Enacting the Senate’s ‘Course Attendance and Engagement’ Policy

The goal of this page is to support instructors in applying this legislation within your courses. 
NEW for Fall 2023: Office of the Provost offers an interpretation and guidance about this policy

What is the policy change?

In June 2022, the University Senate passed Course Attendance and Engagement legislation. A key—and challenging—provision of the legislation is that course policies are meant to be “reason neutral”: instructors who require attendance and/or penalize absences “shall not ask for reasons for absences and shall not distinguish between ‘excused’ and ‘unexcused’ absences since there is no equitable way to confirm the veracity of student-provided reasons or documentation outside the university context” (exceptions exist for disability-related accommodations, religious observances, and university-sponsored events).

Why was the change made?

The goal of the new legislation is to increase transparency and fairness in how course policies are understood and applied at UO. Rather than students and faculty negotiating different excuses and entering into a range of differentiated expectations—which can be exhausting for faculty and disadvantage the students who are least likely to ask for exceptions—"reason neutral” acknowledges that challenges inevitably happen and result in missed class meetings. If “reason neutral” is working well, it should take faculty out of the uncomfortable and potentially problematic task of bestowing a kind of legitimacy on students’ reported experiences: "okay, this sounds bad, you’re excused”; “this sounds less credible, I can’t excuse you.”  

How do I implement the policy?

To implement the new policy, you may need to make changes to your attendance policies and update your syllabi. Students have reported feeling pressured to come to class while ill because of how faculty interpreted the Course Attendance and Engagement legislation. Therefore, we encourage you to consider policies that are generous enough to account for student illness. 

Instructors have the discretion to decide what attendance policy best supports their courses (including not requiring attendance at all). 

The legislation also assumes that faculty who require attendance do so because a particular level of attendance is necessary to meet specific learning goals and that faculty will be as generous as they can be in setting their policies while preserving the integrity of student learning. 

If you allow any level of student absences, do align with this UO policy by doing one of the following:

  1. you set your attendance policy with extraordinary circumstances students may experience in mind, allowing the maximum number of absences a student could have and still reach the course learning objectives, or  
  2. you set your attendance policy with common reasons students would need to miss in mind, and you include a clause in the policy letting students know that in extraordinary circumstances they can request an exception to the policy without disclosing details (and letting them know how to do so), or
  3. you do not require course attendance. 

The following practices are discouraged:

  • Don't set heavy penalties around absences without considering the real challenges students may face. If you feel you might want to break your own policies in support of individual student circumstances, perhaps instead make the standard policy more generous.
  • Don't direct students to the Dean of Students’ Office to receive an “excused” absence. The Dean of Students office is an essential referral for a range of student concerns, but it does not adjudicate and excuse absences.
  • Don't penalize students who add your course after classes start. Course attendance policies should not apply to students who add your course after classes start – those students are not “absent,” they are exercising an option allowed by our registration policies. If your course provides points for attendance or other assignments before the add deadline, embed ways to provide students who add late an equal opportunity to earn those points. A final note, for courses in which attendance during the first class is critical, the Mandatory First Class Attendance policy is a mechanism that can be applied at the course level (not CRN level) to disallow adding courses after classes have started.

What should I consider when assessing my policies?

A good first step in enacting the new legislation is to assess your current policies and look for areas that may need updating in light of the new reason-neutral system. You should ask yourself the following questions:

What specific purpose do my existing attendance requirements serve (if I have them)?  

The Course Attendance and Engagement legislation prompts reflection on why we have the course policies we do—indeed, sometimes attendance policies are inherited or are ones we use out of habit. Ideally, instructors who require attendance do so because it’s not possible for students—individually and/or collectively—to meet course learning objectives with a certain number of absences. For example, meeting a course learning objective may functionally necessitate a specific amount of, say, live practice in the lab to master a skill. Some instructors, however, don’t require attendance and, instead, leave the decision to come to class or not up to students—and that's just fine.  

