Student Accommodations

Guidance is provided  on matters that concern student accommodations.  Additional help is provided through the links  below and the  human resource staffs in the colleges. Some colleges  maintain documents that clarify the protocols for their faculty and students.


Faculty must know how to process  an array of possible accommodation requests. Here are some examples that illustrate the variety:

A visually-impaired student requests  large-type versions of all course materials and exams. More on students with disabilities.

A student requests an alternate exam date because the scheduled date  creates a conflict with his/her religious practice. More on religious observance accommodation.

A student who has been harassed by a classmate requests transfer to a different section so as to avoid contact. More on Title IX-related accommodations.

A varsity athlete requests to be excused from a required-attendance class because of travel to an out-of-town competition. More on varsity athlete requests.

A student requests a due date extension on the basis of being diagnosed with a concussion. More on medical accommodations.

A student in the National Guard is required to report for duty because of a national emergency. More on military service accommodation requests.

A student requests to be excused from class for other reasons, e.g.,  a job interview,  a sibling’s wedding, club sports, etc. More on miscellaneous accommodation requests.

General Tips for Faculty

Familiarity with these student absence from class general principles is recommended.

The following practices typically facilitate the implementation of an  accommodation and by so doing, reduce angst:

  1. Create a climate that encourages students to be forthcoming with their requests. Use the first week of class and/or  the course syllabus to communicate an appreciation of the accommodation process. Remember that Freshman and others new to campus may feel awkward about asking for an accommodation.
  2. Stress that accommodation requests need to be submitted  as soon as possible so that there is adequate lead time to work out logistics.
  3. Make it clear that “night before” accommodation requests due to procrastination are very problematic.
  4. Take steps to ensure that students can submit their accommodation requests in a way that respects confidentiality.
  5. If the same accommodation is to be applied throughout the term, then  set things up at the start in a way that obviates the need for awkward and sometimes demeaning reminders. For example, if a student gets extra time on Prelim 1, then you know they get extra time on Prelim 2.
  6.  Consider the creation of  “wiggle room” with respect to course requirements.  For example “students are allowed to skip two of the weekly quizzes without penalty” or “students can miss three classes over the semester without penalty”  or “there are three prelims but we only count the two best scores.” This is an effective way to  handle “cannot-be-there”  requests due to minor illness, job interviews, etc.  However, be mindful that students should not  have to spend a “free pass” for  the expected accommodations listed below.

Accommodations that Instructors are Expected to Provide

Disability Accommodations

According to Federal law, ADHD, learning disabilities, certain physical and mental health conditions, vision and hearing disabilities, and a traumatic brain injury are examples of disabilities.  Students with these and other qualified disabilities are entitled to accommodations with proper documentation.  Student Disability Services (SDS) works closely with students to determine eligibility for disability services and appropriate access accommodations for each course.  SDS consults with course instructors as needed and provides extensive resources for faculty. Especially useful is  this FAQ. Arrangements should be made at the start of the semester if they are known at the time.  Sometimes a mid-semester injury creates a disability. Here are the protocols for handling that kind of situation.

Religious-Observance Accommodations

The Office of Spirituality and Meaning Making  maintains a comprehensive accommodation website that is an extremely valuable resource for both students and faculty. Many students are unaware that steps can be taken so that they can be committed to both their faith and their studies.  Some are aware but hesitant to  seek an accommodation because they fear  retribution once their faith is revealed. These realities make it all the more important to communicate  accommodation mechanisms early in the term, preferably via a published syllabus. The sensitive handling of a religious-observance accommodation sends a positive message to the student because it reaffirms  Cornell’s commitment to diversity of thought. This calendar  of religious holidays should be consulted before scheduling due dates and exams.

Instructional staff are required by New York State law to accommodate students when religious observance conflicts with exam-taking, class attendance, and other course-related requirements:

“3. It shall be the responsibility of the faculty and of the administrative officials of each institution of higher education to make available to each student who is absent from school, because of his or her religious beliefs, an equivalent opportunity to . . . make up any examination, study or work requirements which he or she may have missed because of such absence on any particular day or days. . . .

