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Statutory declarations benefit students

By Cameron Wong, October 5 2018 —

As our 2018 calendars peel away to their final pages, we approach the most dreaded season of all. Winter — with its snow-jacketed trees and threads of impatient cars on Crowchild Trail — is soon upon us. If the lack of daylight and freezing temperatures aren’t enough to dampen your mood, winter brings the annual flu season to ruin your workweek. The sniffles and coughs that fill the pauses between professors’ voices are a hallmark of winter months.

Despite diligent handwashing, it seems like I catch something every year. As much as I try to keep on top of my courses, I know the best cure for sickness is to rest and let my immune system do its job. But for some students, the timeframe of flu season can turn their schedule on its head. This is especially true during midterms and finals, when students must be at the top of their academic game.

Picture this — you wake up at noon on a mid-December day after some late-night cramming for your final, but you’re as nauseous as a storm-tossed sailor. You turn your legs to reach the floor, but rattling coughs knock you back into the sheets. Your final is today, so what do you do?

Prior to this year, you would have needed to head over to the doctor’s office, pay $35 or so for a medical note and use the medical note as an excuse for missing a piece of coursework. This year, however, the University of Calgary ditched the mandatory medical note for deferring classwork or exams in lieu of statutory declarations. Now, students can instead fill out a form explaining their absence, testify before one of the several Commissioners of Oaths on campus and use the declaration to defer tests or assignments.

Allowing statutory declarations fixes a burden on the medical system caused by requiring a medical note. If you travel to the doctor’s office for the sole purpose of obtaining a slip of paper certifying that, yes, you’re indeed too sick to attend class or write an exam, you take a spot from another patient who could be actively treated for illness. Even more, while you’re sitting in the waiting room coughing up a storm, you could pass on your cold or flu to other patients and medical staff. Subjecting hundreds of sick students to this process is a recipe for disaster.

It is shocking that despite the clear benefits of statutory declarations, the U of C is among a sparse number of Canadian universities to have adopted them.

An argument against allowing these declarations in place of a doctor’s note is that doctors are in an authoritative position, giving them the ability to validate a student’s inability to attend class or write an exam. In reality, doctors will provide medical notes for any illness that would excuse a student, even ones that cannot be immediately diagnosed. The $35 you pay for a sheet of paper could be better spent on prescriptions or cold medicine that actually aid your recovery.

Another advantage of statutory declarations is their inclusivity, allowing students to decide if their situation allows them to attend class. Extenuating circumstances, such as sudden family emergencies, are easily accounted for by the new system. For natural disasters that affect large portions of the student population, such as the 2013 Calgary flood, absences are more logically justified in terms of individual circumstance, rather than assuming that all excuses are related to a physical incapacitation.

Shifting from the logistical perspective of policy-making, what makes statutory declarations such a great advancement for the U of C is that they show that faculties recognize students as responsible, honest adults. Responsibility sounds like a scary thing — and sometimes it is — but it’s closely related to the concept of freedom. Recognizing that it’s our job to make up for missed assignments gives us the freedom to decide when it’s appropriate to excuse ourselves in the first place.

And why shouldn’t the university trust us to do this? We are the ones paying for our degree and we are the ones in charge of our future.

Statutory declarations are a vast improvement over doctor’s notes. They unburden the public health system, are inclusive towards all types of circumstances and place responsibility where it should be — in the hands of students. The U of C made the right decision and it’s time that other Canadian universities follow our lead.

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