ASG Academics Committee recommends NU modify attendance policies amid COVID-19 case surge


Daily file illustration by Nathaniel Ortiz

ASG’s Academics Committee released a letter to faculty recommending ways to improve in-person instruction.

Emma Rosenbaum, Assistant Campus Editor

With Northwestern reporting high COVID-19 case counts and planning a return to in-person activities Tuesday, one Associated Student Government committee is suggesting faculty reevaluate their attendance policies.

The Academics Committee made suggestions for transitioning back to in-person classes in a Jan. 4 letter to faculty. For attendance policies, the letter recommended built-in sick days, a COVID-19 contingency plan for students who test positive and more lenient makeup policies.

During Fall Quarter, the committee noticed students attending class while sick and avoiding testing for COVID-19 out of fear of missing class because of strict attendance policies, according to ASG Chair of Academics and Weinberg senior Campbell Schafer. She said the committee wanted to communicate the “negative incentives” these policies can create. 

McCormick Senator and freshman Cate Mathews, another committee member, agreed with Schafer about the importance of class attendance policies.

“As a community, if we’re taking the steps to mask and test and isolate if you have symptoms, we want to make sure our professors (encourage) those behaviors by giving super clear and accommodating guidelines for what to do,” Mathews said.

The Academics Committee saw success with a similar letter last year, one advising faculty on ways to improve online learning and giving them Zoom do’s and don’ts. 

After seeing some of these suggestions implemented, Weinberg sophomore Brian Whetsell said the committee wanted to provide faculty with student perspectives on the return to in-person instruction.

“(The committee) felt like since we started in-person, it was important that we incorporate new things we saw since we’re still in somewhat of a transition period,” Whetsell said.

In addition to attendance policies, this year’s letter recommended creating hybrid accommodations and using remote materials.

The list of recommendations also noted what components from online learning worked well for students, such as more organized Canvas pages and free digital readings. According to the letter, professors saw more students attending office hours because they were virtual. The Academics Committee suggested professors offer both formats in some capacity.

“(Online learning) forced us to think differently about how we approach school and how we can accommodate students,” Whetsell said. “That was like a really good thing. It forced us as a committee to really emphasize student engagement in classes and professors actually being accommodating.”

The committee has already received positive feedback from faculty. Both Schafer and Whetsell said it’s likely the letter of recommendations will become an annual project.

Schafer added they are not entirely done with recommendations for this year. She said the committee plans to collect student input during the next few weeks, and then check in with professors.

“We are trying to address a lot of those issues that might arise in the next couple of weeks as more students — probably more so than in the fall — will be out of class,” Schafer said.

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Twitter: @EmmaCRosenbaum

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