LSU's official attendance policy was revised in October 2020 to better accommodate students during the COVID-19 pandemic, Faculty Senate Coordinator Susannah Knoll said.
Policy Statement 22 was issued in 1997 to make allowances for University-approved student absences, such as serious or infectious illness, emergencies involving immediate family members, weather conditions and other needs that could qualify as a valid reason to miss an in-person class.
Due to COVID-19, the Office of Academic Affairs determined that some revisions to the policy were necessary. A clause was added that now requires professors to provide make-up assignments if a student has to miss class, which was previously optional.
"It is the instructor’s responsibility to develop a make-up policy for excused absences that allows a student to specifically make up the work missed," PS-22 reads. "It is the instructor’s obligation to include a clearly stated make-up policy for excused absences in course syllabi."
Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Matthew Lee said previously if a student had an excused absence and missed a quiz, some professors would count it as the lowest quiz grade that was already going to be dropped at the end of the semester instead of allowing the student to take the quiz at a later date, which puts them at a disadvantage.
"That's not allowed under the new policy," Lee said. "They have to give you an opportunity to make up that missed work."
In addition to this change in the policy, faculty have been asked by Academic Affairs to be as understanding as possible with students regarding necessary absences due to the pandemic. Because documentation showing that someone may have been exposed to COVID-19 is not always available, professors are not required to have documentation for an excused absence this semester.
"To the extent they can get documentation, they should," Lee said. "But in every case it's not practical to be able to do so."
If a student has a complaint regarding a professor not giving an excused absence or not letting them complete a make-up quiz or assignment, they should send an email to Academic Affairs with the course code and section number and explain the situation. Lee said Academic Affairs will contact the department's chair of the dean's office to remedy the situation and remind the professor of what the expectations are for attendance this semester.
"It is apparent not everybody is reading or consuming this information, because we do get questions about things that are pretty obvious sometimes," Lee said. "But for the most part, I think people have been working quite hard to make things come together under pretty difficult conditions, on both the sides of students and faculty."
Lee said the department has not received any complaints so far this semester about professors being unwilling to accept student absences or that anyone is being uncooperative in providing make-up assignments.
Mass Communication Assistant Professor Ruth Moon Mari said that while the new policy makes logistical sense, it has added an extra layer of work for professors.
"We're being asked to be really flexible with students who have to miss class due to COVID, which totally makes sense from a public health standpoint," Moon said. "But in terms of teaching instruction, it does put a lot more burden on faculty to come up with alternatives for things that we didn't have alternatives for in the past."
Moon said that the Manship School has strongly encouraged faculty to alter their grading systems and not count for attendance this semester to help students as they cope with the pressures of COVID-19.
Associate Professor of Geography and Anthropology Jill Trepagnier said she supports the new PS-22 revisions and tries to be as accommodating in her classes as possible to help alleviate any extra stress students may be experiencing during this time.
"There are students who have missed due to COVID and they have always provided documentation without my asking about it," Trepagnier said. "There are students with COVID that really want to attend so they come anyway [over Zoom]. Then there are students who use anything as an excuse to not attend - and yes, COVID is one of them."
Trepagnier said she still takes attendance as usual because it motivates students to come to class and participate, but she does allow for excused absences as PS-22 dictates. She didn't need to alter her syllabi this semester because the provisions she made for students already matched LSU's new policy.
"I think it’s important to be compassionate and understanding, and excusing attendance and providing them with the work they missed is an easy way to make whatever they are dealing with a little less intense," Trepagnier said.