Sep 142009
 
Authors: Seth Anthony

At the start of the classic 1986 film “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” Matthew Broderick’s character skips out on a day of school by faking an illness for his parents. His well-planned deception involves tape-recorded noises, a mannequin and, I believe, a complex pulley system.

Compared to Bueller’s elaborate ruse, CSU has developed a new system that makes it downright easy for students to skip out of class consequence-free. As announced in a campus-wide e-mail several weeks ago, there’s now a small green button on RamWeb labeled “Flu Self-Reporting.”

After passing through an introductory screen that tells you that the page is there to “help you report your illness and to notify your instructors,” and to “provide a safer means of reporting illness, rather than going to the health center,” you reach a page with four short questions about your condition. You can then submit your report, and you’re told that your instructors will receive an e-mail notification.

What are instructors supposed to do with this information, assuming they can even trust it? According to an e-mail sent to faculty late last week, “it seems both fair and right that absences excused under this all-University self-reporting system be treated as the equivalent of a University sanctioned activity.”

Section I.12.4 of the CSU Faculty Manual states that class attendance policies “must accommodate student participation in University-sanctioned extracurricular/co-curricular activities,” and goes on to spell out what university-sanctioned absences are; there’s absolutely no mention of flu, pandemics, or illness of any kind among these excused absences.

That’s for good reason. Although many instructors do make provision for student illness in their own course policies, it would be impossible to codify a reasonable and consistent list of rules regarding how a student would demonstrate that they’re ill enough to skip out on class.

Moreover, university-sanctioned absences are typically known about well in advance and are short-lived, affording students and faculty ample time and flexibility in working out accommodations. Illnesses are, in contrast, unplanned and often lengthy, necessitating a different type of accommodation. One blanket policy simply can’t cover both types of absences.

By declaring in their e-mail to faculty that “students can legitimately expect that they will not be docked for any attendance points or have this absence (from self-reported flu) treated as an unauthorized absence in any other attendance policy an instructor has in place,” it seems that CSU has radically amended the university’s policies mid-semester and upset instructors’ course policies already designed to deal with medical absences.

Now, students who report flu-like symptoms will fall under different attendance rules than students with pneumonia, bronchitis, or a broken leg.

Ordinarily, when policies of this importance are revised, there’s an extensive process of review, involving multiple committees and the potential for input from students, faculty and affected staff and formal approval by the CSU Faculty Council. In this case, though, it’s not clear to me what procedures were followed or how broad the input was.

Additionally, nowhere on the flu self-reporting Web site, or in any of the associated e-mails, have I seen any acknowledgment of the tremendous potential for academic misconduct. When one can claim to have a serious illness via Web site, and the university states up front that they don’t plan on checking up on reported cases, you know there’ll be abuse.

It would seem prudent to offer a reminder that academic dishonesty carries serious penalties and that students caught “faking” the flu via the self-reporting system will be vigorously prosecuted by the university disciplinary system. At least, I assume they will — if students can cut class as easily as it seems using this system, it depreciates the value of our degrees.

I hope that any unusual flu activity at CSU is mild and short-lived. And in case it’s not, it’s sensible to encourage faculty to be reasonable in making allowances for student absences. However, radically altering CSU’s attendance policy on short notice and leaving the door wide open to academic misconduct seems like a rash and ill-considered plan.

I’m hoping we get further clarification on these policies soon from someone. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Seth Anthony is a chemistry graduate student. His column appears Tuesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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