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Destler Dodge

“Mandatory attendance policy” is a term that most college students tend to cringe at. In college, most of us students assume that we’ll be treated as adults and we’re told that it is now our duty to manage our priorities, time and life goals entirely on our own. A flexible attendance policy could be a better alternative. Not only could it be applied only to first-year undergraduate students but it could even give leniency for freshman. Some professors may require partial attendance, but instead of absences penalizing the student directly, there could be rewards for attendance instead or just more motivation to attend via the curriculum. For instance, having an enthralling class discussion or going outside instead of just listening to a lecture for three hours while cooped up in a dull classroom.

The new policy could replace most professors’ current policies where they track attendance, which gives students mixed signals about the goal of independence. It could better emphasize the necessity as adults to organize our own schedules. Even RIT’s current attendance policy (D4.0) in the Institute Policy & Procedures Manual reiterates this:

“In particular it is the student’s responsibility to make individual arrangements in advance of missing class due to personal obligations in order that he or she may meet his or her obligations without penalty for missing class.”

A policy could only be applied to freshmen in order to gradually transition them into the college experience and give them a chance to improve their time management skills, rather than have an attendance policy for every last student. It is unnecessary to include everyone because most upperclassmen should have already improved with prioritizing and managing their schedules without needing that extra push that freshmen might require.

Sam Trapp, a first-year game design graduate student here at RIT who also attended RIT for his undergraduate education suggested this new policy could cover each class as a whole, rather than an individual student. “I  hope that something flexible could help…maybe not on an individual level, but on a class level, if everyone’s coming to every class there [are] not as many quizzes or the homework’s lighter, or you take a class out to talk about something … Building rewards and building interest in the class because they’re coming to class, I guess.”

A reward system might be more effective than a penalty system as a partial motivator. This could lead to a higher attendance rate but for the right reasons, rather than just because the grade drop penalty. That itself doesn’t resolve the issue of why a student isn’t motivated to go to class. Sometimes it’s not about the way the class is being taught or even lack of in the subject—it’s  about the ability to successfully complete a class or not on an individual basis. If a student doesn’t need to attend every lecture or be present in every discussion to succeed at a significant level, that student can miss however many classes he or she sees fit.

Many of us not only have full-time course loads but work one or more jobs, participate in club activities, have kids or have other major obligations. Not having an attendance policy would benefit all of us for these reasons so that we have more flexibility with balancing our busy schedules.

Christopher Mallet, associate professor and Bachelors in Social Work program director in the School of Social Work at Cleveland State University in Cleveland, Ohio said, “I do not track attendance: Most of our student body [has] other family and work responsibilities. Tracking attendance is not my job. It is the student’s job to prioritize doing what they [think] is important. If they do that, they learn and get the grade they want; if not, normally they do not.”

There could even be alternative solutions if someone cannot make it to class for whatever circumstance, such as open access to a video recorded class lecture. That specific idea was also suggested by RIT’s Student Government president, Paul Darragh. He  wants everyone, regardless of extenuating circumstances such as health, to have equal access to lectures and the like, so that their learning experiences are not negatively impacted by their predicaments.

Even for classes where discussion or classwork is primary, like in studio art classes, there are a few alternatives, such as the open figure drawing session that takes place weekly or scheduling time to sit in on another drawing class, with approval of the professor. Many upperclassman studio classes, at least in my personal experience, can still be completed well even with several missed classes.

If students miss enough class, they are penalized enough by the lack of skills expressed in their work already. It’s their loss and doesn’t concern the professor or educational institution. It is ultimately each students’ decision as an adult and they are the ones either paying to be there or not be there. I encourage all RIT professors to reconsider their stance on this subject and to ruminate about implementing a flexible attendance policy instead for the betterment of the student body as a whole.