Attendance policies punish students

Mal Hartigan

Some disasters and accidents cannot be prevented. This is a dreadful fact of life students and professors both acknowledge. Though professors may empathize with students’ plights, varying class attendance policies seem to evaporate any preconceived notions of sympathy.

Ideally, every student will experience a semester without suffering illness or losing a loved one, but some attendance policies leave hardly any wiggle room to accommodate students’ diverse circumstances. Many professors allow three unexcused absences without penalty, but exceeding this may result in a lower grade percentage with each future absence. Other professors allow additional absences, or may not take attendance. In my experience, this is rare.

In many general education classes, professors utilize attendance to assure firstyear students go to class and learn the material. This is meant to increase retention rates and ensure students remain up to date with the course. The allotted free absences, some professors say, should be reserved for rare events such as illness, car trouble or a family member’s death. However, these events cannot always be predicted, and students may suffer penalty as a result. A wise student would ideally communicate with his or her professor to explain the circumstances and to avoid future penalties.

However, professors have heard every excuse in the book. Last fall, my grandmother unexpectedly fell into a coma. This event could not have been predicted, and her comatose state lasted over a month before she finally passed away. Not only was I absent from school to support my family during her illness, but I also missed class during her visitation and funeral. I explained the circumstances to my professors when she first became ill and compiled evidence, such as a pamphlet from her funeral, in case my story was questioned.

Communicating with my professors was key to avoid losing up to a letter grade from absences. Many were personable and sympathetic, having been in my situation during college. I was deeply moved, and more inclined to foster personal relationships with these professors. Disasters aside, factoring attendance, tardies and absences into grades does not always accurately reflect a student’s effort or knowledge of course material. Test results are the largest part of each grade, but the attendance policies can become the difference between an A and a B. If a serious student is unable to attend class, he or she will read the assigned textbook and do everything to stay on top of the class. Commuters also experience difficulties with strict classroom attendance policies. UMKC is widely known as a commuter campus. While classes may be cancelled in cases of severely inclement weather, classes may still resume during moderate snow. Commuters who own cars without 4-wheel drive may be unable to travel or may be unwilling to risk their safety. Students still pay for each class regardless of attendance. Every professor was once in our place. Illnesses, deaths and other problems emerged during their college careers. Some also saw, however, students opting to lie in bed all day from a hangover rather than a catastrophic event. While attendance policies are meant to combat this, they do not always take into account the events which every student cannot avoid. And these unavoidable events, supposedly rarely occurring, should not determine the difference between an A and a B.
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