Student Government: We shouldn’t have to provide a Dr.’s note


I always had conflicting thoughts about how I deal with my students. On the one hand, they’re adults…I don’t like forcing adults to do things like handing in homework. On the other, I know the best way to learn a skill is to practice the skill, and homework forces them to do the requisite practice…but I’m still conflicted. They’re adults, they should know better.

Similarly, I have reservations about enforcing attendance of classes. Yes, they’re better off listening to what I have to say than not, but I still understand I’m dealing with adults. If they miss a class, I should trust their reasons.

“I had stuff to do. Can you give me a makeup test?”

–student’s explanation for why he missed a test. It was a court hearing. I let it slide and gave him one, since was a pretty good student.

It’s one thing to miss class, that’s no skin off my nose. But when a student asks for a make-up, that’s a different matter. I’d say about 90% of my “problem students” involve make ups. Usually, it involves cheating, but these kinds of students are often the types who go to admin to complain. Sometimes it’s both, such as a med school student who gave me an utterly ridiculous lie about why he missed the test. For the make-up, I changed three test questions—he’d fail the test if he couldn’t do them. He complained to admin that it wasn’t fair that he didn’t take the same test as everyone else (he could do the unchanged questions just fine, since one of his friends gave him a copy of the test, you see….).

Because make-ups are such a problem, I generally don’t do them, instead writing in my syllabus that students can drop their lowest test score—with a missed test taken as the lowest. This is fine until you get a student who misses multiple tests…these are often failing students, and thus also the kind of students who regularly complain to admin.

Another anecdote. A student missed the first test, but pressed me so hard I gave him a makeup, which he failed. He missed the second test, I gave him another break, he again failed. He actually attended the third test, still failed. For the fourth test of the semester, he again missed the test. He e-mails me half an hour before the test, saying he’s been sick and hasn’t been able to prepare.

He shows up in my office a half hour after I give the test. He seems fine to me, but asks to take a makeup. I decline, pointing out how at this point in the semester I just don’t have time for it (keep in mind, it’s the last week of the semester, I have many, many, tests to grade, as well as dealing with actual students who are more worth what little time I have, asking for help). Besides, he can drop his lowest test score, so missing this one test won’t count against him.

He takes the final, fails that too.

A week after the semester ends, I see he’s complained to admin about me. So, I have to get dressed and justify my actions. I provide e-mail communications showing I announced the date and time of the 4th test, both over a month in advance, and a week before the test.

He says he was sick, under a doctor’s care, and didn’t even know he could make up a formula sheet for the test. I point out how my e-mails clearly indicated the students could bring a formula sheet.

I point out how university policy says a student needs a doctor’s note for a medical excuse to be accepted. The student has no such note.

Admin has no idea what to do.

I point out how university policy explicitly says the instructor of the course does not have to provide a makeup if the student does not provide more than 24 hours notice that he can’t attend the test. I show admin how the student’s notice was given half an hour before the test.

Admin still has no idea what to do.

I point out that the student was in no position to pass the course, and again university policy regarding “late assignments” indicate the instructor only needs to address this when the student is otherwise passing the course.

Admin still has no idea what to do.

After over an hour of my trying not to waste time on this, I end up making him a makeup test, being very careful to make sure it’s extremely similar to the test everyone else had to take. He fails, of course.

I’m not a jerk, but bottom line I know even adults can lie, and I really only have so much time to spend on students like this. I’m also no doctor, and can’t judge a person’s health…so asking for that doctor’s note, independent evidence that the student isn’t being deceptive, while a bit obnoxious, strikes me as reasonable, at least for students claiming to be sick.

The student government at University of Washington disagrees:

Student government leaders demand faculty stop asking for doctor’s notes after missed tests

Gee, I only ask for it when the student wants something from me (i.e., a makeup test). I’m hardly alone:

The rule notes that, while professors are permitted to offer make-up exams to students who miss them due to medical issues, “thousands of students” are “asked by faculty to provide documentation from a medical professional” confirming their medical excuse.

Why is this a problem for students? It’s a long explanation:

The resolution states that the policy pressures students into “engaging in a costly, and potentially risk, patient-provider relationship without necessarily having an immediate medical need.”

“[I]n most cases of short-term illness, providers must rely on students’ descriptions of their symptoms – sometimes after the illness has already passed leaving the provider with little to no basis for evaluation,” the resolution holds, also adding that students who seek medical notes from doctors are “pressured into ensuring that they describe their symptoms in such a way that medical providers are guaranteed to provide them with a medical excuse note.”

…The resolution also holds that the school’s student health center is “booked to and over capacity,” leading to the possibility that “students who want to procure medical excuse notes” are “inadvertently decreasing access for students…who require care and need to be seen.”

–emphasis added

To summarize, and emphasized part is key: because campus policy requires a doctor’s note as an excuse for a makeup, students faking illness are flooding the health center, cutting into medical access for the actually sick students. And this is considered a legitimate reason to stop asking for documentation.

I just can’t make this stuff up.