Undergraduate Academic Council - MINUTES

Meeting Date:
Thursday, October 2, 2003, 9:45 AM-10:58 AM

Richard Collier, Sue Faerman, Robert Gibson, Anne Hildreth, Reed Hoyt, Steve Messner, Sue Phillips,
John Pipkin, Joan Savitt, Helene Scheck, Greg Stevens

Guest: Clarence McNeill

Minutes from the September 25, 2003 meeting were reviewed and corrections acknowledged. The minutes, with required updates, were approved.

Chair's Update
No Chair update was provided.

Item #5, Student Absences

The Attendance policy from the Undergraduate Bulletin was distributed and reviewed. It states that the final decision regarding a student absence remains with the faculty member and that "class attendance is a matter between the instructor and the student". Technically, the instructor does not have to accept the Dean of Undergraduate Studies' student absence letter for missed classes, since this is not covered by the policy. Instructors' absence policies vary.

There needs to be an absence policy that applies more generally and addresses concerns such as what is an excused versus non-excused absence. With students coming from all walks of life, at times it's a personal interpretation on the Dean's part regarding student absences. It was noted that absences can affect end of term grades and impact on a student's responsibility and commitment towards their class work.

At what point has a student missed too much classroom material and should be given a failing grade? It was noted that in rephrasing of the policy, absences from class should be placed in the same category as absences from an exam. In some cases absences may be excusable but the only appropriate remedy would be for the student to be allowed to drop the course after the deadline. What are the expectations placed on the instructor to accommodate students for any make-up work that occurred when during an excused absence?

The policy should include a statement mentioning a student's recourse option through the Dean's office if an instructor is uncooperative with the student. However, it was noted a student might alienate the instructor by not dealing with the instructor and automatically seeking assistance through the Dean's office. Also addressed was the inappropriateness of instructors not including within the syllabi an absence policy linked with a student's grade and the instructor's attempting to penalize a student "after the fact" for too many absences.

The Dean mentioned that some instructors have no wish to deal with student absences and automatically send them to the Dean's Office. This non-filtering by instructors of student absences impacts the Dean's office. Each semester the Dean's office mails 500 absence letters. Could we provide a tie-in with "Attendance policies for the class" under the Minimum Contents of a Class Syllabus section that an Instructor is expected to denote in the syllabi the class absence policy and an expectation on their part to notify the class in a timely fashion of any changing syllabi?

Although it was mentioned that students should attend all classes, unless there is an emergency, unfortunately some students require counseling regarding their problems in dealing with attending classes. Instructors need to utilize sensitivity towards students in this type of setting. It was mentioned that there is abuse from both students and faculty within the student absence policy. The student grievance process takes a long time, and some students are fragile both physically and emotionally. The long grievance process does not alleviate their situation.

Although it was suggested UAC form a subcommittee to speak with faculty members and mediate any student grievances, it was decided a committee would only encumber the grievance process and tie up members' time. Dean Faerman noted that even though the absence letter does not state who passed away (explaining what the relationship was between the student and the deceased), there are times when she places a personal explanation call to instructors.

Although the Council is in favor of the Dean mailing these letters, it was mentioned that some faculty might resent being dictated to concerning how to run their class. The suggestion was made that perhaps the policy should state, "excused absences must not count against the student". How much are faculty obligated? Does the obligation mandate giving student class notes, tutoring, etc?

Dean Faerman suggested the following statement be incorporated at the beginning of the "Attendance" policy: "Faculty have the prerogative of developing an attendance policy whereby attendance and/or participation is part of the grade. Instructors are expected to announce and interpret specific attendance policies to their classes at the beginning of the term." It was recommended that wording be "beefed up" for student obligations since this would help offset faculty obligations. The Council desires to have an updated student absence policy that addresses special student circumstances and will assist both the student and the faculty member in coming to a mutual agreement. The Chair suggested the Dean's office write an updated student absence policy to be presented at the 10/9/03 meeting.

The Chair will be out of town for next week's meeting.

Upcoming Issues/Items to be Discussed

Item #5, student absences, at the next meeting.
- The Bylaws Committee will present the proposed by-law changes at the 10/9/03 meeting with particular attention to Gen Ed and Assessment matters. Bylaws will also attend the 10/16/03 meeting.
- Continuation of the 19+ items in need of discussion.

The next Undergraduate Academic Council meeting will probably be held Thursday 10/9/03, 9:45 AM, LC-31

Notes taken by Joanne Baronner, Undergraduate Studies