Productive practice time plays a big part in most college athletic programs’ successes. With that in mind, the University Faculty Senate’s decision to replace the 75-hour excused absence rule for student athletes with an eight day rule is an encouraging sign that policy makers are invested in tailoring an attendance code that best balances students’ athletic obligations with their academic responsibilities.
Playing a sport at the Division I level can amount to the commitment of a full-time job, after all, so it’s understandable that those representing Penn State are afforded schedule flexibility, especially in-season.
At the same time, similar accommodations should be considered for students heavily involved in extra-curricular activities outside the athletic arena. One of the university’s favorite selling points is its robust community of student groups that represent a wide range of academically-inclined interests. These groups can demand similar time commitments from students to those that athletes are expected to keep. Many students who are involved in campus organizations also hold down jobs, while others cannot take advantage of the opportunities outside the classroom because of a financial need to hold down steady employment while in school. And Penn State’s attendance policies should reflect an understanding of that.
An eight-day rule for non-athletes is probably a lot to ask of Penn State’s faculty.
Perhaps broader student discretion for those that maintain a certain GPA threshold or a limited number of extra-curricular excuses would be more palatable.
But, at the very least, students who work hard in their areas of study outside the classroom, or even at a part-time job that can help ease Penn State’s massive tuition burden, deserve a conversation about ways faculty can better accommodate their schedules. A nod to the importance of extra-curriculars in a student’s college experience could bolster the appeal of a traditional four-year education in a time when online alternatives are flourishing. Prospective students might be more inclined to choose Penn State if they feel educational avenues offered outside the classroom can offer more value than programs that might be more curriculum-based. That’s not to say that faculty should grant extra-curriculars anything approaching equal emphasis.
Even a limited expansion of latitude afforded to involved students could empower them to make the most of their academic career inside and outside the classroom. Perhaps such an expansion is easier talked about than actually implemented. But faculty — those engaged with students on a day-to-day basis — should be able to have an informed discussion about what they need and maybe even come up with some creative ideas that help the average student, not just those sporting lettermen’s jackets.