Of Pandemics and Pedagogy – Trevor Holmes

Coughing Girl
Coughing Girl

At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, I must say I have mixed reactions to the Daily Bulletin’s story about dealing with students who have the misfortune of coming down with the H1N1 influenza virus. In short, while Senate has tightened up the rules for documentation of illness as prerequisite to any accommodations, the University has simultaneously declared H1N1 to be free of any documentation requirements whatsoever.

My mixed reactions? Doubts about student honesty when faced with intense pressure at midterm and final exam time… elation that campus might not be full of people coughing in my office hallway and meeting rooms… admiration for a Health Services Director and a Provost who take so seriously the protocols recommended by experts… and finally, suspicions about the culture of fear and omnipresent danger constructed by pandemicism itself in institutions today. See Health Services Director Dr. Schumacher’s link to Lancet for an interesting take on the pandemic as a phenomenon and a term.

I think first and foremost my mind jumped to the possibilities for dishonesty; I wonder how many instructors will join me in groaning about the carte blanche just handed to every student, and the headaches that will come from accommodating different assignment deadlines, even different exam questions, just because someone claims to have an undiagnosed case of H1N1. I regret these thoughts. I really do. After fifteen years of postsecondary teaching, perhaps I’ve become cynical! Perhaps for the most part, people will be honest, and only a very few will take advantage of this opportunity to get out of work. Too, if this kind of free pass is used to mitigate someone’s serious case of undiagnosed anxiety or depression rather than the flu for which it was intended, then maybe it’s ok. And if we reduce the number of people stricken with the flu, that’s good too.

There’s still another possibility that is raised here — what if we were to start from the supposition that students will be honest, and not require any sort of documentation for any kind of illness or absence? Won’t habitual absentees only cause themselves problems anyway? Has institutional paternalism produced generation after generation of people trying to find loopholes? Maybe the honesty-dishonesty division is the result rather than the cause of policy. I know, I know — this makes me sound like some species of educational anarchist. Probably that’s not who you want helping you with your curriculum or your teaching dossier, so I’d better shut my trap. But the question remains — what kinds of identities are constituted in and by layers of policy and what kinds of openings are afforded by this particular turn of emergency planning? Love to hear your arguments.

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As Senior Instructional Developer, Curriculum and Programming, Trevor Holmes plans and delivers workshops and events in support of faculty across the career span. Prior to joining the Centre for Teaching Excellence, Trevor worked at a variety of universities teaching courses, supporting faculty and teaching assistants through educational development offices, and advising undergraduates. Trevor’s PhD is from York University in English Literature, with a focus on gothic literature, queer theory, and goth identities. A popular workshop facilitator at the national and international levels, Trevor is also interested in questions of identity in teaching and teaching development.

One thought on “Of Pandemics and Pedagogy – Trevor Holmes”

  1. Update from the Author: It would seem I’ve come down with flu-like symptoms myself after a jaunt through airports and a New England college. I’m following dutifully the University recommendations to stay away from the office.

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