We know that attendance generally supports student learning; however, many UO instructors motivate attendance in ways that do not involve having a certain number of absences result in a particular letter grade (or failure) by default. For example, some instructors offer points for in-class activities and i-Clicker answers to motivate attendance, or set students in standing groups or teams that check in on one another to deepen social connection and accountability during class meetings.

Instructors who decide they need to require attendance to support the individual and collective work toward the course objectives should then decide what's a necessary amount of class to be present for to meet the course objectives, understanding that life happens to all of us. Students will still contract COVID and need to isolate, and they will face meaningful, even wrenching, personal and family hardships. Your policy should absorb these life challenges to the degree possible.    

If I decide to require attendance, what's the maximum number of times a student could miss class and still meet my learning objectives?

If a certain level of attendance is necessary to meet the course learning objectives, then the reason a student has absences that exceed that level is really not helpful to consider. No matter the reason, they will be unable to meet the objectives.   

In these cases, instructors can support their students by, for example, explaining UO policies on withdrawing or changing grading options, or encouraging them to enroll in an asynchronous online course or file a student petition.   

Instructors can still ask students to engage in additional effort when they miss class. For example, an instructor could offer standing “make-up” work for partial credit. If instructors record classes, they could require students to listen to and respond in some way to those recordings. See other methods used in Fall 2021.   

Some instructors are experimenting with tiered, increasingly consequential make-up work policies that, say, allow students a couple of absences with no make-up work and then require students to submit a one-page paper on each of the third and fourth absences and three-page papers on the fifth and sixth. The key is that these opportunities or requirements are available to all students.

What options for dealing with late work or missed exams work for my context, and how can I communicate them to students?

Your course policies should also be clear about how late work is handled. The Course Attendance legislation states, “Faculty have discretion to determine which, if any, assignments can be turned in late or made up, and what the consequences are as pedagogically appropriate for the course.” This should also address how missed exams are handled.  

For work instructors determine can be made up, instructors can consider designing in: 

  • A set number of late submissions—sometimes referred to as passes or tokens—that students can use without penalty 
  • A span of time students can submit late work within that still supports their learning  
  • An automatic drop of the lowest score for a particular type of assignment  
  • Make-up options for exams with specific constraints applied (within a limited window of time, able to be used a limited number of times a term, etc.)

What do my syllabi need to include?

Once you've taken a thoughtful look at your course policies, it's time to make any adjustments to your syllabi that may need to be made to appropriately reflect the legislation. While the actual attendance policies in a course will be determined by each instructor, all syllabi should:

Make attendance and make-up policies and their impact on grades explicit

The policy states instructors should “Outline any requirements for attendance, how absences affect grades and the conditions under which coursework can be made up.” 

Have a “reason-neutral” policy

Instructors who require attendance and/or penalize absences "shall not ask for reasons for absences and shall not distinguish between ‘excused’ and ‘unexcused’ absences since there is no equitable way to confirm the veracity of student-provided reasons or documentation outside the university context.” This means a course with an absence penalty policy would treat X number of absences for any student in the same manner. There are exceptions to this reason-neutral provision: disability-related accommodations, religious observances, university-sponsored events, and in cases where students have Emergency Academic Notification through the Dean of Students. In those cases, it is up to the student to ask for accommodations for these reasons and provide the necessary documentation prior to missing class or turning in late work, usually at the beginning of the term.

Advise students who experience extensive absences

Course attendance and engagement policies are meant to address common student absences or late work over the course of a term. Instructors should know how to advise students with extraordinary circumstances which might cause extensive absences or late work about their options. Advising students about their options might take the form of including them in your syllabus and noting them to individual students. For instance, instructors may wish to let students know that the units or processes below may be options:     

  • Withdrawal and Grade Change dates and processes. In some cases, the best option is for a student to withdraw or change their grading option while they manage their situation. See Academic Advising’s Registration Decisions page on options for students in terms of withdrawal and grade changes.   
  • Incomplete. If an unexpected situation happens toward the end of the term and a minor but essential requirement hasn’t been completed, an Incomplete may be appropriate.   
  • Student Petitions. Students also have petition options after the term if they were unable to make changes during the term due to their situation.   

