EPAG drafts uniform absence policy

By Amy Ledig

Conflicts between class and other activities is something most students are familiar with. Right now, though, the way these conflicts are handled varies from professor to professor.”This semester I have a final exam the day of a conference meet, so I had to let the professor know that I had to take it early or not go, which isn’t really an option,” Alex Rosselli ’10 said.

Currently, the college is working on drafting a policy that would lay out a uniform set of guidelines for dealing with scheduling conflicts between academic events and college-sponsored activities students are involved in. The plan, which still in draft stage, is making the rounds and has been vetted by a number of groups on campus.

Movement began on the issue when a faculty member came to the Educational Policy and Governance committee and mentioned issues with absences in terms of student athletes, EPAG chair and psychology professor Kendrick Brown said. After more discussion and investigation, though, it became clear that students outside athletics were being impacted by schedule conflicts.

“It’s not just about student athletes anymore, it’s about college sponsored activities,” Brown said.

“While the Athletics Advisory Board was driving this, it was pretty clear that there were other kinds of instances coming up on campus, whether it be with theater or music or debate, whatever the case was, it really wasn’t an athletic specific issue,” Athletic Director Travis Feezell said. “In fact, there needed to be a more general policy that would address any school-sponsored activity, whether it be one of those activities I mentioned or a class that might have a field trip – what would be the case there in terms of the faculty member working with the student to make up work.”

Feezell said that while he usually hears about one or two class conflicts a year, this semester he has heard about five or six, higher than usual.

“Always my first response.is, has the student tried to find an alternative with the faculty member? Have they really communicated?” he said.

In these cases, though, there was no remedy to be found.

After the issue was introduced to EPAG, Brown met with Feezell and the Athletic Advisory Board to look at ways to address the problem. The draft proposal has been vetted by the board and Dean of Students Jim Hoppe will also be part of the discussion, although the final decision will rest with EPAG.

“We want to have room for everything,” History Chair and EPAG member Peter Weisensel said. “We want to have students miss class as little as possible and learn. and to participate in sports. We want a meeting of the two. Both have a place here, both are important.”

The aim of the policy to address a variety of issued, including giving notice about possible conflicts and giving that information in advance, as well as talking about faculty and what guidelines should govern activities outside of class and leaving the classroom, Brown said.

“Part of this discussion as well is makeup work, and trying to figure out what makes sense without curtailing the faculty member’s academic freedom,” Brown said.

Feezell said that the current draft is a five-section document that addresses a number of issues. The sections address attendance in class, defining what a college sponsored activity might be, authorization for an emergency absence, policy for making up work and courses having meetings outside the regularly scheduled times.

The last issue is one Feezell said has been a particular problem, and extends beyond athletics to affect other students.

“It’s not only, ‘what if I had a competition?’ but, ‘what if I had a job, what if I had another responsibility that I had to attend to?'” he said. “So this policy tries to find a remedy for that kind of issue.”

“[The policy] tries to be broad in its scope,” Feezell said. “Like all good policies, it should try to capture the strong majority of instances, it also tries to say, look, if you can work it out without the policy that’s the best remedy, but if you have to go to this policy this at least provides parameters as well as some flexibility.”

Professors seem to be in agreement that the policy is something the college needs.

“I have an attendance policy but I think it would be great to have a college wide attendance policy,” said English professor Ayse Celikkol.

Environmental studiesc chair Dan Hornbach said that while absences have not been a major problem in his classes, it would be a good idea to standardize.

“I am always a big believer in policy and then you work to [accommodate],” he said.

Feezell emphasized the awkward position these conflicts put students in, dividing them between their responsibilities to academics and their teams or activities.

“A coach wants something, a faculty member wants something, where do you make a choice that might not damage in some ways?” he said.

“Almost always, academics win out. I’m at Mac, not the University of Minnesota. I came to a D III program for a reason,” Rosselli said. “I’m very leery of changing the culture that a D?III has in regards to athletics. A D III program is set up with the [idea] that you’re a student first and an athlete second.”

Brown has had students run into scheduling conflicts and while they usually work out, there is a need for a policy.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily a huge problem, but it gets worked out on the fly. Right now, there’s not guidance about what makes sense, what’s reasonable, as a college, what do we expect people to do – what do we expect faculty to do, what do we expect students to do, what do we expect staff to do,” Brown said. “There’s nothing out there, and when you have that kind of vacuum there’s too much potential for misunderstanding and for bad situations to happen.”

“I was surprised that there wasn’t anything there,” Feezell said. “The previous school I had worked with had a pretty clearly stated policy about school-sponsored activities and the requirement for providing an alternative assignment or a way to make that up if they were having to miss class.”

“I think it’s important to have a learning experience outside the classroom,” Maggie Yates ’10 said. “There should be some sort of consistent policy.