Policies should include compassion



Opinon columnist Samantha Goodman discusses the variance of attendance policies at UNI and the importance of understanding when students can’t attend class due to weather or personal reasons.

SAMANTHA GOODMAN, Opinion Columnist

Many students across campus wake up every morning and contemplate whether or not to attend class. If the class has an attendance policy that impacts their grade, skipping would not be a good choice. However, a class with no attendance policy can tempt students to skip. So why would UNI have such a variance in attendance policies?

The question remains a hot topic across campus. UNI’s attendance policy can be found on page 46 of the university catalog under the headline “Policy on Class Attendance and Make-Up Work.” Section 3.06 states that faculty members who have attendance policies are required to distribute those policies by the end of the first week of instruction. The policy also states that “students must adhere to each faculty member’s policies regarding attendance and make-up work.” Basically, instructors have the discretion to place attendance polices or not.

In one of my classes, students are allowed three unexcused absences for the semester. For each absence after the third, 5 percent of the student’s final grade is deducted. This type of policy urges students to attend class and learn the material they are paying for. This professor doesn’t post her lecture online because it can deviate from her lesson plan, making it difficult for students who missed the class to catch up. Missing class puts the students at risk. The professor allows room for personal exceptions, such as hospitalization, funerals or family matters.

In contrast, in another of my classes, students are allowed six unexcused absences. This may seem excessive, but the professor excuses very few situations. Besides university-related required absences, military absences or legally mandated absences, he excuses activities required by other classes; the hospitalization of yourself, spouse or child; and the attendance at the funeral of an immediate family member, defined as a student’s spouse or child, sibling, parent or grandparent. In his syllabus, he clearly states, “The definition of immediate family does NOT include extended family such as aunts, uncles and cousins, nor does it include friends or neighbors,” and then in red bold font states, “Students are limited to one day’s excused absence per funeral.” This professor does not excuse the following: Personal medical issues, family emergencies, personal tragedies, religious observances or activities, family or personal celebrations, absences due to employment, weather problems and long weekends. Each additional non-excused absence, regardless of its reason, will lower the student’s end-of-semester test average by five points.

With the recent weather situations and the tragic deaths of multiple students on campus this semester, some students chose not to attend class because of both physical and mental concerns. Some professors have not been accommodating to these needs. Cases such as these that require students to attend class or have their grade affected are unfair. If students are snowed inside their apartments or can’t get their cars out of four feet of snow, should their final grades be affected? During situations such as these, some teachers will send emails stating that class will still be held but students should only attend if it is safe for them.

The temperature in Cedar Falls was well below zero in the latter part of January. The wind chill was a legitimate safety concern for students walking to class. Some teachers cancelled class. However, I received an email from one professor saying, “We will have very cold wind chills on Friday, but this IS January, and this IS Iowa, so it should occasion no one surprise and cause no one undue delay or absence. You don’t have to like winter weather, you just have to plan for it… Bundle up.”

This blunt statement made some students feel like the professor cared very little. On the other hand, I received a heartfelt email from another professor at the beginning of March when a winter blizzard was approaching at the end of the weekend. She urged her students, “If you went home this weekend, DO NOT hurry back for our 9 a.m. class. I will not count you absent tomorrow.” Situations like these can make students feel like they are cared for. This is why some students purposefully choose their instructors when signing up for classes.

On the website Rate My Professor, students can find reviews about most UNI professors and get a feel for how they and their classes will be. One of the tags reviewers can attach to a professor’s name is the phrase “skip class, you won’t pass,” meaning that the professor has an attendance policy and skipping will affect grades. The site also notes if the professor does not provide his or her lecture materials outside of class, such as on eLearning or Panopto. Reviewers can place tags such as “caring,” “tough grader,” “lecture heavy” and more.

Students are paying thousands of dollars in tuition each semester, and they should want to attend class. Professors are paid thousands of dollars to instruct, and they should expect that students are in attendance to learn. With all this in mind, some type of attendance policy should be in place. Having said that, professors could be more accommodating. Despite the best intentions, life doesn’t always go as planned, and mishaps occur. Professors have a responsibility to teach structure, discipline and accountability, but they also need to teach compassion, understanding and care. Those are the tags that UNI and its professors should want.