Northern Iowa Student Government passed a resolution in Spring 2020, requesting to change policy 3.06 to require instructors to excuse students from absences due to religious observance. Although the current policy provides for discretionary excuse of such absences, the NISG resolution requests a policy change to make excuse of those absences mandatory. Under the policy, students must be allowed to make-up missed work or complete an alternative assignment when an absence is due to a reason that falls under the class of events that qualify as mandatory excused absences. The Educational Policies Commission has proposed changes to the policy which are consistent with this request, as indicated in the marked-up policy change proposal.
Therefore, be it resolved that the University Faculty Senate approves the change to Policy 3.06 recommended by the Educational Policies Commission. The proposed change requires instructors to excuse student absences when such absences pertain to religious observance.
Last Spring, after the NISG passed their resolution requesting this policy change, senate officers consulted with university attorneys to determine our legal standing in this situation. They could find no specific legal precedent, but their opinion was that failing to alter the policy to mandate accommodation for religious observance would leave the university exposed to legal challenge under the first amendment. Further, when deliberating this issue, an EPC sub-committee, together with the Senate Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion reviewed similar provisions for several institutions, discovering that institutions generally provide excused absence for religious observance. Thus, failing to alter the policy in at least the minimal way proposed by the EPC would leave us out of step with institutional norms, and very likely leaves the university exposed to legal challenge. Thus, it is incumbent on us to adapt our policy in the proposed manner to resolve these deficiencies.