Tufts updates procedures for missing a midterm or final due to illness

Tufts Health Service is pictured on March 6, 2018. Alina Murphy / The Tufts Daily Archives

Tufts announced changes to its policy on missing midterm or final exams due to illness in an email to undergraduate students on Oct. 1. Going forward, students will no longer be able to obtain notes excusing them from midterm or final exams via walk-in appointment with Health Service or Counseling and Mental Health Services. Instead, acutely ill students will now send an online form to their professors informing them of their illness, though the form does not automatically excuse students from exams or coursework. The university cited a need to allocate limited resources and waiting room space to those in need of medical attention as the reason for this change. 

Michelle Bowdler, executive director of health and wellness services, clarified that the policy change will not affect the types of care sick students can receive from Health Service.

“The policy does not change any practices related to Health Service’s current treatment models, the way it provides treatment to students who are sick and need medical care, or the way it works with [the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs], the advising deans and others to help students with chronic or extended illness, disability, bereavement, or ongoing mental health concerns,” Bowdler wrote in an email to the Daily.

According to Carmen Lowe, dean of academic advising and undergraduate studies, students who were too ill to take a midterm or final exam prior to the pandemic needed to alert their professor in advance and visit Health Service on the day of the exam to receive a medical excuse note.

“This was for acute illnesses, such as vomiting and fever,” Lowe wrote in an email to the Daily. “The notes were only for an in-class midterm exam or final exam, and were only for the day of the exam. Health Services did not and does not provide medical notes to excuse a student from class or to grant an extension on an assignment.” 

Due to the policy change, students no longer need a note from Health Service if they need to miss an exam because of illness. Bowdler explained how this change will impact students.

“If a student is experiencing acute illness and is unable to take an exam, they should download [the form] and send it to their professor, as has been the practice for many years,” Bowdler wrote. “However — and this is where the change in practice occurs — the student no longer needs to come to Health Service to be seen by a clinician to attest to their illness and provide a note.”

Bowdler described the reasoning behind this policy change.

“Having students visit Health Service simply for a note would run counter to good public health practices,” Bowdler said. “The needs of ill students are extreme right now and volume and acuity are high. And we are still addressing the impact of a global pandemic on a daily basis as well. Walk-in appointments have been suspended for over a year in order to avoid crowded waiting rooms that risk infecting students and spreading infection in and beyond our community.”

Bowdler said that faculty members have been informed of the policy change and have been advised to clarify their policies for absences and missed exams to students.

Marie-Pierre Gillette, a part-time lecturer in French, explained that the new policy has the potential to simplify some of the administrative complications surrounding students missing class. 

“The [medical excuse] notes were practical for us because [they] made it clear that the student did have some documented illness or some kind of emergency,” Gillette said. “But that’s a lot of paperwork and that’s a lot of stress on the administration and on the students, and on the professors too because we had to look through all that.”

Gillette said that now, students can speak directly with teachers if they are not feeling well, rather than going through Health Service. She offered examples of how she accommodates students who need to miss exams because of illness.

“What we have to do [is] talk to the students … and then make it as easy as possible on them,” Gillette said. “We can accommodate some of the exams [by putting] those online instead of having [students] take them in person.”

According to Lowe, there is still a separate system for students who have COVID-19 and need to miss class because they are in isolation.

“For students required to isolate because of COVID, there is still a system of automatic emails that go directly to the student’s professors to alert them when a student is required to isolate and when the student is cleared to return to class,” Lowe said.

The online form can be found on the WebCenter page under the Student Living tab in Tufts’ Student Information System.