick” but this is not necessarily validation of illness. Whether accommodations are made ultimately resides with the faculty member. One thing to keep in mind if you take a hard line on attendance, do you really want a classroom full of sick students?
Students also miss class for other reasons from bereavement to forgetfulness. It is impossible to have course policies that govern all these areas, but I would encourage you to insert language into your syllabus about sensible accommodations.
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