“4. If . . . classes, examinations, study or work requirements are held on Friday after four o’clock post meridian or on Saturday, similar or makeup classes, examinations, study or work requirements . . . shall be made available on other days, where it is possible and practicable to do so. . . .”

Title IX Accommodations

Through Cornell University Policy 6.4, the university provides means to address bias, discrimination, harassment, and sexual and related misconduct, including gender-based harassment, sexual harassment, sexual assault, domestic and dating violence, stalking, and sexual exploitation. In accordance with federal and state law, Cornell offers a range of resources, support services, and measures to protect the safety and well-being members of the community and to promote an accessible educational environment. Some such measures are Interim Measures, which may include academic accommodations or no-contact orders and may be issued based upon a party’s request or at the University’s own initiative. In all instances, the University will, at its discretion, determine whether any given Interim Measure is reasonable and appropriate. Typically the Title IX Office works with the associate dean of the school, who will then work with the faculty member, when an accommodation pursuant to Policy 6.4 is requested.

Varsity Athlete Accommodations

Athletes are responsible for informing their instructors well in advance of any class days to be missed due to university-approved athletic events. All varsity student-athletes are expected to compare their class syllabi with their team’s approved missed class time for competition and alert professors to any conflict.

Student-athletes within the Ivy League are held to very high standards.  Evidence of this at Cornell includes the oversight provided by the Faculty Committee on Athletics and Physical Education  (FACAPE) and the policies and expectations set forth in  the Student-Athlete Handbook. Each team’s competition schedule and associated missed class time is approved by FACAPE in order to assure that absences are minimized and within approved limits.  The FACAPE Missed Class Time Policy helps assure that athletic obligations are kept in appropriate context with academic standards and expectations of our institution. At the beginning of each semester, student-athletes are given a missed class time memo with their approved schedule to help facilitate conversation with faculty regarding expected missed class time. Unforeseen changes to the schedule may occur due to weather, facility, transportation, or other circumstances.  Such changes are officially communicated by the Department of Athletics & Physical Education to student-athletes by email to be shared with faculty.  In any and all regards, it is the varsity athlete’s responsibility to make arrangements with their instructor(s) to make up any missed assignments or requirements.

Participation in varsity athletics is recognized and supported as part of the overall undergraduate educational experience at Cornell University.  Faculty are encouraged to respect the value of out-of-classroom learning that occurs through participation in varsity athletics and are expected to develop ways for course requirements to be met if and when there is conflict with a student-athlete’s athletic schedule.”

Instructors who have concerns about a particular varsity-athlete accommodation request should contact the FACAPE Chair or the Dean of Faculty.

Health-Related Accommodations

Cornell Health does not provide excuses for routine illnesses, injuries, and mental health problems that may lead to missed classes, labs, studios, exams, or deadline.  This longstanding policy resembles those of most other major universities and is consistent with the recommendations of the American College Health Association.  The University expects students to be honest with their professors regarding their ability to complete work and that they communicate any accommodations request in a timely fashion.  Professors are expected to work with students on these issues.  Academic advising staff and associate deans are available to provide assistance to students or faculty members who have concerns about attendance issues.  We offer a brief FAQ on supporting students who require short-term flexibility for acute illness and injuries, and additional guidance on supporting students who may need formal disability accommodations.

Military Service

Reservists and active duty students may be called away to complete mandatory military service for varying lengths of time. In such cases Federal and State Law requires that steps be taken to ensure readmission to the student’s educational program.    The instructor should work with the student and others to ensure that the return to school is as smooth as possible.

Other Accommodations

Other types of accommodation requests  are approved at the  discretion of the instructor. Overall fairness, educational value, and responsibilities to family  are among the factors that can be taken into account. In a timely fashion, students are expected to provide enough detail  about their request for an accommodation so that the instructor can make an informed and  respectful decision. This is particularly important when a requirement for one course conflicts with the meeting time for another course. Conflicts of that sort need to be resolved at the beginning of the semester.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email