Section: Opinion

Sending sick students to class infects campus productivity

I knew the sickness policy was an issue when one of my friends nicknamed a guy “hacker” because he kept coming to her class and seemed to be coughing up a lung each time. She didn’t want to get sick, and she was wondering why this guy continued to come to class when he was clearly not well. It must have been hard for him to comprehend anything the professor was saying, to say nothing of the disruption it caused.

It was surprising to come to Kenyon and read absence policies requiring students to have explicit permission from the health center whenever one felt too ill to attend class. In many cases, the sicknesses that keep students out of class do not require advice or medicine from professionals, but instead good rest, orange juice and some cough drops.

In the “real world,” we generally don’t go to the doctor if we have a bad cold or even a fever, and our employers generally don’t demand notes from medical professionals if we come down with a stomach bug and can’t go in to work for a day. Requiring students to go to the health center to get an excused absence when they feel sick is a waste of student time and, more importantly, an unnecessary drain on the time and resources of our health center staff and resources.

More shocking, however, is how rarely health center staff provide permission for students to be excused from class. Haven’t we all encountered classmates who feverishly hack away in the corner having left the health center with a packet of Sudafed but without their name on the list of students allowed to stay in their dorms and get well? Encouraging students to attend class when they are sick is wrong.

Not only are unwell students actively contaminating the classroom and the people in it, but they are also prolonging their healing time by walking and talking when they really should be sleeping and sipping Emergen-C. Most students cannot operate at the same academic capaccity when their bodies are fighting sickness. Could it be that when these chronically ill students come to class, these factors result in a net decrease in campus productivity compared to if they were allowed to miss class once or twice and get well?

Shouldn’t Kenyon students, who have chosen to attend Kenyon independently and have invested financially in the Kenyon experience (at a rate of about $5,900 per course), be allowed to decide whether or not they are fit for class on their own? Shouldn’t they handle the situation by communicating directly with their professors? In the absence of a requirement for health center permission, shouldn’t faculty create attendance policies that encourage students to heal more quickly (and under less stress) and, most crucially, avoid infecting other students?

Oberlin College, Wesleyan University, Miami University and many other schools, both private and public, abide by guidelines that acknowledge student independence, encourage students to listen to and care for their bodies and appreciate greater efficiency in health centers.

Quinn Rathkamp ’18 is a history major from Bellingham, Wash. Contact her at

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