Being a student-athlete is a difficult thing to balance anywhere, but it can be even more difficult at the University of Dallas due to some of the academic policies here.
One of the unique aspects of UD is the strict class attendance policy.
“Unexcused absences from three class hours in any one course shall be reported to the Registrar, who then warns the student,” states the attendance policy as outlined in the bulletin. “If any further unexcused absences occur, an instructor may, at any time before the last day of classes, require that the student be withdrawn for excessive absences by notifying the Registrar in writing.”
The policy also has a special stipulation for students who miss class due to athletic and university-sponsored events. The stipulation states that the students cannot be punished for one of these absences, mainly in the case of make-up work. According to the policy, as long as “the student has met with the professor to discuss upcoming classes for which there are conflicts,” and “the student has not missed more than three hours of class time in a three-credit hour course,” the instructor should work with the student to accommodate the student for missed work.
“Sometimes when you have an unexcused absence the professor can say ‘sorry, you missed this, it was a test, we’re not going to make it up because it was unexcused,’” said Dr. David Andrews, associate dean of Constantin College. “The policy about athletes written in the bulletin is supposed to indicate that for athletes there’s an understanding that those events are school-sponsored, and therefore consideration for making up work ought to be given. It does not say that student athletes get more absences per se.”
Typically, there is no problem, but sometimes students have conflicts with professors.
“In the past, generally speaking, if students are good students in terms of they don’t use athletics as an excuse to get out of class, you know, they do their work, we’ve found that professors have generally been pretty cooperative,” Athletic Director Dick Strockbine said.
Helen Onyenso, a senior basketball player and track athlete, has recently run into a problem in her Western Theological Tradition class taught by Sister Jane Dominic.
“I took her because she’s a super good teacher and I wanted to take her,” Onyenso said.
She also said that Sister Jane Dominic warns the class at the beginning of the course that it is a difficult course, and if a student isn’t willing to put the work in they should drop the class.
“Students are always handed a syllabus at the beginning of the semester, they also have their schedule so it’s their responsibility to go to the professors at the beginning and say, ‘here’s the situation, where do I stand, what do I need to do to make this both work for us?’” Strockbine said.
Onyenso says she did just that.
At the beginning of the semester, she gave Sister Jane Dominic a letter signed by her basketball coach notifying her of the days she would miss due to basketball.
“I told her ‘these are the only days I’m going to miss for basketball, but I won’t fall behind on my work,’” Onyenso said. “Every time before I was going to miss I would email her.”
Onyenso also runs track, so after basketball season she gave Sister Jane Dominic the additional dates she would have to miss for track.
“I emailed her saying that I was going to miss for track and then I missed for track,” she said. “[The following Monday] I went to her office to take the quiz face-to-face with her, I got 100 percent on it, and then after that I got an email saying, ‘Sister Jane is dropping you from the class you need to go set up a meeting with her.’ She didn’t even tell me she just reported me.”
Sister Jane Dominic and Onyenso met and came to an agreement. According to Onyenso, Dominic said she’d allow her to miss one more class for the SCAC championships the last week of April, but Onyenso had to miss the track meet on Friday, March 23. Additionally, Dominic will take points off of Onyenso’s final exam but will offer her a supplementary assignment to make up those points.
“The intention of the policy is that student athletes get four absences, excused or unexcused, but [the professor] can say that those that are required for sporting events are not excused,” Andrews said. “It is possible that an athlete could miss four days of a particular class, so from then on they’re kind of in a position where they can’t miss anymore for any reason.”
Andrews later clarified that it is actually three hours of class, not four days.
“There isn’t an exemption for student athletes and that definitely does make it harder for student athletes to work around things, but I think it behooves them to figure out what a particular professor’s policy is and then have to work with that,” Andrews said.
Sister Jane Dominic declined to comment on the situation, citing in an email that she “wouldn’t be comfortable talking about a particular student’s circumstances; this would not be appropriate.”
However, Sister Jane Dominic did say, “I think it is wonderful that the University of Dallas has such a fine intercollegiate sports program. I respect, admire, and appreciate very much all that our athletes do as they represent the University of Dallas. I have very much enjoyed teaching a number of our athletes. I deal with athletes as I deal with other students, and I want them to flourish as students. Some of my very best students have been athletes. They are a gift to this university.”
According to Onyenso, she is doing very well in the class despite her absences, and she hasn’t had any absences in the class besides those for athletic events.
“I have like an A++ in that class; it’s super easy for me.”
However, the professor still has the discretion to apply the attendance policy however they see fit.
Dominic’s syllabus states that, “each student is allowed two absences. After two absences, a student’s third and fourth absences will result each in three (3) points being deducted from his/her final grade. In accordance with University policy, more than three absences will be reported to the Registrar. Any student failing to abide by class policies as stated herein and described in class may have points deducted from his/her final grade.”
“She says there’s no such thing as an excused absence so that’s kind of annoying being an athlete,” Onyenso said. She added that this is a unique situation. Being a senior, Onyenso has had to miss classes for athletics her whole career, but says she has never run into an issue until now.
According to Andrews, the purpose of the attendance policy is to keep the academic standards at the university at a high level.
“If you ran a university where nobody needs to show up to class, the quality of the education would be called into suspicion,” Andrews said.