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Jan. 23, 2003, Gazette

To skip or not to skip

Katie Norman
"Oh my god, guess what? Like the greatest thing happened! I went to my first class today and the prof was like ‘Whether you go to class or not is your own choice, although I do encourage you to attend class. Material will be covered in class that is not in the text book and this material will show up on the final exam.’ Can you believe it? I don’t have to go to class!”

Okay, okay, that was a little too typical and perhaps a line out of the movie Clueless but this is in fact the logic inflicted upon many a university students’ mind. They hear that “whether you go to class or not is your own choice,” while neglecting to acknowledge the fact that lecture material will be tested on. People should go to class and there are many other reasons to do so, some connected to education and others to your pocketbook.

The average class, excluding laboratory or discussion times, is two-and-a-half hours per week, the semester has 13 weeks of instructional time and we pay $267 per course (there are exceptions). When considering these numbers simple mathematics will concur that the each class we miss costs us $7.63. At first this seems to be nothing, but imagine yourself throwing this amount of money is a waste paper basket every class you miss. Essentially in a cliché way this is what you are doing.

How do we break down the myth then? Telling others that going to class is the key to success, while very true, automatically marks you as a “keener” and in all honesty will probably add up to nothing more than people talking. In fact even the University Calendar doesn’t set all classes as mandatory. In the calendar it states:

5.1 Attendance regulations must be approved by the Senate and will be allowed only in cases where the academic unit has demonstrated that attendance is necessary for safety reasons, for teaching practical skills, or for attaining other clearly specified objectives. This may include an attendance regulation that may, by itself, cause a student who contravenes the regulation to fail or be dropped from a course.

5.2 The course where an attendance regulation is to be enforced must have the statement “attendance required” included in the calendar description.

So basically a course cannot have mandatory attendance without good reason. While the calendar states this many professors set a class participation mark around 10 or 15 per cent which allows them to factor attendance into your eventual grade.

After thinking on the topic for awhile I conclude there are two main reasons that attendance isn’t made mandatory for university. Firstly sheer logistics; in a class of 250 people a role call would be a nightmare. Secondly, if you think of university students as adults then it doesn’t seem necessary to keep such tabs on them. After all there is no attendance sheet in an office building.

This is by no means an attack on students; after all I am one myself. In fact I firmly believe that students are not as incompetent as some people may think. While trekking around campus I found two such students who held differing opinions on this subject yet both viewpoints were fairly solid.

Chris Mercer, a first-year Computer Science student, said “Yes, I think classes should be mandatory considering that you are paying for the education and it is your responsibility to attend classes, but I think is should be left to the individual student to decide whether or not it is pertinent to attend the class at that particular time or if there is something in life that is more important. I don’t think it should be left to the sole discretion of a professor, who at many times as we have experienced can be unreasonable.”

While Chris believed that the students should take the responsibility Matthew Cook, a second-year pure math and computer science major, said that a combination of advising and student dedication is necessary to cut down on unexcused absences. “There are professors that actually make [going to class] a quasi-mandatory thing, it is not so that you will be punished, it is more that you will have the benefit. This term, a professor told me that he checks to see if you show up to call your classes. If you have a 48 he’ll bump it up to a 50, if you have a 78 he’ll bump it up to an 80, but if he checks and sees that you’ve missed all these classes – it stays where it is. Certain professors take (keeping attendance) into their own hands. Taking it into your own hands from a professors point of view is not an easy thing to do as there are many different reasons for not showing up to class at any given time. If we had a better system of coming up with academic advisors, they could help keep tabs on a student’s attendance. After so many classes missed the advisor could meet with the student and speak to them about the matter. Beyond that mandatory attendance, i.e. you miss class so you lose 10 or 15 per cent, is a really harsh thing to do, perhaps a little too harsh.”

While Matthew’s comments on an academic advisor seems like a good way to at least keep a handle on attendance and why people are missing so many classes, it does seem to take away somewhat from the independence factor of university. We are here to learn and to shape our minds, which will hopefully turn us into intellectual, well adjusted adults. Although perhaps that is too hefty a bill to expect all round, but in general people should learn to lead their own lives.

As to Chris’s comment on prioritization, it is true that every now and again people may come across a vital appointment that cannot be missed. Yet when it all comes down to it we expect our professors to show up every class so it isn’t that unfair for them to expect us to do the same. This however, depends primarily on your views of authority in the classroom. If you see it as a negative dictatorship then perhaps missing class is something you can justify, whereas seeing a classroom as a way for one person, a professor, to pass on information to others, the students, it becomes more authoritative and therefore absences are looked less favorably upon.

If I were a social psychologist it would be interesting to see if there is a positive correlation between those who attend classes and those who make the Dean’s List. Although this is simply conventional wisdom kicking in I believe that there would be a fairly strong correlation, that is if I was the betting type.

The bottom line is that in my experience most professors have little problem with excused absences, the problem is with the ones that are unexcused. If you have a good excuse, (and please try to be tactful here — a big sale at the mall isn’t a good excuse) — then it will most likely be accepted as legitimate.