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Penn State Faculty Senate changes attendance policy to make most classes remote on Election Day

The Penn State Faculty Senate approved on Tuesday a change in its class attendance policy that says, whenever possible, instructors should switch from in-person to remote classes on November election days to make in-person voting easier for students.

The 96-55 vote came after more than an hour of discussion.

The Faculty Senate committee that had studied the issue and made the report noted that some classes might still need to meet in person. That could be clinical work and labs that only happen once a week.

But, they said, for most classes, a day’s lesson could happen remotely and when students have time.

“We believe it is the best solution and a step in the right direction to make student civic engagement more accessible as well as a priority," said Nora O’Toole, a junior in the College of Information Sciences and Technology and one of the students who presented the report.

Several faculty raised concerns, including the potential for students to take a long weekend, missing classes the Monday before Tuesday's election. And, they noted, voting by mail is an option.

Julio Palma, a faculty member at Penn State Fayette, said some students at Commonwealth Campuses and at University Park, come from low-income families, have full-time jobs or are caregivers.

“If we pass this legislation, maybe they'll have that free time to go and vote," he said. "It’s just about equity too.”

Denise Potosky, a professor at the Great Valley campus, was one of the faculty who spoke in favor of the change.

“It sends a signal from our faculty that we think voting is important, or at least as important as coming to class as part of an education," she said.

Victor Brunsden, a faculty member at Penn State Altoona, proposed the actual change to the Faculty Senate attendance policy on elections as an amendment to the original report. Existing policy had said that instructors should give students the chance to make up work if they missed class to participate in elections.

Brunsden said more than a report was needed to make a permanent impact.

“Do we wish, as a body, to have a piece of legislation that modifies the university’s policies, or do we just want to have something that can be shoved in a drawer and eventually forgotten?” Brunsden said.

His amendment to modify the policy was approved.

Copyright 2023 WPSU. To see more, visit WPSU.

Anne Danahy