Towson enacts bereavement policy
After three years of planning and preparing, Towson University has finally approved its new bereavement procedure, which would grant students up to five days off to mourn the loss of a significant relation.
The procedure, which was approved unanimously by the University Senate, was signed on Feb. 27 by the University President, Provost, Vice President of Academic Affairs and the Vice President of Student Affairs. The procedure will go into effect on Aug. 1, 2014, which will make Towson University the first public university on the east coast to have a bereavement procedure.
University President Maravene Loeschke said in an email that she applauds the work of the Student Government Association and said she believes the procedure “is an important step in allowing a student to appropriately grieve a loss while also maintaining communication with their professors during that difficult period.”
Under the bereavement procedure, all students will be granted five academic days off, with two additional non-academic days off for travel, to mourn the loss of a person with who the student has a significant relationship with. A significant relationship can mean a close relative, step-relative or someone in which the student has legal guardianship over.
To make use of the new policy, students will have to apply for it through the Office of Student Affairs, the office will then contact the student’s professors and inform them that the student will not be present. Students are expected to provide evidence for their time taken off (funeral handouts, certificate of death, etc.) to the Office of Student Affairs upon their return.
Loeschke said that while students will receive time off according to the guidelines in the procedure, they should remember that each student’s situation will be applied on a case by case basis.
“Each situation is different in terms of course work missed, clinical hours and internship requirements that may be affected and that there may be challenges implementing the procedures for some courses of study,” Loeschke said.
Although the procedure is signed, the University Senate is further developing the procedure’s guidelines so that they will run smoothly by Aug. 1.
SGA Vice President Kevin Kutner, one of the main advocates of the procedure, said he was “absolutely thrilled” about the signing.
Despite some skepticism from the University Senate, Kutner said he was surprised at the positive reception the procedure received from the senate. He said that it is common for new policies and procedures to receive some pushback but that wasn’t the case with the policy.
“Human suffering is something we can all empathize with and I think [the members of the senate] took that into account at the meeting,” Kutner said.
Kutner said that one of the features that makes the procedure effective is that the Office of Student Affairs will be handling and organizing each student’s case. By doing this, it eases the burdens that students will have to endure to maintain their emotional health and classwork.
“If I had lost a loved one, I wouldn’t want to have to email all my professors and arrange my schedule with them,” Kutner said. “That’s why we had the student activities office do it for them.”
The idea for the Bereavement Procedure first came up during a public SGA meeting in 2011. A junior male student told the SGA that after attending his grandmother’s funeral in New England, he came back to the University to find that one of his professors told him to withdraw from his class. Because he went to the funeral, the student missed too many classes and the professor felt that he could not catch-up.
Kennard Wallace was present at the meeting and was determined to address the student’s issue with a new policy.
Wallace, now the Student Advisory Council Member at Maryland Higher Education Commission, used the bereavement policy as a campaign promise when he ran for SGA Executive Chief of Staff in 2012. The following year, Kutner promoted the procedure when he ran for Vice President in 2013.
“It’s a great feeling to leave a landmark footprint on campus after years of work,” Wallace said.
Wallace said the new procedure is a much better system than the previous system under which the students were given time off based on a tier system. Under the old system, the death of immediate relatives would grant students the most time off while the student would be granted fewer days for those outside the immediate family.
“We can’t place a value on someone’s relationship title,” Wallace said. “Sometimes a person is closer to their grandfather than their own father.”
Wallace said he is currently having meetings with representatives from Morgan State University and University of Maryland, College Park, who are trying to adopt a similar procedure. He said the ultimate goal for these meetings is to establish similar Bereavement Procedure’s to public and private universities statewide.
Wallace gave credit to his fellow students and colleagues for their help with the procedure. He also gave praise to Student Senator Antonia Bongiovi for her long-time work with the Bereavement Procedure.
While both Wallace and Kutner acknowledge their colleagues for their work, they both said that the procedure would not have happened if the male student had not spoken at the SGA meeting years ago.
“That student did not have to come to that meeting to speak to a room full of strangers, but without [the student] this procedure probably wouldn’t have happened,” Kutner said.