For courses that have an engagement policy instead of an attendance policy (such as asynchronous online courses), "syllabi shall outline requirements for engagement, what constitutes lack of engagement, and if and how missed engagement opportunities can be made up."   

Is there sample syllabus language I can use?

Yes! We have created examples of statements that can be added to your syllabus to reflect the above considerations and requirements. Expand the drop-downs to find starting points for addressing the following categories in your syllabus:

Reason-neutral attendance

This is a face-to-face course. Attendance is important because we will develop our knowledge through in-class activities that require your active engagement. We’ll have discussions, small-group activities, and do other work during class that will be richer for your presence, and that you won’t be able to benefit from if you are not there. Excessive absences make it impossible to learn well and succeed in the course. While there is not an automatic grade deduction for missing classes, it is unlikely that students who miss 6 or more classes will be able pass this course. We know our UO community will still be navigating COVID-19 along with flu and other respiratory illnesses, and some students will need to isolate and rest. Please take absences only when necessary, so when they are necessary, your prior attendance will have positioned you for success. If you must miss a class, please fill out the absence report form.     


In-class work is central to meeting our learning objectives. Students may miss four classes this term, regardless of the reason, not including exam days. This means we do not have “excused” or “unexcused” absences except—as is the case for all UO classes—in the cases of religious observances, AEC accommodations, and University-sponsored events with signed documentation presented as early in the term as possible but at least a week ahead of the planned absence or need for accommodation.     

Difficult or complex situations that may impact attendance occur for many of us during a term. This policy means that absences are available both for students who do want to reach out about their experiences and students who do not.   

Late work and missed exams

Assignments in this course are always due on Sundays at 8:00pm. Although deadlines are firm, I have built flexibility into the course in two ways:    

  • All students have two “oops tokens”—an opportunity to turn in an assignment up to one week late for any reason, no questions asked (except for final papers or projects due in week 10 or finals week). 
  • Your lowest assignment score will be dropped.    

I hope both the regular deadline and some built-in flexibility supports your work in the course. Note that late work may not receive detailed feedback.   


In this class, we take three in-class exams each worth 15 percent of your grade. I will offer makeup exams one time in the term provided I’m notified at least 24 hours before the exam.  


Papers are due at 8pm on Tuesdays. Students may submit one paper 24 hours late for any reason once a term. After that it incurs a grade penalty of X for each 24-hour period it is late.   

Notice these policies also observe the reason neutrality principle.   

Extraordinary circumstances, attendance, and deadlines

My course attendance and engagement policies were built with absences and deadline flexibility that students commonly need in mind. There are, however, times when a student may experience an extraordinary circumstancean unanticipated and significant crisisthat impacts their attendance. Exceptions to the attendance policy and/or deadlines may be granted in the event of extraordinary circumstances.

Please contact me as soon as you are able to request it—ideally before the class or deadline has passed, or, if your circumstance makes this difficult, then as soon as possible afterwards. This exception will not be offered on an open-ended basis, so if you need to ask for 
it, please give some consideration to how much time you will realistically need to complete the work.

To activate this policy, send me an email with "Extraordinary circumstance request" in the subject line, and if you are requesting deadline flexibility, let me know by what updated deadline you will be able to submit your assignment. There is no need to explain or offer information about the nature of the extraordinary circumstance in your email—we will trust you only to activate this policy in crisis situation. Please note, too, that detailed feedback on your written work may be delayed or impossible to provide if you're submitting to meet an extended deadline. At the end of term, granting extensions is hard for the teaching team because of UO's tight turnaround on grading. Please be in touch in an emergency and we can discuss your options.

What if I still have questions?

If you find yourself in a situation you’re not sure how to handle, please email otp@uoregon.edu for support. The Provost’s office is providing instructors implementation support as they work toward enacting this legislation.