Notes for Faculty on Students, Illness, and Academics

Our findings on students, academics and illness have helped shape the SHS policy on medical excuses. Hopefully, the findings will be useful to faculty in evaluating student requests for special academic treatment.

  • We have found that most students want to be cooperative about complying with professors' expectations of them. In fact, they are often willing to sacrifice their rights to medical confidentiality in order to convince an instructor they were legitimately ill. We encourage faculty to assume that a student is being honest about the need for their requests, unless you have a concrete reason to doubt it.
  • All people are not equally equipped to function optimally when ill, even when the illness is minor. One student, while experiencing a headache, may perform adequately on an exam, while another may feel too compromised and may ask, quite legitimately, for an opportunity to make-up the exam.
  • Today's students contend with a variety of personal and/or social problems that may contribute to or be exacerbated by other illnesses. For example, medical problems such as anxiety disorders, depression, panic disorders, attention deficit disorders, and issues of abuse are present on our campus.

Such conditions may be exacerbated by illnesses such as simple upper respiratory infections or by other stresses such as a project deadline. In an effort to salvage their dignity or protect their right to keep such conditions confidential, students are more likely to explain that "I had a bad cold" than to say, "I have an anxiety disorder and my bad cold made me have a panic attack." 

  • Although college students are generally a healthy population, many students have chronic illnesses and their academic pursuits may be disrupted frequently. Faculty may become suspicious of these students' motives because the students may ask repeatedly for special arrangements. It can be helpful in such cases to encourage the student to be as open as possible in sharing with you how their condition has been affecting their studies. Together, you may be able to reach a mutual agreement about special arrangements.

When sick, the best place to be is at home, away from others, in order to reduce the transmission of illnesses around campus.  There should be no barriers that prevent students from being able to do so.

Thank you for your compliance with this policy.