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SGA and Faculty Senate continue work on student bereavement policy

It is a commonly known caveat under the attendance section in many of the syllabi that students will read each semester– undocumented absences can count against you.

Most professors include a section acknowledging the certain circumstances that can be considered documented, mainly among them would be a death within the family.

While it can seem like a no-brainer for some, there are various courses throughout the departments in which there are no circumstances that allow for a documented absence. These scenarios caused the SU Student Government Association (SGA) to begin drafting a university-wide policy that would guarantee students excused absences.

There is currently no bereavement policy for students that is accepted by all faculty, which the SGA feels can lead to situations of extra unneeded stress. In an environment where stress is common, those in favor of the policy feel it helps protect the mental health of the students.

“You lose a loved one, or a really close friend, yet the school doesn’t already have a policy regarding taking some time off of school,” SGA Director of Academic Affairs Tram Nguyen said. “There have been testimonies that professors do not allow any absences so this will ensure students mental health and allow time to grieve.”

Nguyen believes that a policy such as this is a necessity for students to have. While placing education as such a priority, in an emergency scenario everyone should have an option to prepare themselves to return to school when completely well.

“It’s very unfair to not have the opportunity to become a great student but something tragic has happened and you have to miss a funeral to keep up with your studies,” Nguyen said.

The details of the policy include paperwork that students would have to fill out and submit to the dean of the department in order for bereavement time to be granted. Following students will be given up to five travel days as well as three bereavement specific days.

The initial drafting of the policy began in the fall semester but ran into a rough patch when it was pitched to the Faculty Senate. Typically, the senate takes these policies into consideration and hands them to committees within in order to further focus on the details.

The bereavement policy was handled directly by the Academic Policies Committee. Following the committees research into the proposed policy it provides suggestions to the senate, and from there the senate gives feedback.

Dr. Thomas Cawthern, an assistant professor of geography and geoscience, is a member of the senate and the subcommittee that reviewed the policy.

“When [Academic Policies] looked at it we didn’t have a ton of major ‘this is going to kill the proposal’ reviewer comments on it,” Cawthern said. “We focused on the duration of the time that is missed and how it would be implemented.”

One of the main initial problems that the senate had with the policy centered around the idea that this policy would supersede all others and force all faculty to abide by this specific outline. Due to the numerous concerns the senate had, the policy was sent back to the committee for further discussion.

Cawthern expressed the need to make the policy more plausible for every department during the second trip through the committee, with a handful of questions being addressed.

“How will this affect programs like social work that don’t operate on a true semester, so they have a much shorter session,” Cawthern said. “For courses like lab sciences is it feasible to allow students to set up and make up a lab for just a handful of students?”

It has been a back-and-forth between the senate and SGA representatives like Nguyen with both sides focusing on their specific needs.

“The issue is that most of the professors or staff in [the senate] don’t really want to pass this or they have minor details they want to change that would be less beneficial to the students,” Nguyen said.

Both sides are still currently working to find a common ground that can appease all those involved. On the side of the senate maintaining the ability for professors to run their classes while also giving the students who may encounter a need for a bereavement period to be allowed time off.

Aside from wording details within the policy itself, the main problem lies within the idea of making it a university-wide policy.

One problem that has not been prevalent was the thought that this could be a policy which students could use to their advantage. On the contrary Cawthern and the committee believed that the evidence that SGA initially wanted students to provide was unnecessary after paperwork.

The final steps include the committee trying to smoothen out the details of how things would work under this policy, including who would receive bereavement paperwork from a student.

“How can we keep what’s there that SGA wrote up but make the policy read so that it can accommodate all of those questions the senate had,” Cawthern said. “It might take a while but everybody wants it to be right.”

Despite the wait, there have been signs of progress, and both sides are hoping to have the policy completed sooner rather than later.

“I really do hope, it has been pushed around for quite some time but I believe it shouldn’t be it is pretty straightforward,” Nguyen said.

The general response from various faculty members has been one of understanding, but with concern of the plausibility of the policy. Cawthern feels that if they are able to come up with a way to make it possible and logical, everyone would be in favor of it.

The committee is hoping to resubmit the policy to the senate by the end of this spring semester and barring any setbacks there should be deliberation before the academic year’s end.

As for a policy that may only be used a handful of times each year, both sides are in agreement that even if it were used once it would be worth it to help a student through a difficult time. In a point where mental health is a major discussion, at a point in life where stress can be at an all-time high in college, this policy could provide major assistance in the future at SU.



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