Attendance policy under review, possible changes ahead

Photo courtesy of Sewanee’s Flickr.

By Fleming Smith

This semester, Sewanee’s attendance policy has been under review, and the next academic year could see significant changes. Students may also be surprised to learn that the ability of members of the Order of the Gown to dismiss a class when a professor is more than 15 minutes late has been officially ruled a myth.

According to Student Government Association (SGA) President Mac Bouldin (C’19) and Order of the Gown (OG) President Kelsey Arbuckle (C’19), they have participated in an ongoing conversation with Dean of the College Terry Papillon and Dean of Undergraduate Academic Affairs Alex Bruce (C’89) on how the attendance policy could, or should, change.

“It might be a hyperbolic to say the whole thing is up for consideration, but not by much,” Bruce commented. “I will say that changes to policy are almost always enacted at the start of an academic year, and that would be the case with any revisions to the attendance policy.”

Currently, administrators are discussing the possibility of eliminating “administrative withdrawal.” The term refers to the process of students on cut warning being handled by the Dean’s office, which can contact the registrar to pull a student out of a class if they do not follow attendance policy, Bouldin said.

“Professors get taken out of the equation at this point,” Arbuckle added. She and Bouldin supported the elimination of administrative withdrawal, leaving attendance in the hands of professors.

On the faculty side, Professor Nick Roberts, chair of international and global studies, told The Purple that while a chairs meeting had discussed “the cut warning and whether it’s effective or whether we still need it,” but nothing had been resolved to his knowledge.

“I personally think it’s kind of ridiculous that you have a gown and can get off more than other people who don’t have a gown,” he commented. He still feels that the cut warning can be useful, however.

Within the purview of administrative withdrawal, administrators have also discussed eliminating “no cut” days and therefore the ability of OG members to skip those days with impunity. Non-OG students who skip class on no cut days, typically the days before and after a break, are automatically placed on attendance warning for the rest of a semester.

“I think there’s generally been a near unanimous consensus…that you can eliminate cut days altogether but you can’t only eliminate the Order of the Gown exemption,” Bouldin commented.

Both Arbuckle and Bouldin said that while several members of their organizations are in favor of eliminating no cut days or administrative withdrawal altogether, OG members worried that only their privileges would be removed.

No decisions have been made yet, and the conversation will continue into next semester, with Arbuckle and Bouldin meeting with the deans later this week.

Bouldin and Arbuckle have also discussed creating a written policy for “gowning out,” which is when OG members can dismiss a class if a professor is more than 15 minutes late.

“It got brought up because a student had gowned out of a class and emailed me like, ‘What am I going to do, my professor gave a quiz,’ and I was looking through our constitution, looking through everything, and I didn’t see anything [about that rule],” Arbuckle explained.

Papillon and Bruce suggested to them that in such a situation, a member of the OG could volunteer to lead the class. Arbuckle worries that this “puts an unreasonable pressure on members of the OG.”

Bouldin commented, “I understand that things need to be written down, and we intend to write it.” Arbuckle and Bouldin are currently working to determine how to write the policy. They anticipate it will be “a long process of give and take with administration and professors, neither of which I think are going to be especially keen,” Bouldin said.

Despite the lack of a written policy, students have always considered “gowning out” a class as a privilege of the OG. In an email, Bruce commented, “When I was a student here in the 1980s, we likewise believed that an OG member could dismiss a class after a set time. People didn’t agree on how much time, and no one ever thought to look for written confirmation, but the story persisted.”

Arbuckle said she has talked with administrators about sending out an email to all students to raise awareness that such a policy doesn’t currently exist but is under discussion.

“One of my concerns about it is that it seems this semester there’s been this increased distrust of the administration, especially when it comes to enforcement of particular rules,” Bouldin commented. “It feels like to students too often that the rug is consistently getting pulled out from under them.”

Bouldin said he worries that such changes in attendance policy could “fuel the resentment” between students and administrators if not handled properly.

Arbuckle stressed the importance of working with administrators on problems. “They’re not out to get us, like I feel they are perceived,” she explained. Bouldin added that the importance of perception means that issues that seem “benign and irrelevant” to administrators can become very important to students, injuring the relationship between the two.

“People are receptive, people want to do what’s right for the students and the school and the community. It’s just a matter of having that conversation, and for too long it hasn’t been happening enough,” Bouldin said.