Class absences for Pagan holidays excused by Marshall University

By U-Wire

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – After several controversial requests, Marshall University’s policy regarding absences excused for religious reasons is under review, and the decision has been made to add Pagan holidays to the list of excusable holidays.

“Based on the research I’ve done, Paganism is practiced by a group of people large enough for it to be considered a major religion,” said Steve Hensley, dean of student affairs.

Hensley said the policy excuses absences that are “traditionally celebrated by the world’s major religions.”

The controversy lies in whether a religion is “major,” and if so, which of its holidays are “traditionally celebrated.”

“I think Good Friday is an excellent example,” Hensley said. “Christianity is clearly a major religion, but how many churches actually hold services on Good Friday that would keep a student out of school? These are the kinds of questions that come up.”

Under the policy, Hensley must use his judgment when either granting or denying a university-excused absence.

Earlier this month, Hensley addressed the Budget and Academic Policy Committee about the requests he has most recently received. The committee is responsible for revising the written policy in the undergraduate catalog.

Chris Green, chairman of the committee at the time, suggested that Hensley collaborate with the department of religious studies to develop a list of specific religious holidays that the university will excuse upon request.

Hensley said potential problems with this idea include the chance that students will abuse their right to be absent on these holidays.

He said the former policy of allowing instructors to exercise their judgment concerning excused absences has some merit.

“The faculty know the students better than I do,” he said. “Sometimes a student comes into my office who I have never seen before, but the faculty member has seen that student 20 or 30 times. Faculty members have a better sense of the students’ demeanor and motivation, their seriousness and their academic effort.”

Frances Hensley, vice president for academic affairs, said any type of policy that excuses absences has the potential for conflict because of the burden it places on professors.

“A university excuse says to a faculty member, ‘You have to excuse the student for this,’ and we should be careful with that,” she said. “We are saying to the faculty, ‘You must excuse this, and you must work with students on making up their work.”

The Budget and Academic Policy Committee is in the process of developing a list of holidays to excuse.