Student Association pushes for absence policy resolutions

 Illustration by: Will Madison

Illustration by: Will Madison

New student policies may be around the corner for UMD students, with possible changes including more specific stances on mental health absences and bereavement leave.

UMD’s current excused absence policy defines bereavement as “the loss of immediate family members.” The proposed resolution would open up the parameters to the loss of a “loved one,” allowing students excused absences for the deaths of friends and other close family members.

Molly McDonald, Student Association’s Vice President of Academic Affairs, says that Student Association has been working to update the bereavement clause of UMD’s excused absence policy since 2012. The Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning was largely involved in updating the absence policy, a motion that Student Association supports.

“We really pushed for this, and we have to thank Teaching and Learning for being so understanding,” McDonald said.

The proposed resolution would allow students to have excused absences for affairs including some academic-related conferences or events, medical conditions related to pregnancy and physical or mental illness of the student or the student’s dependent. Previously, the specifics of “illness” were not mentioned.

While students could appeal for excused absences for various reasons, the proposal could give students one less thing to worry about when going through personal difficulties during their school year.

“I hope students realize that Student Association did have a really big part in all of this, and if there's an issue, come talk to us,” McDonald said. “We have a voice and we have the connections to sit on these committees that make the changes. If it's important and if it's affecting a lot of students, faculty are willing to listen… that's our goal this year, to get things done and to help students.”

Chris Godsey, Advanced Writing and Intro to Journalism instructor, says he understands life as a student can get hectic. In October 2015, a student posted a screenshot of an email Godsey sent on the Facebook group Overheard at UMD. The photo received over 1,000 likes, with students quickly identifying Godsey as the author.

“Do not work yourself into some sort of sleep-deprived, caffeine-addled, anxiety-ridden state of discomfort just to get the assignment in by 11:59 tonight,” the email reads. “It’s totally not worth it.”

The email goes on to urge students to take a break if needed and to take care of themselves.

“They did exactly what I hoped they would do,” said Godsey of the student who emailed. “They were honest.”

Godsey says that one of the reasons he sent the email was because at the time he was in his second year of a doctoral program, and was trying to balance being a full-time student with being a full-time instructor, and had been asking for a lot of extensions on assignments.

“I ... felt like I would be kind of a hypocrite if people had been patient with me and I was going to be impatient with other folks,” Godsey said. “I do think teachers should respect the fact that student mental health is a big deal, because teacher mental health is a big deal. We're all human beings.”

The proposed revisions could potentially be in effect as soon as spring of 2018, although a fixed date is tentative.

NewsCate Tanner