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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Opinion

UH attendance policies unnecessary


Lecture (1)

David Delgado // The Daily Cougar

Most of us start the semester off with good intentions. We’re on campus at the crack of dawn with a screenshot of our schedules in one hand and a moist palm’s worth of anxiety in the other.

We park our butts in those rigid seats, prepare to take scrupulous notes and then summon a godlike focus, for the professor is about to speak.

For some it may take a week; for others, perhaps two or three. But at some point the realization occurs: There’s no need to come to this class. The tests and quizzes correlate perfectly with the material in the book or online.

Also, understanding and comprehending the material on one’s own is not daunting in the least.

There is no need to “will yourself” out of bed in order to succeed in the course. Nor is there need to occupy space for the superficial purpose of apparent learning.

Unfortunately, freedom comes at a price. After three absences, most professors start chipping away at a student’s grade. Or maybe, depending on who the professor is, the student is dropped altogether.

A French course I’m taking this semester has one of the exact attendance policies mentioned above — after three absences, subtractions start to occur.

The syllabus from French 1501 — Elementary French I — reads that students should “note that absence for personal convenience, (or) problem with transportation to campus, family event, personal or professional trips unrelated to University business, occasional sickness, will not be excused.”

Using the phrase “personal convenience” is smart. Already, any obstacle life throws at you for not attending is marginalized to a petty, underwhelming circumstance. You’re not missing class because of something truly inhibitory, you’re missing it because of “personal convenience.”

After speaking with French professor Christina Voulali concerning what seemed to be an unjust application of academic repercussion, not much was brought to light. She politely said that her department collectively agreed on this rule, and if exceptions were made for one, eventually, they would be made for all.

Continuing, Voulali said that she didn’t have much say on the matter and suggested emailing the director of the French program, Claudine Giacchetti, who was on sabbatical.

This was a dead end, however, for Giacchetti simply said, “All attendance policies are listed on your syllabus.”
Unsatisfied, the quest for understanding the professorial mind led to a wonderful place that did have some answers.
Faculty Focus, a website that publishes articles about college teaching strategies, has a piece entitled “Five Techniques for Improving Student Attendance.”

Its premise is definitive. According to the article, “the general consensus among most faculty members is that regular class attendance helps students learn and retain the course content more effectively.”

In addition, the article said research demonstrates that the lack of attendance was statistically significant in explaining why a student received a poor grade.

One attends class, and they succeed; one doesn’t, and they probably do poorly. Even without data, this is intuitive.

Here’s the problem, though. If there is a self-inflicted punishment which happens to a student not attending class, it is unnecessary for a teacher to compound that punishment with unique ones of their own. Also, it’s a stressful thing for a student to reconcile life with policy-driven attendance obligation.

Business management senior Jonathan Martinez has had a few personal issues with attendance polices that he’s encountered.
“I had a lot of family stuff going on, but I didn’t feel comfortable talking to the professor about it,” Martinez said. “At the same time, I knew if I didn’t come to class, points would be taken off my grade.”

One should not have to uncomfortably reveal one’s private affairs — unless they prevent a student from taking an exam — to a professor, as if to receive a pittance of their compassion. If a student is capable of studying and managing the workload outside of class, let it be.

However, there is a more ethical and fiscal reason why teachers harp on attendance: federal regulations regarding financial aid recipients.

Federal regulations that prevent students from abusing aid programs are totally reasonable. However, do not punish the individual who is not erring on the side of academic dishonesty. A policy that applies exactly the same rules to everyone is a befuddling age-old approach where good suffers for bad.

Suffice it to say, the message here is not that going to class is an obsolete and useless engagement. Sometimes attending class would absolutely behoove the student.

For example, there is a lab course in Print and Digital Media Writing taught by professor Lee Harrington. Harrington doesn’t miss a beat on taking attendance. But every day — for the most part — students have something to turn in, and Harrington assigns homework for the next class period.

A class such as this illustrates when attendance is important. However, for this one example, there are many that counter it, showing how mandatory attendance in a class is actually unjust.

Not to mention de facto attendance-taking: the insidious art of taking attendance through pitiful daily quizzes or unannounced ones.

Harrington said it was important to attend his class, but had different feelings about lecture-format classes.

Let’s say there’s a class in which the student could read the information either on Blackboard or from the book and still get an “A” without attending and the teacher does not add anything to the lecture except complete regurgitation of the material or information a student could just access themselves.

“Well, they’re a bad teacher, then,” Harrington said.

If the teacher did nothing but read the course material verbatim, did nothing to offer explanation and added nothing beyond the information a student could get on his own at home — then that teacher is a bad teacher.

Students are fully aware that this hypothetical realm is quite the reality. It sounded preposterous to Harrington — the idea of a teacher not going beyond a PowerPoint or a teacher who just verbally mirrors information from a book. But it’s far from fiction.
Furthermore, we are then obligated to sit in that hard seat and feign receptivity.

Of course, teachers aren’t operating on malicious intent; most truly feel they have the students’ best interests at heart. But penalizing students with blanket attendance policies is an unconscious dismissal of empathy for the specific reality of each student, and it’s time that reason and logic have a voice in the matter.

To professors: If I can succeed without coming to class, please let me do so. I am capable of digesting the material without you. Do not take it as an insult to your professorial pride.

If nothing else, it is an opportunity for you to invest more focus into those students who need you. If I do happen to walk on that thin tightrope between doing well and failing, don’t nudge me over, causing me to fall into the pit of failure—because I haven’t “earned” that grade.

No, that grade is the one you gave to me.

Opinion columnist Marcus Arceneaux is a print journalism junior and may be reached at [email protected]

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