In response to some of the confusion surrounding the new absence policy change and its impact, as the unofficially official campus newspaper we wanted to do a full coverage of this change and how it will affect you.
This first piece is a brief overview of the actual wording of the new absence policy, compared to the old absence policy, written by Lexi Loyot. Direct quotes are used from both handbooks and analysis follows.
“Students who miss more than one week of a class may be suspended from that class.” (old handbook) removed in new handbook.
“Students for whom suspension or withdrawal from class would result in a course load below 12 credits may receive an F for the course and may be liable for immediate suspension from the College.” (old handbook) removed from new handbook.
No longer a leave of absence clause??
The phrase ‘leave of absence’ is only mentioned twice in the new handbook in the title IX section, whereas in the old handbook, it had its own section. It is interesting to note that the new handbook’s title IX section is identical to last year’s so these two mentions of a leave of absence are likely accidental. This should be brought up in an interview with Pat.
“Particular attendance requirements will be explained on each course syllabus.” (new handbook)
This implies that professors have complete control over the absence policy for this course. I think in some ways this defeats the point of the new policy in the handbook if professors choose to operate their courses in the same way as the old policy.
“A professor who has concerns that a student’s absences are having – or may have – a negative impact on the student’s ability to succeed in a course will send a first Notice of Concern to alert” (new handbook). A notice of concern seems to be a case-by-case kind of thing. Again it puts a lot of power into the hands of a professor, for better or worse...
The following is an interview conducted by Khalilah Asaka with Pat Sharpe regarding the absence policy:
What are some of the changes that have been made to the attendance policy? How is it different from last year?
Actually, the statement about attendance and the expectation is the same- that we would really like everyone to go to every class and we believe that they are valuable. So, the main difference is how we handle if someone isn’t able to go to class. We ask that teachers put on their syllabus their expectations about attendance and that can differ based on the class. So, for instance, there are some of the chemistry labs that are only set up for that time and if you miss that it really can’t be made up. The attendance for some things may be more important than others. Or language classes that need 5 hours a week is all about practice in the class and missing very many of those is really dire. So we ask the teachers make clear on the syllabus what the expectations are. And teachers then can send notice of concern if someone has missed enough that they are worried. The good thing about a notice of concern is not just absences. It’s, you know, if you miss class and you don’t tell the teacher about it and there was something due. That is more serious than if you just miss a class. So, it gives the teacher a chance to send a message that is truly their sense of where things are in the classroom. Where as it used to be where all classes were expected to send a warning if a student had missed the equivalent of one week of class. Right, so if a class meets twice a week you were suppose to send a warning if a student had missed two. So, the notice of concern goes to the same place, but it also means that you don’t have to wait until someone has missed a week. If I’m concerned because they missed a crucial day. Do you see the difference?
Yeah. I think I see the difference.
And you can send notices of concern anytime you have one. And so it’s a message not just, so and so has missed a week worth of classes. And then it used to be that if you missed more than a week you could be suspended from class. That means you’re out of it and you would have to go to the teacher and ask to be let back in. Some teachers would let you back in. Some teachers wouldn’t. Uh...and I think that was the major thing that bothered students- that they felt out of control, not knowing what the consequences were and not having an opportunity to make a case. So, what happens now is… Let’s say someone missed two weeks of class and that they missed a whole book basically of discussion and it’s a class where participation is really important. The teacher then would say something which is a second notice of concern. Really it could be the fifty fifth notice of concern. In other words, you can send a lot of first notices everytime you are concerned, but a second notice of concern is a teacher saying that, “I am worried that you’ve missed so much that you really aren’t going to be able to pass this class.” So, that’s saying you should withdraw from the class or you really need to come talk to meet and show me that you have been doing work even though you haven’t turned it in.
Why or why not do you see this attendance policy being more effective than the way it was ? I think you kind of said a little bit about that. Do you see that students are able to understand this policy better and that it’s something that is better for both the students and the teachers? So, how do you see it being more effective?
