Monday, April 4, 2011

Early Thirsty: Hell and High Water

As a freeway flier, I have five different sets of institutional policies to keep straight. The bugger of them all is the professorial absence policy. Before I go on, I understand that professionalism demands that we make every effort to suck it up and show up. But sometimes hell and high water happens.

I'm in that situation, and I'm feeling sick over canceling a class this afternoon. The options were to have a random instructor show Gattaca or cancel. Not wanting to waste student's time, I went with the cancel option. This institution requires that I notify the administration, so I did; it's the only time I've canceled, and the policy does state that we get one absence (preferably with a sub, but it's not 100% required.) Still I'm sweating over the cancellation even more than the situation that has led to the cancellation.

So I've got a three-part question:

1. What's the professorial-absence policy at your institution(s)?

2. What reasons do you consider valid for a professor to cancel a class?

3. How do you feel about a prof who cancels, even if it's within the policy guidelines?


  1. 1. What's the professorial-absence policy at your institution(s)?

    I'm really not sure. They probably want every absence documented, but my guess is I could be absent for a week and my chair would okay it.

    2. What reasons do you consider valid for a professor to cancel a class?

    Absences in academia are obviously different than absences in a 9-5 job. I don't think "personal days" apply, because we have leeway to schedule appointments with doctors, etc. Vacations don't apply either, because we are not in class 50 weeks of the year (most of us!). So I would say illness of oneself or one's close family member that needs tending to, or conferencing. Job interviews fall under that rubric as well.

    3. How do you feel about a prof who cancels, even if it's within the policy guidelines?

    If it's within policy guidelines it's none of my business. If it's outside of policy guidelines it's none of my business. It's my chair's business.

    There is a certain leeway we have of course that fudges the "policy" line anyway--we can have others take our classes (students watching Gattaca are still "in class"), or we can make alternative online arrangements. With so many classes online anyway, and as most classes have some aspect (even just a gradebook) online, in many cases a class need not really be "cancelled" but reshifted somehow.

    Which brings up another interesting point: what does it mean for a professor to be "absent" from an online class?

  2. 1. If something comes up, something comes up. We have lives. We cover for each other when possible, and I have been known to hold class via chat if I'm snowed or flooded in.

    2. Valid reasons? As far as I am concerned, anything that is a genuine emergency. This includes family deaths, being too sick to come in, and so on.

    3. S/he has a life. Get over it.

    This works, of course, only because nobody abuses it. My colleagues rock.

  3. 1. I treasure my ignorance on policies I do not intend to obey

    2. Any reason that I consider valid, illness, conference, workshop etc. I don't cancel class to play golf, for example.

    3. I do not monitor my colleagues activities

    Note, when I cancel a class, not a single student complains. I do not inform the Chair, for she might say no.

  4. I'm w/ Stella.

    I have cancelled class because I have been unable to get out of my driveway (over a foot of snow fell overnight and my commuter campus stayed open). My kids' school was closed, but not my campus. Go figure.

    I have cancelled class for illness (mine, my kids) and ER visits (mine, my Other Half).

    I don't cancel class for conference attendance--usually one of my colleagues will cover and show a film (not Gattaca) related to the course material.

    I don't care why my colleagues cancel class unless students complain to me (I am the associate chair) about too-frequent cancellations.

  5. I'm required to inform a staff member (always) and students(if I can) if I cancel class for illness or emergency. I cancel for conferences and invited lectures, but have to get the chair's permission for these. I've never canceled for illness or emergency, even when I should have.

    I think valid reasons should include illness, professional travel, and personal or family emergencies.

    I don't check up on my colleagues either. Not my job.

  6. I teach online. The general rule is if you are going to be gone for more than three days let your Dean know so they can check in and make sure everything is ok, let students know you are gone and when you will return etc. For the most part class would go on buisness as usual.

