By The Editorial Board
The reinstitution of Baylor’s attendance policy in the middle of a pandemic is the equivalent of saying “screw you” to the health, safety and academic success of everyone on campus. It is quite possibly the biggest mistake the university has made thus far when it comes to handling the spread of COVID-19.
According to the College of Arts & Sciences, “To earn course credit … a student must attend at least 75 percent of all scheduled class meetings. Any student who does not meet this minimal standard will automatically receive a grade of ‘F’ in the course.” This policy also applies to the Hankamer School of Business and many other departments across campus.
This is the same attendance policy from before the pandemic, but what makes it unacceptable now is that explicitly under this policy, COVID-19-related absences are not excused. If you are vaccinated and exposed to the virus, you are still expected to be in class. And if you test positive for COVID-19, your mandatory five-day quarantine is not an excused absence — in fact, it can be counted against you.
It is true that the Office of the Provost sent an email on Jan. 12 to Baylor faculty members asking them “in these first few weeks of the semester” to “make their courses as flexible as possible to accommodate students in isolation or quarantine” and to “please make your lecture slides and notes available to students online and record lectures for students who cannot attend class.”
Professors were also reminded in this email that Baylor’s attendance policy “requires faculty to work with students who are absent because of ‘serious illness, accident, or death in the family,’” meaning “if a student were to test positive for COVID-19 or be quarantined by the University, the University Attendance policy requires faculty to work with these students.”
Firstly, the content of this email was not shared with students. Secondly, while this is a notable attempt to mitigate the academic suffering of students impacted by the virus, the premise of what it looks like to “work with these students” is exceedingly vague and leaves far too much wiggle room.
Do students have a specific amount of days to make up work? Can they attend class via Zoom? Does all late work receive full credit? And most importantly, how do COVID-19-related absences impact a student’s grade?
The answer to all of these questions is a whopping “depends on the professor.” It is up to them to decide what “working with students” looks like. Some have COVID-19-specific addendums to their syllabus, and some have even decided to not take attendance, but many other professors are simply following Baylor’s only mandated attendance policy and counting a student’s COVID-19-related absences against their grade.
If the Baylor administration had simply included a blanket policy to excuse COVID-19-related absences in all classes, students wouldn’t have to juggle individual professor expectations or deal with the unequal standards of how being absent could hurt their grade when it wouldn’t have if they had chosen a different class.
Reinstating an attendance policy and then giving professors vague permission to alter it on the basis of the pandemic not only is confusing and inconsistent but also seems to be Baylor’s way of scapegoating the fault of attendance-related grading onto the professors.
At the end of the day, what the Baylor administration has said on the matter is that the attendance policy is back and professors must “work with students” who have to quarantine for COVID-19. The grey area between those two statements has left Baylor’s campus riddled with students who will be penalized for missing class in mandatory quarantine.
Here’s why that’s a huge issue. Now that 81.9% of campus is vaccinated, over 18,000 students and faculty are not required to test weekly. So if someone is feeling sick, there is nothing stopping them from choosing to not get tested and to go to class — because why would you get tested if there’s a chance you’d have to be absent and lose points?
The result of the attendance policy is that sick and unknown COVID-19-positive students are filling the desks and infecting other students because their grades will inevitably suffer if they don’t.
In a perfect world, this wouldn’t happen and everyone who was symptomatic would stay home and get tested for the greater good. But if anyone seriously thinks a bunch of college students are going to sacrifice their grades on the off chance that their runny nose is a symptom of COVID-19, they are incredibly naive.
The number of active cases on Jan. 21 of this year was 1,358. On that same day one year ago, when students were encouraged to stay home, the number of active cases was 337. Of course, there are many factors that may contribute to this difference; however, it makes sense that mandating students to be in class could be one of them.
Instead, students should be able to stay home if they are afraid of putting others at risk. They should not be penalized if they have to quarantine for a positive test. And most of all, this should apply to all students, not just the ones who happened to pick professors who made this decision on their own.
Baylor administration, your message is clear. By reinstating the attendance policy in the middle of a pandemic and not enforcing excused COVID-19-related absences, you have demonstrated an utter disregard for the health and academic success of your students and faculty. Until the attendance policy is revoked or clarified to excuse quarantine absences, don’t expect anyone to believe you when you say you care about our success and you’re working to stop the spread of COVID-19.