Well, I think it’s more case specific. I think for some teachers it was reassuring to be able to say, “This is the college policy. That’s what I have to do.” I think that even in that circumstance teachers could understand that someone had been sick. So, there were always exceptions. This is just saying that is important that there be communication between the teacher and the student about where things stand. The other piece is students would go to the Wellness Center and ask for a leave. So, they would say, “I’m feeling really stressed today. I don’t think I can go to class. So, I will go to the Wellness Center and they will give me a leave of absence, but since I have a leave now I have to go home. So, I will probably miss a week.” Do you see what I’m saying? So, I think that was soothing in that the counselors understood the students problems and heard it, but for the teacher’s to get something that just says that someone has been granted a leave of absence that doesn’t say anything about why or where they stand with the class. I think that made it difficult for them to know how to handle it. And I think at least in some cases teachers felt, okay a student is gone for a week or two weeks- It gets only worse. Students think they will be able to go home and take care of everything and I’ll come back and I’ll be all caught up. But, that doesn’t happen and they are in a worse situation. So, our aim here is to encourage the students to talk regularly with teachers. It doesn’t mean that students shouldn’t talk to counselors for support and help with figuring out how to cope with demands on you, but that if you are going to miss it’s really important that you stay in touch with the teacher.
Okay. So, my last question is… So, I’m actually a first semester freshman so I don’t know much about this but, I’ve heard a lot of students talking about how there was a lot of confusion last year. They felt as though they didn’t exactly know what the attendance policy was, what they would be penalized for. And so, do you think this is just an issue of students maybe not reading the handbook- because that happens a lot of times that students won’t read the handbook thoroughly? Or do you think there is still a little clarity in the way the attendance policy is? So, do you think that the issue is just that students aren’t reading it and they aren’t willing to accept the new attendance policy -
You mean the old attendance policy.
Yes, the old attendance policy. Or do you think there are some blurred lines between the new and the old and that different teachers have different preferences. Or could it be a little bit of both?
I mean it certainly was laid out quite clearly. Whether every teacher always did send a warning or did suspend. Or in other words it says you are going to be suspended if you miss more than a week it still might be that a teacher thinks, “Oh well I know that she wasn’t feeling well.” Even though there is a clear policy that doesn’t mean that there is always enforced the same way. It’s like I know the speed limit is 55, but I’m not always caught for it. How seriously does the government enforce it… And I think we really think that for students at this age, attendance is crucial. If you look at high schools- the students who drop out are the students with a lot of absences. We have very small classes. That’s because we want people engaged in classes. We want everybody’s participation. We try to send that message really strongly as a school.
The following is an interview conducted by Angus Finn MacLeod with Sam Scott, edited by Gabby Brummer:
Sam Scott is a senior in his final semester at Simon’s Rock, who has been intimately involved with the workings of Simon’s Rock in the past.
Going back to your previous years at Simon’s Rock, what experiences did you have with the old attendance policy? How did it affect you and those you know, if at all? What were your overall thoughts on it?
I think about going to class in the same way that I think about going to work. If you do not show up to work, you do not get paid; if you do not show up to class, your grade will suffer accordingly. So, I approached the old attendance policy as I did the paid sick and vacation leave policies at the jobs I’ve worked. Over the course of a fourteen and a half week semester, we were given two weeks of “paid vacation time” in the form of breaks, and one week of “paid sick leave” in the form of excused absences. Framed in this manner, the attendance policy felt very generous to me.
It’s important to note, too, that engagement and participation in classroom discussion is an enormous part of our education at Simon’s Rock. This is not a large university, where “going to class” consists of sitting in an enormous lecture hall while a professor who doesn’t know your name lectures at you for an hour, telling you information that you could have gotten just as easily from reading the textbook. We are not taught to regurgitate information; we are taught to analyze and critique. Cultivating the ability to articulate and defend a position about a text in the classroom environment is one of the most valuable skills we learn here, and that is something that can only be accomplished within the classroom. If you are not in class, your education will suffer for it, as will that of your classmates.
So, I’ve missed class in the past, as we all have, and when I have missed more than the prescribed number of classes, my grades have reflected that. I always found that fair. How often do your professors stay home sick? The expectations for student attendance are much lower than the expectations for faculty, a fact I that think we should keep in mind.
Concerning the new policy, have you thus far had any issues with it, and do you predict any problems in the future? It is early on in the semester afterall. What about any benefits it has given you so far or may give you in the future? Do you have any other general thoughts on the new policy?