    That being said I myself have never used this as I can teach from anywhere, in my jammies etc. If I am sick I can still read discussion threads, I may wait a few days to grade papers until I am lucid again. I also work while on vacation, I figure if I plan a trip during a time my school isn't on break I better make sure I have an Internet connection and can keep the class moving. I expect that out of my students and I don't ask them to do anything I am not willing to do myself.

  7. We, too, have an official policy and somewhat more informal actual practice. I think we're officially supposed to inform the chair, but, realistically, the chair would be overwhelmed on some snowy/fluish winter days. In practice, we call the office and staff put a note on the classroom door if the class is scheduled for a room reasonably near the department office; those of us who teach farther afield or in computer classrooms usually email the whole class, and hope someone will see the email and inform the others. If we have a bit of lead time, we ask a colleague to cover for us and suggest an in-class activity for the students to complete, or plan an online activity in lieu of class (since many of us teach hybrid and online classes as well as traditional ones, making up an online exercise to substitute for an in-class activity is pretty easy; it would obviously be harder if we were teaching large lecture classes). I've occasionally -- and perfectly willingly -- covered for colleagues (usually in response to an emailed plea), but tend to do the online-activity-in-lieu-of-class myself. When I did sit in on a class, my colleague planned the activity, and my role was mostly to take roll and provide the illusion of supervision, in hopes that that would help the students stay on task.

    When I know well in advance that I'm going to miss a class session (e.g. for a conference), I'll plan an activity-in-lieu and put in on the syllabus. That activity often turns out to be completing the excellent University of Indiana Bloomington plagiarism tutorial (, which I'd highly recommend to anyone who assigns papers, on general principles, and certainly as an alternative to showing Gattaca (there's a test at the end and a certificate that students can print out and sign, or cut and paste into an email or Discussion Board post).

    In ten years at my present institution, I've only had a handful of unscheduled absences (and probably miss one class day a year for conference travel). Two or three of the unscheduled absences were for acute illness (cold/flu/loss of voice don't tend to stop me, though they probably should, since I'd recover more quickly; stomach/intestinal things present practical problems, are often highly contagious, and, besides, tend to be over within a day; I'm more inclined to stay home with those); one was to deal with an acute family crisis; and one resulted from my aging car dropping a vital part on the road on the way to school (that made me miss my first class; I managed to deal with the tow truck and get to school, a bit frazzled but ready to teach, for the others). I think I also once missed enough of the beginning of a class that the students left when I got stuck just behind a major wreck (I do allow extra time for delays, but live in an area where traffic tangles quickly, and untangles very, very slowly).

    I don't monitor my colleagues, and I don't have the sense that anybody else is monitoring me. The only time I actually followed formal procedure and told my chair I would be missing class was when I was traveling back to my graduate institution to defend my dissertation, and that was mostly because I wanted the chair to know about the defense. I also told the chair that I'd planned an activity in lieu of class.

  8. We are allowed to cancel one or two days' worth of classes for emergency reasons without comment (ie, notify the students, possibly via dept admin) each semester. Any more than that, and the Chair would expect an email with an explanation: "my foot fell off," or similar.

    Pre-conceived absences, for stuff like conferences or surgery we are required to organize a sub (usually a trade for favours, sexual or otherwise). Childbirth subs are covered by departmental discretionary budget.

  9. The two schools where I teach require us to notify no one. We should tell our students. I plan an activity that I either email them about in the event of an emergency OR that is on the syllabus in the event of a planned absence.

    I am struggling with this a great deal right now, actually. April/May is a tricky time for folks with mental illness and I am certainly coming rather unglued. It's possible to plan for this by front-loading grading and lectures in the beginning of the semester and then letting students present, etc. towards the end. At the same time, you still need to grade stuff and talk to the little buggers, and that can be challenging.

    I can't complain about people having babies, really, because arguably I'm only giving 75% (and not 100%...or 125% which is what my dept would really like) when I'm like this.


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