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Several Harvard Classes Adjust Election Day Attendance Policies

As Harvard students brace for an unconventional Election Day, several undergraduate courses have announced altered schedules, including non-mandatory attendance on Tuesday, cancelled lectures, and postponed assignment deadlines.
As Harvard students brace for an unconventional Election Day, several undergraduate courses have announced altered schedules, including non-mandatory attendance on Tuesday, cancelled lectures, and postponed assignment deadlines. By Sara Komatsu
By Jasper G. Goodman and Andy Z. Wang, Crimson Staff Writers

As Harvard students brace for an unconventional Election Day, several undergraduate courses have announced altered schedules, including non-mandatory attendance on Tuesday, cancelled lectures, and postponed assignment deadlines.

In an email to students in Statistics 110: “Probability,” Statistics professor Joseph K. Blitzstein wrote that he would not mandate any participation on Election Day.

“I think that Election Day (next Tuesday) should be both a national holiday and a Harvard holiday. Unfortunately, it is neither,” Blitzstein wrote. “I don't think it makes sense to cancel class unilaterally, but I will exempt you from all participation/attendance expectations for the day, for both lecture and sections.”

Anthropology professor Ieva Jusionyte said she cancelled the lecture for Anthropology 1610: “Ethnographic Research Methods” on Tuesday in order to give students more time to vote.

“I’ve talked to students who have been waiting in long lines to cast a ballot early, others have not received their voting documents. So people are in very different situations and are very stressed,” Jusionyte said. “I wanted to have this open policy so they really focus on voting and helping others vote and being there for their family and the community.”

Jusionyte said she would also be providing resources and assignment flexibility following the election.

“There’s a lot of concern about the students’ well-being, and thinking about what kind of support faculty can provide — in terms of flexibility with course assignments or sharing resources that would be available for the students, or making themselves available for conversations both before the election, but also the following days,” Jusionyte said.

Other courses are also altering assignments and lectures immediately following the election. Education lecturer Katherine K. Merseth wrote in an email to Gen Ed 1076: “Equity and Excellence in K12 American Schools” students that the live lecture for Wednesday, Nov. 4, will be replaced with a mandatory pre-recorded lecture.

Similarly, David Freund, preceptor for Math 21b: “Linear Algebra and Differential Equations,” wrote to students that all sections on Nov. 4 would be cancelled and assignment deadlines would be postponed two days.

The changes to individual courses come after a student-organized petition calling on the University to designate Election Day as a school-wide holiday drew over 1,250 signatures this fall. University President Lawrence S. Bacow told The Crimson earlier this month that Harvard has “taken a number of steps” to ensure that affiliates are able to vote, but maintained that he felt “comfortable” with the University’s stance to not designate Election Day a holiday.

Kylie M. Simms ’23, a student in both Stat 110 and Math 21b, said she appreciates the changes Blitzstein made, but noted that students could still face burdens if they have been unable to vote early.

“If we don’t go on Tuesday, then we have to make it up later in the week, which is a burden alongside other classes,” she said of the Stat 110 changes. “But I do appreciate the effort in making it so we can focus on other things on Tuesday.”

Simms also said she would appreciate further support from the University for Election Day.

“I think there definitely should be a lot more institutional support for Election Day in general,” she said. “If we have to attend classes on Election Day rather than wait in lines to vote, that could inhibit our ability to fulfill our civic duty.”

—Staff writer Andy Z. Wang can be reached at andy.wang@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Jasper G. Goodman can be reached at jasper.goodman@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jasper_Goodman.

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