Faculty Senate Considering University-wide Absence Policy

Class absence policies will be standardized university-wide if a proposal currently under consideration by the Faculty Senate is ratified.

The proposal requires professors to specify their absence policies in course syllabi and provide make-up opportunities for justified absences, including illness, family emergency, religious observances, transportation failure and "participation in University sponsored or endorsed activities." These activities include field trips, athletics competitions and performances, all of which are now accepted as valid excuses at each professor's discretion.

Students, in turn, must notify their professors in writing at least a week in advance of planned absences, "provide reasonable evidence of the causes of absences" and complete missed course work.

Currently, no university-wide policy exists. If a student is absent on test day - even in the case of a death in the family or an away game for athletes - the decision whether to permit make-ups lies with the professor.

While many professors allow students to make up missed work, others establish firm policies in their syllabi that preclude such a possibility.

Jamie Sanders, a junior business major, claims she was unable to make up a significant test in one of her classes last year after she was absent because of a death in her family.

"When my uncle died, I missed two out of three classes that week. There was a major test and I was never able to make it up," she said. "I wish they had a policy then requiring professors to allow you to make up work for necessary absences."

Tom Sullivan, a junior legal studies major, has been in situations where he was forced to miss a deadline for a paper but was still granted leeway. "I've never heard of a professor not allowing a make-up for a mandatory, provable absence. Maybe in other departments I can understand. But not in mine."

According to Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Kerry Grant, UB will soon develop a school-wide policy for absences and make-ups.

"We perceived a need for an official absence policy, which there isn't right now," he said. "The faculty can be inconsistently considerate in allowing make-ups for excusable absences."

Occasionally, a professor will not permit a student to make up work if they do not feel the absence is valid. In junior business major Sam Drennan's case, he was not allowed to compensate for work missed when he was absent to play intramural lacrosse.

"I guess the professor didn't think this was a good enough reason for me to miss a test," Drennan said. "Maybe it wasn't. But at least she didn't heavily weight the grade at the end of the semester."

It is cases like Drennan's that the new policy hopes to remedy. "With all the different activities the university provides, it is understandable that students find themselves torn - which is why this policy is so important," Grant said.

Professor Max Wickert of UB's English department exercises a policy that allows students to miss a major exam if necessary.

"I use a retroactive system," said Wickert. "If someone misses my first test, I'll use their final test grade retroactively. If they want to make the test up for a valid absence, I'll be obliged to supply an alternative."

In order to prevent academic dishonesty, professors must exercise caution and trust students not to ask classmates about the missed exam. To combat cheating, some professors make multiple versions of a test, which can be time-consuming.

"In my case, a make-up creates extra work for me because I create a whole new exam," said Wickert.

"We must work out the language of this new policy to be as useable to professors as it is to students," Grant said. "It must meet the constraints of a professor's timeframe; a student cannot expect to recover lost work two months later."

Grant hopes the policy currently in the works will meet the needs of all parties in these situations.

"It is of utmost importance that this policy be reasonably accommodating to both sides," Grant said. "Every current activity that could draw a student away must be covered. This is an attempt to be more understanding towards both students and professors."