Excuses, Excuses: University-Wide Absence Policy

Michael Slavens (right) and Jacob Schriner-Briggs were elected to the positions of Student Government Association President and Executive Vice President, respectively. The results of the election were announced Monday night after a three-day deliberation by the SGA Elections Committee on the handling of grievances.

The Youngstown State University Academic Senate has approved the creation of a university-wide excused absence policy, which would allow students to make up classes missed due to university-sponsored events.

“I have been involved in a number of cases where students have been not been given consideration for their participation in an activity related to a university-related function.  In each and every instance, the student wished to be accountable for their academic responsibilities, but were not given reasonable courtesies, such as alternative dates for submission of work, make-up exams, etc.,” Chet Cooper, chair of the Academic Senate and faculty athletic representative to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, said.

The policy would allow excusal considerations for university-sponsored events, university athletic commitments, government obligations, documented illness, death in the family and religious holidays.

Despite its approval in the Academic Senate, the policy is currently only an “official recommendation.” This is due to its intended ability to compel professors’ cooperation in providing students with make-up work, should they meet the policy’s criteria. Any change in policy which forces professors to any action must be stated in their union contracts, a goal proponents of the policy are hoping to achieve.

“Currently, we’re talking to the union to see if they’d be willing to make an amendment. … This is important because if it’s grievable, then students are able to go through the appropriate channels if they feel that a teacher hasn’t followed a rule,” Michael Slavens, executive vice president of the YSU Student Government Association, said. “The unions seem to be on board. They’re going to entertain changing the language in the contract.”

While the new policy is moving toward full adoption, there is cautious skepticism from some professors.

“My hope is that faculty would be amenable to reasonable absences; I am, myself,” Michael Jerryson of the philosophy and religious studies department said. “However, if a professor spends hours and hours preparing a midterm, and a student asks to make it up, that professor will have to spend hours and hours making up another one. I think it’s ultimately up to the professor to decide whether or not missing a mid-term works for that class. If it doesn’t work, it should be explicitly stated at the beginning of the course, rather than forcing professors to give make-up tests that undermine the integrity of those courses.”

Before the current policy was adopted, excused absences were determined on a departmental level, with varying processes for justifying an absence between departments.

After examining the attendance policies of Ohio State University, Kent State University, Miami University of Ohio, the University of Toledo, Penn State University, Slippery Rock University and Ohio University, it can be concluded that all of the universities offer excused absences — at the university level — for students who have obligations dealing with university-sponsored events, athletics, religious holidays or a death in the family.

The newly-adopted policy was first proposed by Cooper, who then encouraged Slavens and SGA President Catie Carney to write up the policy while working with the Academic Standards Committee.

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