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Duke’s new ‘incapacitation form’ lets students miss class without saying why

Missed-class policy ‘not limited to physical ailments’

A new policy at Duke University will soon allow students to request time off from their classes without explaining why, with one dean stating that students who use the form are expected to abide by the school’s honor system.

The new policy does not require students to state their reason for their absence, and students may miss class for health reasons other than physical incapacitation.

The Duke Chronicle reported that, with the new form, “students now have the option of whether or not to disclose their ailment.” Academic Dean Jenny Crowley, meanwhile, said in a campus email that “the Incapacitation Form is [no longer] limited to physical ailments”

In an interview with The College Fix, Crowley acknowledged that the form relies on students’ honesty in order for the system and policy to work.

“We have asked the students to use the Incapacitation Form in the same way they used our old system of Short Term Illness Notification Forms—the honor system,” Crowley said, adding that the policy “states that students should act in accordance with the Duke Community Standard.”

“We assume our students will use the form as it is intended. Should a professor suspect misuse of the form, they will get in touch with the academic dean and we will look into the matter.”

As listed on the university’s Policies & Procedures website, the new Incapacitation Form and Policy tells students: “You are expected to notify your instructors if you become incapacitated due to a short-term illness or injury that prevents you from completing an assignment, exam, quiz, presentation, lab, or any graded work or from attending a class where attendance is required.”

The form defines an incapacitating condition as “one in which you are hospitalized, under medical care for a short-term condition, or otherwise sufficiently debilitated as to be unable to perform basic academic tasks.” The form states that mild disturbances such as colds or headaches are not to be used as an excuse for missed classes.

The policy describes the ethical standard by which students should abide in order to avoid abusing the system. “You are in the best position to judge whether you are too incapacitated to complete an assignment or exam at the designated time. You will only use the Incapacitation Form for reasons related to your health and then only if your issue is truly incapacitating. You will act in accordance with the Duke Community Standard, in particular that provision stating that you will not ‘provide false or misleading information in order to be excused from classes or assignments’,” the policy reads.

The College Fix reached out to numerous professors at Duke to learn their opinions of the new absence policy. Leslie Digby, an anthropology professor at Duke, declined to comment on the new policy. “I’m still learning about the new policy myself,” she said.

The webpage also separates “personal distress or emergency” from the incapacitation form; in those cases, students are directed to speak with their academic dean instead of using the three-day limit incapacitation form.

Crowley said the new policy is meant to better help students during difficult times. “The three day incapacitation limit is meant to give students the benefit of guidance from an academic dean in their time of need. We made the change to better support our students,” she said.

Asked if the policy change had come about due to students demanding it, Crowley said there was “no call for a change from the student body that I know of.”

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About the Author
Ema Gavrilovic -- DePaul University