This year, due to the high rate of influenza, the University of Minnesota temporarily suspended two policies. The first was that students must attend the first day of class or risk losing their spot in the class, and the second was that a student must provide a doctor’s note if they missed class due to influenza or other illness.
Like 34 percent of all employees in the U.S., students get no time off for being sick. Faculty and staff have guaranteed paid sick leave. According to University policy, students must show up on the first day of class even if we are sick, tired, feverish and have a cough that could spread to the whole class, or risk losing our spot in the class.
If we lose our spot, it could jeopardize our full-time status, scholarships and even graduation date. If someone gets the flu, the average cost is $130 between doctor’s visits and all those flu remedies that rarely work. If only 5 percent of students, faculty and staff got the flu this year, that’s a total of $468,000 in direct costs, not including lost wages.
During the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, the 8 million people who stayed at work while sick infected an additional 7 million people by staying at their jobs. At that rate, if I have the flu or something just as nasty, for every five classes I attend, I will infect at least four other people. I guarantee if you call a clinic and tell them you have the flu, they will tell you to stay home lest you infect other people and put a drain on their resources.
Even the Boynton Health Service website recommends me to stay home since most flu cases cannot be treated by a doctor. Since the creation of the policy in 2009, the University has suspended it twice: during the H1N1 pandemic in 2009 and this winter when Minnesota had a particularly large number of influenza cases. If an academic policy has been suspended two of five years since it was created, it is reasonable to question the intention and effectiveness of the policy. According to the University’s website, the reason for this policy is to “clearly indicate the number of students committed to taking this course.” I may be committed to a course, but I’m not committed to making everyone else around me sick. I’m sure my classmates and professor would also appreciate me staying at home.
The University administration needs to create a new, simpler, more effective policy. If you have the flu or a similar illness on the first day of class, stay home. Get well soon. No doctor’s note needed.