CEDAR FALLS | Pregnant students at the University of Northern Iowa would not be penalized for missing class for a medical absence under a policy change approved by the Faculty Senate, but it still has a few steps before official adoption.
On Monday, senators unanimously voted to adopt federal language into the university’s Class Attendance and Make-Up Work policy. Pregnant students would be allowed to make up missed work without a penalty if a doctor deems their absence necessary. The policy must revisit the policy review committee and the president’s cabinet where it may be altered further.
A letter from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights sent in June revealed that UNI lacked a university-wide policy to protect pregnant students' rights under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
Only 2 percent of young women who had a child before the age of 19 earned a college degree by age 30. "This low education attainment means that young parents are more likely than their peers to be unemployed or underemployed," the letter states.
All public and private schools, school districts, colleges, and universities receiving federal financial assistance must comply with these rules.
Though the Senate unanimously approved the change, not all members were in agreement over how it should be worded.
The proposed language crafted by the UNI policy review committee was gender-neutral, meaning both parents could be considered for an excused absence related to pregnancy or child birth. But the federal guidelines stipulate that the pregnant female should be the subject of such protection.
"I don’t see any reason why a person's partner wouldn’t want to be present at the birth of their child. And if there are serious illnesses that would have to be addressed, why they wouldn’t also be included in this policy?” asked Christopher Edginton, senator and director of the School of Health, Physical Education & Leisure Services.
Some senators suggested throwing out the student absence policy altogether and substituting it with the sick leave policy outlined in United Faculty's collective bargaining agreement. It stipulates faculty can use up to five days for illness including pregnancy.
"What’s good for faculty is good for students,” said Todd Evans, associate professor in the College of Education.
With a lack of consensus surrounding university-drafted language, the senators agreed to adopt the federal guidelines, which would ultimately trump home-written rule.
"We've been out of compliance since the start of semester,” said Mike Licari, associate provost. "If the Senate fails to act and change the policy, it does not mean pregnant students do not have access to those rights. It just becomes complicated and a big headache for students if we don't have this in place."
The senate also threw out proposed changes to the absence policy for military and court ordered appearances.
Initially, the policy committee suggested granting excused absences only for mandatory civic duties, like jury duty. That way, for example, students would not be able to make up work or an exam for criminal offenses like drunken driving.
But some senators raised concerns that would infringe basic rights.
"I'm opposed to doing this because I think everyone is innocent until proven guilty so we should allow them to go to their trial," said Laura Terlip, secretary of the Faculty Senate and associate professor of the communications department.
The Senate voted to restore the original language: absences due to military duty or veteran status and legally mandated absences are excused.