Editorial: As Election Day approaches, professors should adjust their expectations so students can exercise their civic duty
With the 2020 presidential election exactly a week away, tension is mounting, and voters are flooding to the polls. As this board wrote last week, it is incredibly important that Brandeis students vote up and down the ballot this election cycle. We now turn to professors and ask that they accommodate students on and around Election Day to ensure that everyone who is eligible can vote without it interfering with their academics.
The upcoming election is arguably the most important presidential contest of our lives. The issues at stake — from the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis to the future of racial justice and the federal courts — will determine the course of our adult lives. Yet COVID-19 safety concerns, anxiety surrounding mail-in voting after recent attacks on the postal service and incredibly long lines at the polls all make voting more complicated and time-consuming this election cycle.
We should not feel like we have to choose between being voters and being students this Election Day. This board is grateful that the University Administration understands this as well. In an Oct. 16 string of emails to School of Arts and Sciences faculty that Prof. Peter May (JOUR) provided to the Justice, Provost Lisa Lynch asked teachers to “consider how to accommodate [students’] need to take time away from class in order to exercise their right to vote.” Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences Dorothy Hodgson seconded Lynch’s message by highlighting “one option” that professors could employ: “to reschedule classes or assignments that were supposed to be held or due that day.”
This board applauds these directives and the professors who are already taking steps to support students. It is important that students know that their professors have received this messaging, as this should hopefully lessen any anxiety students may have about asking to miss class to vote. While we recognize that Lynch and Hodgson do not require anything in their email, we call on professors to follow the spirit of the emails and do everything they can to enable students to focus on voting instead of academia on Nov. 3. At the very least, professors should relax attendance policies on Election Day so that students do not have their grades penalized for missing class, and they should be supportive and accommodating of requests for extensions.
Finally, this board would like to remind professors that Nov. 3 will also be a day of anxiety and stress for many students, whether or not they are heading to the polls. It is unfortunately likely that this anxiety will continue into the days and weeks that follow, as experts warn it is probable that a winner may not be announced on election night. We urge professors to take the emotional turmoil that will accompany these election results seriously and treat students with empathy and understanding, recognizing that academic focus may be hard to come by as the situation unfolds. We know that many professors, administrators and staff members will be grappling with the same anxieties, and we hope the Brandeis community can all support each other throughout this time of uncertainty.