I wonder if anyone can help me get a better perspective on a situation that has arisen in my department?
We have a female student who struggled in first year, failing a few modules (gender matters for this story). Our system allows such students the chance to resit over the summer so they can continue to progress with the rest of their cohort, assuming that they meet certain requirements (they have to have failed by 'honest effort', which means attended classes, handed in work etc. - if they were absent above a certain threshold and/or didn't submit major pieces of work, we expect them to retake the module in their own best interests). When Stuette attended for her resit exam, it was very obvious that she was quite heavily pregnant, so (after some traditional shuffling and mumbling) someone sat down with her and asked what her plans were.
Stuette, it turns out, thinks a baby will have no effect on her life (this is her first, and she's not yet 20), and has researched her 'rights' according to the university. The baby is due the first week of the semester. Stuette states that she will be back as a full-time student attending all classes, laboratory work and field work from week 5 of the semester. The university states that we must therefore redo all risk assessments to specifically cover the inclusion of a recently post-partum female AND a very young baby, which means everything from weights lifted to chemicals involved to walking distances to breast-feeding and changing facilities (Stuette has signed up for modules which involve multi-day trips to remote nature sites, where the day-time toilet facilities MIGHT include a primitive wooden spider-infested long-drop or a urine-impregnated concrete monstrosity, but often consist of a few rocks or shrubs). Where the needs of Stuette cannot be met on the original, the university requires that we develop alternative but equivalent activities (perfectly possible, with sufficient notice, but as a certain number of field and laboratory days are required for accreditation in Stuette's programme, pricey in staff time and sometimes resources too).
I wish Stuette all the best, hoping for an easy on-schedule birth, an easy baby, a rapid recovery and cast-iron child-minding arrangements (which we are not allowed to ask her about and which she will not tell us about, which kinda sends up a red flag to me, but maybe I am being unreasonable?) for her. Perhaps I am showing my own ignorance, as a childless older female who really Needs Her Sleep living in a legislative system which considers up to a year of parental leave to be appropriate to allow new mothers time to recover and adjust.
But... Stuette is a weak student who did not give us long enough notice to actually make arrangements (according to the stated due date she was 33-34 weeks pregnant when someone asked her what was up, so well past any reasonable time to begin planning, one would think). We have a 12 week semester, so she will return in week 5 with four weeks of work to make up on top of a full load in classes with relatively high hours (in the UK contact hours vary according to the subject, and science subjects with field and lab classes have the highest hours on the whole). I therefore anticipate that appropriate accomodations will also include extensions on course-work, at the least, if not deferral of assessment into the SECOND semester, which just puts more pressure on what is widely agreed by staff and students to be the hardest semester of the degree in Stuette's programme. Effectively, staff are going to be expected to act as private tutors to get her up to speed on those missing four weeks (university guidelines explicitly state that individual tuition is a reasonable accomodation request for such circumstances). NO there is no money for a TA to help, or anything like that.
I'm really not convinced that this is in the student's best interests. Or in the interests of the other 50 students in her programme or 175 students in her overall cohort within the department. And naturally as a member of staff currently redoing risk assessments and attempting to work out how the HECK I can shoehorn in replacements for the field and lab classes in the first four weeks of the semester into the later weeks in a way that gives Stuette a chance of actually being able to successfully take part in the rest of the module without messing up her group's work or putting unmanageable extra pressures on me and my delicately balanced marking schedule, I may be somewhat biased.
Any comments or opinions, Miserians? Or just some sympathy would be nice right now...