Course attendance policies are professor-based

Attendance policies may feel unfair to some Weber State University students, but professors have the authority to determine whether they take roll or if missed classes will affect student grades.

Professors use both general guidelines and their personal beliefs to create attendance policies and decide whether attendance will be an essential requirement for their courses. The general guidelines established by different departments, posted under the “Exceptions to Attendance Policies” section on WSU’s website, are based on whether student participation and discussion is significant in the learning process, what effect attendance has on the educational experience of other students, and whether the number of missed classes will affect the successful completion of the course.

“Everybody’s going to have their own issues and personal life, and you never know what they’re up against,” said student Natalie Laramie. “If they talk to the professor and communicate what’s going on, then I don’t think that cutting part of their grade is fair.”

Each of the seven colleges on campus gives its faculty the right to determine their own attendance policies. Policies should be included on the syllabus handed out at the beginning of each semester.

“Several colleges have policies, and our college is working on a policy about what should go into a syllabus,” said Francis Harrold, dean of the College of Social & Behavioral Sciences. “I’m sure our policy will, and some other colleges already do, say one of the things that a professor has to put in their syllabus is what their attendance policy is, but I’m not aware of any kind of policy that requires a certain type of attendance, because professors do have that freedom.”

When beginning a new course, most professors encourage students to become familiar with their attendance policy.

“The main thing, and I don’t know how many students know this, is that any professor’s policy should be on the syllabus,” said Sylvia Newman, WSU English professor. “It’s basically a contract between the two of us, and if it’s not spelled out there, then I can be in trouble, because I have nothing to show about what my policy is. It keeps me safe and it makes it transparent for the students so they know what’s expected.”

Some professors base their attendance policies on the general guidelines, whereas others feel they don’t need a strict policy because the students are adults paying to take their courses. If student attendance does not affect the class as a whole, in things such as class discussions or group work, then some professors leave it up to their students to decide if going to class is important. When there is no strict policy and a student does not show up to class, whether or not it affected them may be reflected in exam scores and other assignments.

“It really depends — in part, at least — on the type of course,” Harrold said. “If it’s a course where, if I’m a student and I don’t show up, my group can’t have a full discussion and that affects everybody else, that’s a likelier situation for a strict attendance policy than a big lecture course where it doesn’t matter to other people if I show up.”

For some students, attendance is not a problem, because it would take something major to make them miss a course they are paying to attend.

“I know, with my major, we have to have to be there 90 percent of the time,” said interior design student Neisha Balin. “If we miss more than two days, it drops a letter grade each time after that. It’s strict. Attendance is a big thing, but for my major we have to be there, because what we’re doing in class you can’t do at home.”