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Attendance policies abet illness: Do professors cause illness to spread with overly restrictive policy

Cody Finney / The Arbiter

It’s getting chilly at night. Boots and scarves are starting to reappear on campus. Pumpkin spice is back at every campus coffee location. Summer is over and all the signs are already here that fall is in full swing—for further proof, just listen to the coughing and sniffling all around you in class.

College is a hot zone for upper respiratory illnesses like common colds and flus. Students are in close quarters with one another at nearly all times and it stands to reason a person exposed to so many highly contagious illnesses day-to-day stands a heavy risk of contracting a few his or her self. But why must we be exposed to so many? Why don’t ill students just stay home and save us all the trouble of being exposed to yet another common cold-weather illness?

At least in part, attendance policies must be to blame. It would be a challenge to find a student who has never had a professor with a strict attendance policy—for example, x-amount of absences leads to a full letter-grade reduction, or y-amount of absences results in a failing grade for the class. These iron-fisted policies appear to be something of the norm at Boise State, making it incredibly difficult for ill students to take the day off.

And sure, the policies can often be bypassed with doctors’ notes excusing illness-related absences, but let’s be serious. While a cold is a great reason to stay home so no one else has to be exposed, it’s not a great reason to pay for a visit to the doctor’s office. Cold-stricken students should be at home in bed, not shelling out for a note from a physician and especially not in classrooms, breathing their pathogens onto every innocent student unlucky enough to have registered for the same class.

Obviously, attending class meetings is an important part of one’s grade for a course. Many professors contend that without strict attendance policies, students simply won’t bother to come to class. Here’s the thing though: we’re all adults. We don’t need our hands held and nobody should be telling us to go to class. Higher education is a choice, and one that becomes more expensive each year. If some students are willing to shell out for tuition and then blow off class that should be their prerogative. It should be unnecessary to tell such students they will fail after a certain number of absences because missing class lectures and discussions should result in failed tests and assignments. When it comes down to it, if the class can be passed without regular attendance, the professor is at fault, not any of the students.

A study published in 2010 in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine actually found that more flexible sick-leave policies resulted in fewer cases of employee absence and a lower rate of illness among employees. When employees were allowed to stay home and recover when actually ill, they recovered faster, fewer employees contracted illnesses and the overall absence rates in the workplaces studied became lower as a result. Who’s to say Boise State wouldn’t experience similar results without so many attendance policies in place?

Some professors’ policies are already less strict, holding students accountable for being present without making it impossible to take a day off. Casey Keck, a professor in the English department, bases only 10 percent of her students’ grades on attendance. The attendance points also encompass preparedness and participation in class. Missing five or more of Keck’s classes results in a loss of all attendance points.

“I find, typically, students who miss five or more classes also have a hard time with the exams and assignments because they’ve missed so much class,” said Keck. “Their grade suffers in other ways as a result of missing class, so I don’t feel the need to double up.”

Other professors, however, still feel the necessity of policies with no room for error, including Ralph Clare, Ph.D., whose attendance policy as outlined in the syllabus for one of his classes reads: “You’ll receive two free absences (excused or unexcused, it’s all the same—that’s why they’re free), the next will cost you an entire grade, and the fourth gives me the right to fail you.”

Clare recently missed class due to illness. He declined The Arbiter’s request for comment.

About Christina Marfice (0 Articles)
Christina Marfice is the features editor for The Arbiter. She is also a freelance feature writer for Boise Weekly. She is a grammar snob and loves reading good books. Follow her on twitter @ChristinaMarf

1 Comment on Attendance policies abet illness: Do professors cause illness to spread with overly restrictive policy

  1. Christina, I don’t necessarily disagree with you, but I do understand the attendance policies. Seating space in required classes are a prized commodity and very limited. There are people not graduating on time because of lack of availability to classes. If you aren’t going to attend, let someone who takes their education more seriously take the spot. Every person that is skipping classes, and, lets face it, not contributing to a better university, should be kicked out until they are ready to grow up and understand what they are doing. Being there matters. In the working world, attendance matters. You won’t lose a grade, you will lose employment. Students might as well start acting like adults if they want to be treated like one. The one area where I do agree with you is in students expectations of professors. I expect professors to live by there own policies. I have absolutely no patience for professors who are late to class, unprepared, have too many absences, or have the maddening policy of letting TA’s teach their class. That’s not what you paid for when you signed up for their class.

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