“Absent”-Minded Policies

Yejean Kim

At the start of every term, I spend time glancing at my classes’ syllabi. Without exception, each syllabus has a stringent absence policy. And therein lies the issue.

A typical W&L absence policy reads something like this:

You are allowed one unexcused absence and up to two absences total. Any absences after will result in a lowering of your final grade by [insert whatever heinous deduction here]. It’s also common knowledge that when a professor is feeling generous, they will allow up to three (three!) absences.

I had never really given absences much thought, until right before the first full week of school when I began to feel sick. I had a sore throat and my body ached, but I decided to go to school anyway. I convinced myself that I was just tired. Surely, I should save my two absences in all of my classes for something more serious.

Apparently, approximately three quarters of the student body thought the same, because by the time Tuesday rolled around, I was in the throes of a full-blown case of Graham-Lees Disease. For those of you who are curious, this year it seems to be some combination of the common cold and strep throat.

By Wednesday morning, I was on the main floor of Leyburn, interrupting everyone’s precious right-before-class-reading-time with my constant sniffling and nose-blowing, like an angry walrus in the middle of—well, a library. I went to all my classes that day, but I wasn’t really there.

Instead, everyone got to drink in the terrible sight of my horrible, yoga pants-wearing doppelganger holding a wad of paper towels (great for in-class nose blowing) like it was a wad of cash. All this to save my mandated absences for a rainy day. The worst part is, I somehow managed to simultaneously slow down my own recovery and get my friend sick; she is now suffering from Graham-Lees Disease.

A newer addition I’ve noticed to absence policies is that if you claim sickness, you should produce a note from the health center. It inspires a lot of grumbling, but I’ve never understood why. Frankly, when I’m so ill I’m considering missing part of my $250,000 education, all I want to do is get dressed and make my sweet way down to the health center, spreading my virulence on campus and in the freshmen dorms along the way. If I do all that, I’m at least guaranteed a brown bag of generic drugs (but probably not a doctor’s note).

But I digress. Why, I wonder, do professors seem so wary of students missing class? Is it because they suspect less than noble reasons for us doing so?

Looking in the mirror, I’d say the former is a fair assumption to make. I’ve skipped class due to a lingering physiological reaction to certain beverages; I’ve taken mental health days.

But the thing is, those days are few and far between, not because they’re bound by some ridiculous absence policy, but because I actually want to be in class.

I am a student. I want to learn about Buddhism, I want to learn about race relations in America, I want to learn about hotel theory. I don’t really want to be in bed wondering how I’ll eat twenty dollars’ worth of Chinese food delivery because I’m too sick to cook. When I miss class, I trust that I’m missing something great, so I wish professors would trust me, without absence policies, as well.