Our UM professors probably trust us only slightly more than Ferris Bueller’s principal trusted him. We don’t have to ask permission to use the bathroom anymore, but some college professors still require notes from a doctor to excuse absences. But there’s a problem with that: Visiting a doctor isn’t always feasible or practical for every student.
Professor Michael Ruybalid oversees the music education department. Ruybalid out- lines a disclaimer in his syllabus at the beginning of the year for absences. “My syllabus pretty much just says be expected to be asked for some type of documentation,” he said.
This is standard practice. According to the official UM Academic Policies and Procedures, professors have full reign to create their own individual absence policies, and must state these policies in their initial syllabus.
The reason documentation matters for Ruybalid’s classes is due to the importance of in-class involvement. “My classes are pretty participatory. I do a lot of activities and it’s just hard to make those up,” Ruybalid said. However, he usually only enforces the rule if students’ absences become excessive.
“If they can’t get [a note], especially for the minor things, I’m willing to look past it,” Ruybalid said, adding that he prefers to treat these things on a case-by-case basis.
Not all professors are willing to work with students. And the unfortunate part about UM’s policy is it adds just one more expense to students’ bills: books, iClickers, printing and now doctors’ fees. Even with insurance, one-time visits around Missoula can range in price. It isn’t practical for many students to see a doctor for a note, especially if we already know we just need to rest and drink fluids.
At Curry Health Center, counseling and medical appointments start at $25 if you’re taking at least seven credits and paid the health fee. For low-income students with Medicaid, which isn’t accepted at Curry, just getting an appointment isn’t feasible.
Although the Curry health fees and doctor visit prices are fixed, the staff’s top priority is student well-being. So, if a student has a stickler professor who requires a note, the staff will try to accommodate and can arrange a free nurse visit.
“We try to make it as easy for the students as possible,” said Karen Behan, a clinical laboratory scientist at Curry. Behan explained that a student with a straightforward illness like a cold or the flu can normally be granted a note from the nurse, free of charge.
So if you are in a position where you need a note but not a doctor visit, speak with receptionists at Curry and they will be happy to help. You may have to wait a while for an available nurse, but just be patient and remember that the staff is there to help.
Although a nurse visit is a great option, not everyone has time to wait. Unpredictable waiting periods among other barriers make visiting a clinic inconvenient or impossible for some students. Transportation is not always viable, and some have other obligations, work and families. These obstacles might prevent sick students from staying home in order to prevent receiving grade penalties, which could mean prolonging their illness or the risk of infecting others.
Dr. Jason Triche, Associate Professor of Management Information Systems at the College of Business, recognizes that students are paying for their education and have good intentions. For regular classes, he doesn’t enforce an attendance policy, and believes students are “adult enough” to make their own choices.
“I treat my classes like you’re going to be ready for the workforce. If you need to take a day off, please do, for mental health, or physical health or whatever,” Triche said.
In any class, there will always be the occasional Ferris Bueller who lies to get out of trouble. But the doctor’s note policy should focus on convenience for the well-intentioned students. Faculty and staff at UM want students to succeed more than anything, so they should rec- ognize that most students are honest and eager to learn. Sometimes we just need a day off.