There are a variety of reasons that Penn faculty might miss class. While professors are expected to be present and prepared for scheduled course meetings, occasionally family emergencies, academic conferences, and work-related meetings get in the way. When these absences last for an extended period of time, however, students often find them disruptive.
Vice Provost for Faculty Anita Allen said, “University policies, as represented by the Faculty Handbook, do require that professors be extremely responsible with respect to their teaching duties.”
However, she acknowledged that there are “a lot of legitimate reasons” to miss classes, including emergencies, family events, and unavoidable professional obligations.
“I do think that one has to remember that professors are human beings,” Allen said.
Wharton freshman Revi Aloni said that one of her professors missed class for over a week at the end of the past fall semester to travel to interview for a new job. While the professor had replacement lecturers, they only covered review material they had already learned in the past.
“I just feel like because he knew ahead of time that he wasn’t going to be there, the classes all throughout were rushed,” she said.
She added that this set her class back compared to other sections.
“There was some material, especially towards the end, that we didn’t get to that other classes did, and then on the final it came up and put us at a disadvantage,” Aloni said.
While specific faculty policies vary by school, Penn’s Faculty Handbook recommends that “only compelling personal or professional reasons should prevent faculty members from holding all classes at the scheduled times and places” and that “every effort should be made to reschedule classes missed because of a teacher’s absence.”
Other students are less affected by professors missing classes. Engineering freshman Cristian Constantin said that when his professor attended a weeklong conference in the middle of the semester, “it didn’t make a difference.”
Constantin said that the professor notified the class in advance and arranged for replacement lecturers who were “very prepared.”
“It didn’t bother me, and I don’t think it bothered anyone,” he added.
Allen said conferences specifically are an important part of the Penn mission.
“We are a large research university with some of the top experts in their fields, and it’s going to be expected that professors will sometimes have to attend professional meetings or a conference on campus or off campus — that will mean they will have to regrettably reschedule a planned class,” Allen said.
When such is the case, Allen said that it is important for professors to notify students in advance or as soon as possible in cases of emergency. Furthermore, she said that "rescheduling classes is an expectation of the University."
Professor Jim Haglund, who missed three days of class to attend a conference in the fall, admitted that it is “kind of rare” to miss so many scheduled classes like he did. However, he said that he prepared PowerPoint presentations for his substitute lecturers to ensure that students would not fall behind.
“I think you can get by with a week as long as you have subs to cover the classes," Haglund said. "It’s not a big impact on the students."
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