Bereavement policy may receive update

Professors currently decide the appropriate time off for students who are mourning.

Erik Newland

A University of Minnesota Senate committee is deliberating a policy change that would define how many days students get off when a relative dies.
The changes, which the Minnesota Student Association and the Student Senate helped promote, would amend the University’s policy on makeup work for legitimate absences and set minimum amounts of time off for students with recently deceased relatives.
The current legitimate absences policy says students won’t be penalized for absence during the semester due to “unavoidable or legitimate circumstances,” including 
bereavement of a loved one, but doesn’t specify the number of days students are allowed off.
The Student Senate passed a resolution to add changes to the policy last spring. According to the resolution, those adjustments would focus on clarifying the relationships to which bereavement would apply.
The updated policy would set minimum time periods depending on how far a student would have to travel for a funeral and on the deceased’s relationship to the student, said Sue Wick, chair of the University Senate’s Educational Policy Committee, which is discussing the policy change.
The current legitimate absences policy leaves most of the decision to instructors, who decide whether an absence is legitimate and how much time a student is allowed. 
Some students have said they thought instructors have too much power in deciding legitimate absence policies.
“The new policy also makes it more clear that an instructor has the right to ask for verification, but does not have to,” for example, asking for a notice of death, Wick said.
Instructors would still have some responsibility to decide whether an absence is legitimate under the proposal, Wick said.
MSA president Joelle Stangler said the policy change is one of the first steps in the student government’s larger mental health initiative, which the group is starting this year.
MSA passed a resolution last spring in favor of changing the policy. Stangler said MSA’s proposed changes are based on Purdue University’s policy, which sets specific periods of time off for bereavement based on the student’s relationship to the person who died.
Policy changes, such as the proposed makeup work change, take months to complete, Wick said, because a subcommittee must first be created to work on the policy’s specific wording. She said such deliberation over language is intended to prevent misunderstanding of the policy.
The existing makeup work policy lacked clarification that the death of someone other than an immediate family member could warrant allowing a student excused absences, Wick said.
The policy changes would also clarify that students might require long periods of bereavement for different cultural reasons, Wick said.
The University senate will discuss and vote on the proposed change later this year, Wick said.