SCAPA is off the mark

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

March 26, 2008 Ed Cartoon

The Senate Committee for Academic Policy and Awards is in talks with Western administration to create possible amendments for Western’s policy on medical notes to make academic accomodation.

The committee, which answers to Western administration, is concerned that too many students fake illness in order to procure a doctor’s note and weasel out of exams. SCAPA wants to streamline the current policy and eliminate ambiguity in the school’s regulations.

Under the current policy, an ill student goes to a physician and the doctor writes a note. The note is delivered to the faculty dean’s office and the dean decides if the medical reason has merit. If it does, the note is delivered to the student’s instructor and the student is given an exam exemption.

SCAPA would have an ill student first pick up a standardized note from the dean’s office before they visit the doctor. The committee believes this will give physicians a concrete procedure to evaluate the student’s health.

Essentially, SCAPA wants to deter students from abusing the system. By going through the dean first, doctors’ notes can be kept on record; this makes it easier to track ‘multiple offenders.’

However, the proposed changes present a significant roadblock for those who are truly sick. If someone is ill with meningitis, measles or mononucleosis, it is an expedition to get out of bed " much less make an additional trip to the dean’s office to get the correct documentation.

The reality is that when a physician is willing to sign a medical note, it is very difficult to verify the extent of someone’s illness or if they are faking. When a doctor has signed a note, even if there is a poor explanation of an ailment, it is so tough logistically to prove someone is embellishing a chest tickle or a mild stomachache.

Hence, SCAPA’s suggestions inconvenience those genuinely needing exemption from major exams and tests.

Possible solutions include the amended note being available for download in PDF format " that way a sick student would not have to make the extra trip to the dean.

Also, instructors could start putting stern threats in course syllabi, similar to the warnings against plagiarism. If there are grave penalties for faking illness to get out of exams, then even if it is nearly impossible to prove, it should deter some bright-eyed first years from cheating the system.

It is tough to get thorough information from a physician as per the extent of one’s illness, as it violates doctor-patient confidentiality.

Ultimately, sick students are forced to deal with the exams eventually, so it’s questionable whether the proposed amendments are really worth the inconvenience to legitimately ill Western students.

The decision on proposed reforms will likely be finalized at the next SCAPA meeting in June in order to be implemented (if approved) for September 2008.

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