Because of my current course schedule, which includes thesis, a tutorial, and the theatre production, I spend very little time actually sitting in a traditional class, so I haven’t personally had any trouble, nor do I anticipate any going forward. That said, I served as a student representative to the Committee on Academic Policy and Program last spring, where I was involved in the drafting the new attendance policy. I’m a proponent of it; I wouldn’t have helped contribute to a policy I didn’t stand behind.
Through our analysis of the new policy, we found that it seems to give the professors large amounts of power over how they handle attendance in their courses, for better or for worse. This could be a double-edged sword, as any professor can be as harsh or merciful as they wish, which is concerning to some. What is your opinion on this?
Let’s begin by clarifying the differences between the old and new policies, shall we? The previous policy stated that once a student misses a week’s worth of classes, they could be suspended from that class. Once the student was suspended, they were to be contacted by the professor, and a conversation between the student, the professor, and potentially others—the student’s academic advisor, their RD, etc.—would ensue. This conversation was intended to culminate in either the student’s reinstatement in the class equipped with a plan to ensure their successful completion of the course, or with the student dropping or withdrawing from the course, should successful completion seem out of their reach. One of the troubling things about this old policy was the way in which it triggered this suspension after a prescribed number of permitted absences. This wouldn’t distinguish between, say, Student A, who missed one class at the beginning of the semester and one at the end and emailed the professor before class both times, and Student B, who missed two classes in the first two weeks without giving any head’s up.
The new attendance policy is meant to better reflect the collaborative intent of the old policy, and to offer the faculty the chance to take a more holistic approach to a student’s performance. In this new policy, every professor will note their specific attendance expectations on their syllabi. Should a student’s absences exceed these expectations, a first notice of concern will be sent out, replacing the “max cut” email of years past. This first notice of concern will encourage the student to meet with their advisor and with the professor of the course in order to get the student back on track to successfully complete the course. If the student’s attendance does not improve to the extent that the professor fears the student will fail the class, the professor will send out a second notice of concern, this time alerting the student that their chance of passing the class is at serious risk.
By framing the policy around the phrase “notice of concern,” rather than the punitive rhetoric of “suspensions,” which to me evokes the dread of being sent to the principal’s office in high school, we hoped to emphasize that the function of both these policies has always been to open up lines of communication between students and faculty in the least anxiety-inducing manner possible. Your professors want you to succeed, they want to work with you to help make that happen, and this revised policy was meant to give them greater flexibility in going about doing so. Your professors want you to succeed and they want to work with you because they do genuinely care about you, they care about teaching you, and they would not have chosen to work at this school rather than another if that were not the case.
On a related note, we have noticed the ironically absent leave-of-absence policy, excluding a few likely unintentional mentions. Why it has been omitted is unknown as of now. What are your thoughts on this?
The “leave of absence” policy of years past was inextricably tied to the old attendance policy, in that it gave students a way to take an extended leave without the fear of being suspended from a given course. When we did away with suspensions, the leave of absence policy as it had existed was no longer necessary. Accordingly, the revision of the attendance policy and the removal of the leave of absence policy were part of the same move. This move was in part intended to bring us in line with our peer institutions, the majority of whom do not have such leave policies. Bard College does not have a “leave of absence” policy. If a student needs to take time off from school, there are still avenues through which they are able to do so. These are outlined in the new subsection of the attendance policy under the heading “Extended Absences,” on page 17 of the student handbook.
Additionally, a new rule has been implemented concerning the break policy, which now requires a $250 charge per week if you have permission to stay on-campus over a break. According to an email sent by Brady McCartney with the intent of clarifying this matter, the main reason is due to the amount of services that must be maintained for one’s own wellbeing. What are your thoughts on this?
The implementation of this new fee is in large part a response to an enormous increase in the number of students requesting to stay on campus over breaks. Perhaps things would be different if our campus wasn’t in quite so rural of an area, but fact is that things like food are relatively inaccessible to most students if the dining hall is closed. Providing food and supervision to the students staying on campus is necessary to keep them safe. Students might find that attitude paternalistic, but the college has a responsibility to the students they house over breaks. That responsibility takes work, the more students stay on campus more work it takes, and that work has to be compensated. The fee was introduced to avoid the alternative, which would have been to dramatically slash the number of students permitted to stay on campus. I think the announcement of the new policy was handled poorly, but it’s unfair to act as though someone is getting rich off this charge.
