Why are the in absentia forms so cumbersome to fill out?

Date: June 2018



I am wondering why the “in absentia” form is so unnecessarily cumbersome to fill out? You have to submit a letter from your advisor, signatures from all committee members, the GFA and the DGS, all before June 15 (even though the Fall semester does not start until late August). I only recently finalized my plans for Fall 2018 and it has been a nightmare trying to get six(!) unnecessary signatures. None of those six people really have any say in or feelings about my decision to be in absentia, the decision was made between me and my committee chair. All of my committee members (and my DGS) travel during the summer and it has been such a waste of time trying to track everyone down. I’m just wondering why the Grad School is making it such a burden for us to fill out this form. I have talked to others who have been or are planning to be in absentia and they all have the same complaints. I feel there must be a better way to streamline this process.




Dear Anonymous,

Before I answer your question, allow me to provide a bit of background on the Graduate School’s in absentia status since it is not uniformly understood. Unlike a Leave of Absence, in absentia status is a special form of full-time registration that is available, by petition, to students who will be engaged in their studies away from campus for a given semester. The most notable advantage of this status is that the normal tuition charge (typically $10,400 – $14,750 per semester for doctoral programs) is reduced to $200! Page 22 of the Code of Legislation of the Graduate Faculty provides more information on the policy, but I’ve include an excerpt here:

In Absentia Registration

In absentia status provides an opportunity for graduate students to engage in approved study during the academic year while continuing to work under the guidance of the special committee but in a location at least 100 miles away from the University’s campus location for the program in which the student has been registered (e.g., Ithaca, Geneva, Cornell Tech). Any regular degree or provisional student registered with the Graduate School may petition for in absentia status. When approved by his or her special committee and the Graduate School, in absentia status allows the student to engage in study away from the University during the academic year. While in approved in absentia status, students may not take classes or engage in research or scholarship at another Cornell Graduate School campus location. Provided such an arrangement enhances the student’s program of study, registering in absentia allows a master’s or doctoral student to meet registration requirements toward degree requirements

Because of the very large tuition differential between regular registration and in absentia registration, Cornell’s financial auditors require us to have a robust process to minimize fraud and abuse. (Unfortunately, we have discovered cases where students were not honest about their location or academic plans, hence the need for lots of documentation.) Your special committee would certainly be expected to know your plans to be away from campus for a semester, and the policy above notes that special committee approval is required, but if you are having a hard time getting their signatures the Graduate School is always willing to accept their approval via email. We ask that the petition to be submitted by June 15th because fall bursar bills are sent to students in early July and we need two weeks to review all the petitions (there are many!) and process those that are approved in time to generate a correct bill. In absentia petitions that are submitted after June 15th will still be reviewed but may result in finance charges if the bursar bill is not settled by the due date. 

Ultimately, we hope students and their advisors understand that the $10,000+ in tuition savings may require a few administrative steps and some advanced planning, but the resulting benefits and savings are well worth the effort.



Jason Kahabka 
Associate Dean for Administration