Econ 51 is not always the most exciting class. It's especially dry on days of national crisis, as I discovered. I attended the class on Sept. 11. A new first-year friend from Manhattan had just been traumatized by the events earlier that morning. It was around 3 p.m. and class was carrying on all over campus, just like any other hot day in September. Off to Econ 51 we went. I had no idea what to say to her; I just knew she wanted someone to accompany her to class. Of course, she didn't pay attention in the huge lecture hall; I wasn't even enrolled in the class. We just sat there for an hour, and left two or three times to talk outside.
The World Trade Center towers were crumbling in front of our eyes, and the first thing we students did was check to see which of our classes were cancelled. Shortly after the disaster, all Duke students received an email reminding them that classes were still in session. Teachers could decide whether to cancel their individual class. Econ 51 wasn't cancelled. My own class that afternoon became optional. At the time, I and probably 6,000 other students were shocked that the administration did not cancel all classes for the rest of the day. Duke did eventually cancel classes' for two hours the next afternoon.
As much as class time is important at a University, it is not a sacred doctrine for Duke's administration to worship so blindly. All of the new first-years will hear over and over again about the mystifying dean's excuse (DE). It essentially says that you must be convulsing on the ground gasping for air to be officially excused from missed coursework (or be away on official University duties). It will not excuse you from class attendance, though.
Let me quote a memo from Dean Robert Thompson so that you may understand the full wrath of the dean's Excuse: "The Policy under which Dean's Excuses can be issued stipulates that DEs may be issued only for illness certified by a medical official of the University or for authorized representation of the University in out-of-town events. In other circumstances, including absences from classes, students should discuss their situation with the instructor, who is the person best positioned to evaluate a request for accommodation in the context of the course."
First-years will soon discover that dean's Excuses are impossible to find. I saw one once on Ebay. Unfortunately, I wasn't the highest bidder. One time, I did go to the nurse's office on East Campus. My temperature was close to 101. I was in no physical or mental state to attend classes. The nurse told me to take white pills and sleep between classes, but most importantly; that there was no possibility of attaining a dean's excuse for missed work. I was smart and slept through classes instead of between them. And I'm sure I recovered much faster than I would have if I had wheeled myself around in a stretcher to get to class.
My roommate was not as smart last year, though he almost got that holy piece of paper signed by the dean. He begun to get blurry vision in one eye when he had a temperature of 103.5. At the nurse's office on East, he got an appointment with a doctor at Pickens Health Center. He dragged himself to the bus stop, took the Central bus to Trent, braved the traffic on Erwin Road, and collapsed in the waiting room. "You've got a bad fever, take some white pills, and sleep between classes. No dean's Excuse." He kept going to classes, being the studious boy he is, and was ill for the entire week. Probably didn't learn a thing, except that blurry vision seriously impairs note taking.
I'm sure we all have horror stories involving illness and the dean's excuse, or lack thereof. It seems clear to me that the University should revaluate this policy and realize that student health, both psychological and physical, is a prerequisite to any sort of academic success. What do students achieve by forcing themselves to attend class when their own mothers would have them at home from school, drinking OJ and eating oatmeal in bed?
What's worse is what these mothers would say if they read the email sent on Sept. 11 reminding us Duke students that come hell or high water, classes must go on. Fevers, stomach aches, cramps, herpes, vomiting, strep throat, West Nile, anthrax, terrorist attacks and not to mention the remembrance of Sept. 11 this year. Classes must go on! This is our cry here at good ol' Duke.
Christopher Scoville is a Trinity sophomore. His column appears every third Thursday.
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