On another note, an incredibly damning email was recently sent to many high-ranking administrators by Ankur, detailing their numerous alleged misdoings. Addressing individual points could easily fill an entire interview by itself, so were there any points that particularly stood out to you during your reading of it? Can you attest to any of the problems addressed? What about your overall opinion of the piece?
I’d like to begin by saying that while I don’t know her well personally, I’ve greatly admired the work that Ankur has done to make our campus a safer and more equitable place and raise awareness about contemporary social justice-related issues. Her work to make the restrooms on campus more gender-inclusive comes to mind, and she memorably skipped her own commencement, where she was to be presented with an award recognizing these efforts, in order to attend a protest. I understand that this email was likely penned in an attempt to reconcile the radical political writings she is reading with the all-too-real injustices faced every day on and off this campus.
That said, I don’t quite understand why this email is considered newsworthy. Ankur was angry about the introduction of this new break fee, and used that as a point of departure to express her grievances against a wide-ranging array of perceived misdoings on the part of the administration and faculty. This email was written in a particularly explosive manner, but what I find most concerning is not the way in which it is phrased, but instead the way in which it intermingles truths and falsehoods. The email very difficult to address head on, in part because it says so much, some of which is true, some of which is not, and provides little context with which to distinguish the two.
Can you elaborate on these falsehoods?
The statement, “You make no effort to provide support to students with mental health issues” is ridiculous. Any student can see a counselor for no extra charge, the wellness center has a psychiatrist on staff, the student life office runs a number of mental health-related events. The statement that men who have committed sexual misconduct on campus face no accountability is another one that jumps out at me. By law, Title IX investigations and findings are confidential, so you may not necessarily hear about students being held accountable, but just because we don’t hear about things doesn’t mean they don’t happen. The tools offered by Title IX are by no means perfect, and there may be instances of cases not being handled as we would have liked them to be, but consequences do happen. Even Ankur’s accusation “You pretend to care but I prefer that you wouldn’t” seems to take for granted the fact that we do place great institutional value on actualizing our ideals of equity and inclusion, regardless of how well we go about doing so. Just in sending this email Ankur implicitly acknowledges that she knows it will read by someone who is sympathetic to her grievances.
But what I find most concerning and alarming is Ankur’s characterization of Eden-Renée, our Dean of Equity and Inclusion. To portray the work of a black woman who has dedicated her professional life to putting our ideals of a more socially just campus into practice and “trying to please you white men and not be too confrontational” is racist. In depicting Eden-Renée as quietly complicit in the face of white supremacy and subservient to her higher ups, Ankur is not only describing someone very different than the Eden-Renée that I and many others on this campus have come to know and admire. She is also strongly evoking the ugly and persistent “Uncle Tom” stereotype, which has its roots in pro-slavery minstrel shows which depicted obedient, content slaves. This leap is disturbing to me, and it is crucial that we ways of critiquing the real and perceived failures of those in power without resorting to racist rhetoric.
So, to return to my earlier point about falsehoods. I understand that email has disseminated widely across the student body. This fact is worrying to me because so far as I can tell, students are not necessarily reading this email with the same critical eye that they use when reading texts for seminar. Some of the falsehoods, like our supposed lack of mental health resources, are easy to dismiss, and others are harder, like the statement about Eden-Renée. Many students want something to rebel against, that’s part of why we all came here, and while this email offers them a really compelling list of villains, it doesn’t offer any path forward. Getting angry is easy, doing something with that anger is harder. I hope that Ankur continues to do the work I’ve admired her for doing in the past. I hope that students never stop critiquing the institution, and I hope that we find ways to do so that are founded on mutual respect and our shared ideals of equity and inclusion.
Is there anything else you wish to say before we wrap-up?
A few days ago I saw Ian Bickford running in jeans. He was just going for a jog, while wearing jeans. It was weird.
Khalilah Asaka, Lexi Loyot, Angus Finn Macleod
A Weekly Cad dream team.