Absence Policy Neglects Employment-Seeking Students

By Jon Green

A recent email survey of Kenyon’s Class of 2012 found that 56 percent did not know what they would be doing next year, 28 percent knew that they would be working and 15 percent said that they would be in graduate school. On a seemingly unrelated note, approximately one third of Kenyon students are varsity athletes. But the two are connected in at least one respect: while the varsity athletes are allowed to gain exemption from classes so they can compete, students who have job interviews or graduate school visits which overlap with classes are not guaranteed excused absences.

Kenyon’s official policy for excused absences, according to the college website, is ambiguous: “Excuses for absences from class are granted … when substantial reason is shown. Recognized grounds for excused absences are as follows: (1) curricular or extracurricular activities recommended by the faculty and approved by the deans, (2) personal obligations claimed by the students and recognized as valid by the deans and (3) sickness.”

Despite the ambiguity, surely a job interview or graduate school visit is a “substantial reason” that should be “recognized as valid by the deans,” right? Not according to the college administration. One student, who wished to remain anonymous, requested an excused absence for such a visit and was informed that Kenyon does not generally consider graduate school visits or job interviews valid reasons for excused absences, though varsity athletics are. The rationale behind the administration’s distinction was that negotiating absences for job interviews is akin to preparation for the real world, in which employees must negotiate absences with their employers, whereas varsity sports teams’ schedules are set ahead of time and pre-approved by faculty and administration. The student was then told to refer to the above policy for further clarification.

Aside from the fact that students will not be participating in varsity athletics in the real world, this bureaucratic interpretation of ambiguous policy sets a troubling standard when it comes to Kenyon’s priorities. What message does the administration send when it tells students that it cares more about the basketball team’s ability to drive to Wooster on a Tuesday than students’ future employment opportunities? This is not to say that athletes should not be granted excused absences for their games, but the administration should extend excused absences to job interviews and graduate school visits, as well. Contrary to the administration’s assertion, doing so will correspond more closely to the real world—not less.

In the real world, high school students are excused for college visits because their respective high schools have vested interests in their students attending college. Kenyon is no different: just as low college acceptance rates reflect poorly on high schools, large numbers of unemployed Kenyon graduates reflect poorly on Kenyon as an institution of higher education. To step further into the administration’s idea of the real world, all employers offer workers unscheduled days off, and many offer paid leave for training or education that makes workers more productive. If a high school excuses absences for college visits and an employer excuses absences for further training or education, then why should Kenyon not excuse absences for students who need to market themselves outside of Gambier? If the administration allows 56 football players to miss class so they can travel to Wabash or the University of Chicago, surely they can permit a few students to miss class to land a job or choose the right graduate school.

The administration is correct when it states that the academic disruption due to athletic events is minimized by games being scheduled far in advance. Since the logistics of job interviews and graduate school visits are not planned months in advance, excusing such absences may not minimize the missed class time. But considering the raw number of varsity athletes and the amount of class time they are allowed to miss, surely allowing a smaller number of students to miss a class here or there for graduate school visits or job interviews would be less disruptive overall.

One could also argue that it would take an especially cruel professor to deny a student the opportunity to interview for a job or visit a graduate school. But consider a scenario that could unfold under the current policy: Two students, a first year on the baseball team and a senior seeking a job in Indianapolis, both have tests scheduled on a Friday. The baseball team has an away series over the weekend and the bus leaves before his test; the senior has been invited for a job interview that coincides with the test time. The professors of both classes are unwilling to let the students take their exams on different days, but the first-year baseball player is able to appeal to the administration for an excused absence, allowing him to override his professor and take the exam on the following Monday. The senior, on the other hand, is unable to get an excused absence and is thus forced to choose between attending the interview and taking the test.

Kenyon graduates are competing in the job market with students who already study in cities and do not necessarily need to miss class time to interview for a job. Kenyon’s failure to support students who have graduate school visits and job interviews only exacerbates the challenges its students face against their competition.

The administration should reconsider its interpretation of its attendance policy—allowing excused absences for job interviews and graduate school visits would not disrupt the academic environment any more than varsity athletes already do. Instead, it would more accurately reflect the real world and make Kenyon students more competitive in the job market.

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