Curing the University’s sick day policy

Policies for students missing school for illnesses should not be left up to instructors’ discretion.

Connor Nikolic

Earlier this month, I started having fevers, severe headaches and regular dizziness. A Boynton Health Service doctor advised me to keep taking Tylenol until the symptoms subsided. I went to my home doctor when things worsened, and I was diagnosed with a sinus infection. Later, that diagnosis was upgraded to mononucleosis or a similar virus, which only goes away with time.

Over the two weeks I’ve been sick, I have had only two days’ worth of absences excused — the days I spent at Boynton and another clinic. Some professors have been kind enough to allow me to miss classes and have extended due dates, and some have not. I don’t believe that I should have to pick up a note from Boynton to prove my sickness each day I am unable to attend class. More importantly, I don’t believe that instructor discretion should dictate how to handle absences or deadlines.

The University of Minnesota’s policy for students missing class states, “The instructor has primary responsibility to decide if an absence is due to unavoidable or legitimate circumstances.” Under recommendations of the American College Health Association, students should be honest with professors about their missed work, and professors should work with students on these issues.

Some teachers will provide extensions only after seeing a sick note, and some will provide single extensions on a student’s merit that they are legitimately sick and have requested an extension. Others put a droppable assignment in their syllabuses, allowing the student to miss a due date for the semester for whatever reason.

Universities should not leave a student’s illness and inability to attend class up to instructors. Of course, the majority of University professors and other educators do not have a medical background. What if a teacher forced a student to choose between coming to campus and infecting others and a poor grade? In a best-case scenario, the student sneaks through campus without touching, sneezing on or infecting anything. In a worst-case scenario, a teacher causes a student to infect others.

The University should set a school-wide policy to handle sick days, and it shouldn’t be forcing students like me to trek to Boynton for a note each sick day.

Fordham University in New York has such a policy. It allows students to miss six class periods for classes meeting three times per week, four for classes meeting two times each week and twice for classes that meet once each week. Issues that force students to miss additional class require a conversation with the faculty instructor and the college dean.

I’m not especially fond of the policy, but I prefer its black-and-white standard that all students and instructors must adhere to.

If my illness flares up again this week, forcing me to miss class, I will likely have to pick up yet another note proving it or risk losing attendance points or missed deadlines. Instructors should not be responsible for deciding the punishment for missing more class. We should entrust that power to a clear-cut, University-wide policy.