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Faculty senate makes Election Day 2024 non-instructional

Katherine Hui / Thresher

By Marie Valera     2/15/23 12:38am

The faculty senate passed a Student Association sponsored resolution on Feb. 1, making the 2024 presidential Election Day a non-instructional civic engagement day. Therefore, no classes will be scheduled on Nov. 5, 2024, a change that currently only applies to the 2024 academic year. 

Faculty senate speaker Allie Kieffer, who led the vote at the meeting, said that despite some concerns over losing a day of classes, the faculty senate was largely in favor of the resolution. 

“Faculty were largely, certainly, universally in support of supporting student voting and … removing barriers for students to vote. I think faculty across the board felt very, very strongly about that,” Kieffer said. “There was concern from some faculty about losing the day, because it’s not a small thing to lose a day out of the syllabus, especially [because] there’s some classes that only meet one day a week.” 

David Messmer, a member of the faculty senate, said that the lost day of classes will not be made up. 

“Ultimately, [the classes that meet weekly] are just going to miss that week,” Messmer said. “There was a proposed amendment that came up from one of the faculty members who was concerned about that … But every time someone raised the possibility, the complications that [followed] were probably more troublesome than just having the day off.” 

During the 2020 presidential election, former Rice President David Leebron sent an email to faculty members calling for asynchronous classes and for no assignments to be due on Election Day. However, 2024 would be the first year for a completely non-instructional Election Day.

Vivian Zheng, a Baker College junior, said that she appreciates that Rice continues to set a precedent for being lenient with coursework on Election Day.

“[The 2020 presidential Election Day] really was a day of civic duty and reflecting on voting, especially with that presidential election, so it’s not that this hasn’t really happened before,” Zheng said. “Also in 2022, President [Reggie] DesRoches sent out an email … to encourage staff to also make [midterm elections] a day with no classes or [have an] asynchronous [lecture].” 

SA Treasurer Solomon Ni worked with SA Senator Olivia Roark to draft the resolution in 2021. Ni said the SA saw other universities enacting similar policies and wanted to bring that to Rice. 

“We decided … to follow in the steps of other peer institutions, like Brown [University] and Columbia [University], that have designated Election Day as a holiday,” Ni, a Jones College sophomore, said. 

Ni said that this resolution may help alleviate the long lines on Election Day that Rice has seen in the past. 

“Voting times usually condensed around periods where people were free … like lunch and whenever all the classes got out at the end of the day, which led to long lines at the Sewall Hall voting location,” Ni said. 

Roark said that she also considered how voting has become more difficult in Texas when drafting the resolution. 

“I think with the trends that we’re seeing in voter suppression, particularly in Texas, it’s all the more important that we make it as easy as possible to vote,” Roark said. 

John Alford, a Rice professor of political science and a researcher in voting behavior, said that he does not expect this resolution to significantly increase voter turnout at Rice. 

“We know from a variety of other kinds of efforts to increase voter turnout in the United States that the effects tend to be fairly modest,” Alford said. “A lot of the decision to vote and voting behavior is not just a cost benefit calculation. It’s also a kind of a promotional or community activity.” 

Alford said that although he thinks this resolution is the first step to the SA’s mission of increasing civic engagement among the student body, there’s still more the SA and Rice’s administration could do to increase election participation. 

“Among the important things about this [resolution] is the symbolism of the university saying, ‘We think voting is more important than ever in democracy,’” Alford said. “There can be some seminars about the election. You can have election launch parties in the evening [or] have food trucks over [by Sewall Hall], and [when] you get an I voted button you get a free taco … Make [election day] about the celebration of elections [and the] celebration of voting … I think people really get caught up in that.” 

Although this resolution will only apply to the presidential election in 2024, Messmer said that he believes future elections may be designated as non-instructional days as well. 

“You could just tell by the reaction in the room [at the faculty senate meeting] that we understand this [resolution] is probably not going to be a one off,” Messmer said. “ [With] presidential elections [specifically], I would be shocked if this doesn’t become standard practice.” 

Roark said that she will continue advocating for non-instructional days during elections. 

“I’m going to keep pushing until we get as many election days off as possible,” Roark said. “I think election days for presidential elections are the most likely to be consistent. I’m not sure about midterms, but we’re going to try.”

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