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Councils delay vote on excuse policy again

Arts and Sciences Council Chair Katherine Ewing canceled Thursday's special joint Arts and Sciences Council and Engineering Faculty Council meeting because of Hurricane Isabel, reducing the possibility of passing a short-term illness policy before the next scheduled Arts and Sciences Council meeting Oct. 9. 


The special session, which was to have been convened at 4 p.m., was a victim of natural causes, after a lack of turnout from the Engineering Faculty Council prevented a vote on the original policy when it was presented to the councils Sept. 15. One person from the EFC showed up at that meeting, well short of the four people required for quorum. 


Ewing's decision came partially from a desire to avoid a repeat performance of the Sept. 15 debacle. "I wanted to be sure we had a quorum, and it wasn't clear it was going to happen under these conditions," she said.

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences William Chafe said he understood the decision.  


"It was necessary because of the degree to which the hurricane [was] posing an immediate threat," he said. "There was no point in putting people's safety in danger by asking them to come to a meeting that could imperil them."

The special session may not be rescheduled, Ewing said, because next Thursday is the first Academic Council meeting of the year and by the following week, the scheduled Arts and Sciences Council meeting will be sufficiently close that she said it may make more sense to wait. 


In lieu of a new short-term illness policy will be an interim policy, which was outlined in an Aug. 14 memo from chemistry professor James Bonk, who headed a committee that examined the former dean's excuse policy. According to the memo, "If you are unable to complete academic work (tests, exams, papers or scheduled graded assignments) as a result of short-term illness, you should speak directly with your instructor, ideally before your absence." 


One drawback to waiting until the October meeting to vote on the final policy, Ewing said, is that midterm examinations will be beginning and the number of potential applications of a short-term illness policy will be magnified. 


Bonk suggested that in the meantime, students and their professors should use a rough approximation of the policy that his committee has proposed. 


"The anxiety level is going to go up because we're not operating on a policy that is fixed, but my hope is that people would go ahead and use this system, even though it has not been totally approved," he said. 


That the hurricane's arrival fell on the day of the special session was another bad omen for a short-term illness policy that has met resistance from an impressive run of bad luck. Ewing appreciated the irony of Isabel's arrival Thursday but did not pronounce the policy condemned from heaven above. "It was an interesting coincidence, but I'm not assuming divine intervention," she said. 


Bonk said he heard about the meeting's cancellation in a roundabout way. "I found out from a colleague," he said. "I asked, 'Do you think we'll have a quorum this afternoon?' and he looked at me like I was insane," he said, learning only after the fact that no quorum would be possible that day. 



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