Professors should allow students one unexcused absence

Mayowa Grace Oyenubi

As we fill our Google Calendars with classes, organization meetings, internships and jobs, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. As students, we often find ourselves needing a day to recuperate from the draining demands of academic and outside involvements.

At UT, however, the number of unexcused absences allowed in a class is left up to the discretion of each professor. This means that professors can choose not to allow any unexcused absences. If UT wants to be considerate of its students’ mental health, it should require professors to allow a minimum of one unexcused absence in their classes.

A 2017 study by the National College Health Association found that anxiety negatively impacted 21.5 percent of UT students’ academic performance, and 15.5 percent of students reported that  depression was a factor of their worsened academic performance. Another 31.5 percent reported stress as a factor.

The same study found that 86 percent of students felt overwhelmed by all they had to do, and 42.9 percent felt that their academics were traumatizing or difficult to handle.

The rigor of academics and involvement at a competitive university takes a toll on the mental health of students. It seems reasonable then, if not absolutely necessary, to permit students at least one day to recuperate from their demanding commitments.

UT’s Faculty Council is allowed governance over academic policy as it pertains to faculty. Thus, it may seem like a suitable avenue for pursuing this policy change. According to Debbie Roberts, executive assistant for the Office of the General Faculty, the Faculty Council can consider this proposal if it is formally presented through a legislative student organization, such as the Senate of College Councils or Student Government.

However, Ryan Jaffe, co-chair of the UT Senate Faculty Affairs Committee, believes that students’ initiatives are less likely to be influential through the Faculty Council. Voting faculty could easily overturn the proposal or read student legislation as a mere suggestion. Jaffe, a government junior, believes that this proposal would be most successful if the Senate sought it in coordination with the provost’s office instead. The provost could implement this initiative without a faculty voting process and even add it as a requirement in the faculty handbook. This way, the implementation of the initiative could not be easily overturned by dissenting faculty, and it would be more likely to be firmly established universitywide.

Jaffe notes that pursuing this initiative is incredibly important, as UT’s current system can be “detrimental to the mental health of students.” Jaffe states that “it’s kind of unfair to think that a student can really attend every single class day,” and students end up “pushing themselves to get there.”

“I find that just one day (off from class) clears a lot of head space,” says Jaffe.

This past January, President Gregory Fenves announced the availability of free sessions at the Counseling and Mental Health Center. This victory was the result of students advocating for their mental health needs. If student leaders in the Senate and Student Government want to continue to better student life on campus, they should pursue the establishment of a one unexcused absence minimum. And if UT’s administration truly cares about bettering the mental health of its students, it should implement these student initiatives.

Oyenubi is a social work junior from Temple. Follow her on Twitter at @mazing__G