As Election Day nears, students are looking for ways to get out to the polls. One campus group, ShipVotes, is campaigning to have professors lift absence penalties to further encourage students to vote.
ShipVotes is a campus group that works to help get students registered and educated on the importance of voting. Siara Gutierrez, a ShipVotes student member, voiced concerns at the latest President’s Hour event about how some students may not be able to get to the polls if they will be penalized for missing classes.
Gutierrez asked the panel at President’s Hour if the administration could require professors to lift absence penalties on Election Day. Students who work, have other obligations or have to drive home to vote may find it hard to get to the polls during a school day.
Shippensburg University Chief Diversity Officer Stephanie Jirard said the administration would not instruct professors to lift their absence penalties because the university believes in academic freedom. Jirard explained the executive administration is “in no position to tell professors whether or not to excuse students.”
According to Gutierrez, she feels the administration did not take the proper time to consider the question and did not ask any questions about the idea. The panel at President’s Hour attended virtually and some students attended in person including Gutierrez. Students with questions had to type them into the Zoom chat and Gutierrez said she was not able to ask anything else after getting a response from the panel.
Gutierrez hopes that the administration could encourage professors to lift penalties if they cannot require the removal of absence penalties.
Administration officials said that a university can only cancel classes if the reason pertains to health and safety, according to Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) requirements. Kim Garris, SU chief external relations officer said SU President Laurie Carter has reached out to the state system about allowing universities to have a day off on election days.
“ShipVotes has done an amazing job of informing and educating students and the campus community regarding the importance of registering,” Garris said.
Asking for the administration to require lifting penalties, was not the first effort ShipVotes has made to reach this goal.
The group originally began a petition and were able to get 160 students to sign, according to Gutierrez.
David Monaghan, a faculty lead at ShipVotes and SU sociology professor, agreed with Jirard’s statement that the administration does not have the power to require professors to lift absence penalties. However, Monaghan said he hopes in the future that the administration will cancel classes on Election Day. He noted that this should have been done if the semester were not already shortened.
ShipVotes thinks the administration should exhibit more leadership in the matter and encourage maximum student voter turnout, Monaghan said.
Monaghan is working with the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculty (APSCUF) to encourage professors to lift their penalties. APSCUF has passed a resolution “strongly encouraging faculty to work with students who may need to miss class to vote,” Monaghan said. Outside of this APSCUF and ShipVotes have no power to require professors to lift penalties.
The university encourages everyone to participate in their civic life, Garris said. In addition, the flexibility of mail-in voting for Pennsylvania and Maryland residents takes into account busy schedules of those like students and educators, according to Garris.