I picked up a nasty cold a couple of weeks ago after I gave a sniffling friend of mine an ill-advised hug.
I’m not here to cast blame on anybody for my illness. I am, of course, an idiot, who fully deserved to reap the consequences of prolonged physical contact with a sick person. But what really surprised me was just how long this bug wound up throwing me off.
I was somewhere below 100 percent physical health for about a week straight, so naturally, I went to class every day I was sick. For at least three days straight, I was a coughing, sneezing, sickness-spreading abomination that hobbled from class to class with nothing more than some placebo tablets to combat the pestilence. Under normal circumstances, I would rather be killed than be that sick around that many people.
If going to class makes me a monster, then so be it. But with Stony Brook’s attendance policy being what it is, I felt like I had no choice.
Ostensibly, sick students are supposed to visit the doctor and obtain some record of the visit for an excused absence. With some sort of documentation in hand, students can rest easy knowing their grades won’t take a hit.
Here’s the thing about excused absences: what sort of college student actually has time to visit the doctor?
I’m a commuter. On a typical Monday, I’m out of the house from 6:30 a.m. until 9 p.m. If I have free time during that span, I’m using it for basic human needs, like food and Netflix. A drive to the nearest clinic for a checkup just so I can get a note that tells me what I already know takes… I have no idea how long it takes, I don’t have time to check.
So, during that week when I was sick, I had some very unpleasant math to do. With only two unexcused absences, I had to ask myself if I really believed I wouldn’t need those days somewhere down the line. Unexcused absences are rare and valuable enough that I had to make a rational decision to come to school sick. I’m sure I’m not the only one.
That’s not right.
The obvious counter-argument here is DURRR WELCOME TO THE REAL WORLD, but that’s not really accurate either. When I’m working and I don’t feel well, I don’t need a doctor’s note to take a sick day. I just need to call my boss and explain how I feel, almost like I’m an adult who can be trusted to be responsible. I might have to suck it up if I’m not 100 percent a day or two later, but generally, if I feel like my face is going to fall off, they don’t even want me there.
Giving students so few days they can actually miss school encourages people to play games with their health and wellness, which are supposedly things the university cares about. If I take a sick day, not only do I risk being penalized for non-attendance, but I risk losing valuable class time or information.
Is there really no other way? The U.S. is one of a few developed nations with no nationwide sick-leave policy for employees, but a few tech companies like Netflix and Grubhub offer unlimited sick leave to certain employees.
It might be counter-intuitive, but removing the value a sick day gets as a limited resource encourages employees to budget their time according to their best personal and professional interests. Instead of leaving work altogether, unlimited sick leave just means fewer headaches where employee health is concerned.
Who’s to say that same type of policy can’t work for students? Attending college isn’t mandatory, so colleges shouldn’t assume their students would just never come to class.
Maybe unlimited sick days are a bit much, but requiring students to jump through hoops just to take a day off when they’re feeling like garbage isn’t doing anyone any favors either.