Friday, February 29, 2008

Attendance: Should students be punished?

By Sean O’Brien
News Editor

“What’s the attendance policy for this class?” We’ve all heard this question, and it’s one that is on the mind of most of the student body here at Saint Mary’s University.
The official student handbook policy says “students must consult the course syllabus for the specific attendance policy of each course.” This means that every single class has a different attendance policy, and while some professors go the lenient route, there are many who take away points or even a full letter grade every time students miss class.

While I respect that professors here have a job to do, and they can’t do it without people in the class, I believe there has to be a change to this policy.

The rationale behind an attendance policy is that without it students will not come to class and that every class period students miss equals educational hours they have to make up. Professors believe it is ‘unfair’ for one student to go to class every day and get a B, while another student misses 7 times and also gets a B. To this I would say, life isn’t fair. To think that every student has the same learning rate is foolish. Some people need more time in class, and some need less.

Attendance policies might have worked in high school, especially with the fact half the people didn’t really want to be there. College, on the other hand, is a different animal altogether; we choose to come here, we want to learn, and we are adults that have lives outside of classes that can sometimes take us away from class. When I make a decision to not go to a class, I am well aware of the repercussions of this decision: I have to study more to make up for what I missed, and I have to get notes from someone who was in class. This seems to be ‘punishment’ enough.

By not going to the class, I have basically given myself more work to do, and as an adult that is a consequence I will have to live with or my option is to go to class more. Instead though, if a student misses a class at SMU, not only do they have more work to do, but in most cases they are going to lose points towards their academic grade for something that has nothing to do with academics at all.

I want to be graded based purely on my academic performance. It seems ridiculous to me to drop a grade that says “this is how well the student understood this material” from an acceptable B to an unacceptable C because of how often that student was sitting in a room.

My solution is simply this: instead of trying to make students come to class by holding a punishment over their heads, why not re-evaluate the methods of teaching. To use a favorite quote from one of the faculty here, I believe we should “meet the students where they are.” Instead of making a student come to class because they fear losing points, how we should inspire students to want to come by engaging them and offering more than 50 minutes of listening to a professor talk. There are plenty of professors on campus who do engage their students, and I go to their classes not because I fear losing points, but because when I go to class, I am actively participating in the learning process instead of sitting like a drone and listening to a lecture. The university may say it’s our responsibility to make sure students succeed here by doing well in classes, so that means they have to attend class. I would say that we are adults, and while it is appreciated that the school cares, why not let us, like adults, make our own decisions and deal with the consequences of them. I know of no better way to learn in life than by making a mistake and learning a lesson from it. If I make the mistake of not going to a class enough and I end up being unable to understand the material well enough, that will teach me to go to class a lot better than simply if a teacher drops my grade at the end of a semester to something less than what is academically deserved. I love this school, and I honestly think you would be hard pressed to find a more devoted and dedicated faculty and administration, but I ask that the university let us learn the hard way and make decisions for ourselves.

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