Following flu outbreak, class attendance policies should change

James Treuthardt

Travis County flu deaths have reached 39, easily making this flu season one of the most lethal in recent years. On campus, few days go by without learning another person I know has the flu. In order to recover, those students need to miss class. However, strict classroom attendance policies have complicated the flu outbreak.

Some of UT courses enact penalties on students if they miss too many class days. Others have graded attendance. For many students who are ill, the choice can come down to going to class or an exam sick, or taking the class’s penalty. In light of the flu epidemic, the University should evaluate these attendance policies and find a method that allows ill students to miss class without unfair penalties.

Jamie Shutter, director of UT’s University Health Services, said that the first step students can take to excuse these absences is simple: Reaching out to their professors. Unfortunately this step alone does not always solve the problem.

Problems arise when professors require documentation of illness. According to Shutter, ill students who leave their home to receive documentation might worsen their condition and potentially spread it to others. Even with documentation, the professor has final say in whether or not your absence is excused. Shutter recommends professors accept documentation and work with students if they require absence, but they do not have to. Having documentation of illness is not the immediate solution to this problem.

Last year, the UT Senate of College Councils passed policy advocating for a common system that allowed students to have excused absences but were unable to convince the university to implement their legislation. An attempt to get professors to enact a one-time drop test policy or absence policy so students would not be penalized for missing class similarly failed.

“Doing that type of work is difficult because it requires every professor to be on the same page and they rarely are,” said English senior Austin Reynolds, president of the Senate of College Councils.

Currently, there are no guidelines for professors on student absence from class. Repercussions depend entirely on the professor’s choice to accept an excused absence. While students can receive documentation through the Office of the Dean of Students for some emergency situations, professors can still reject it despite such a rigorous process. Reynolds believes professors are misguided when they only allow absences with documentation.

“When it comes down to it, your professors are like a boss or are in a position above you and they should respect and understand that your life is hectic,” said Reynolds. “Requiring a doctor’s note in order to miss class is a little excessive.”

If professors want us to act like adults, maybe they should try treating us like adults.

With the recent flu epidemic, it becomes more relevant that professors and the University need to work to find a system that does not require documentation for an excused absence. The students have made it clear they want a change in this system. Now the University needs to listen.

Treuthardt is a Journalism and Marketing major from Allen. You can follow him on Twitter @JamesTreuthardt.