Does CCSU Need Mandatory Attendance?

Kristina Vakhman, News Editor

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“You are allowed one unexcused absence. More than one results in the failure of the entire course.”

The above is a real attendance policy on a Central Connecticut professor’s syllabus. It could arguably be perceived as strict and meant to frighten students away from even the fluttering thought of skipping class. But in the college realm where students and adults are paying for their degree, is that fear necessary?

CCSU has an attendance policy in place in the catalog. However, it is purposely vague. Instead of specific guidelines that the entirety of the university has to follow, the policy is lacking enough detail to give professors the right to dictate attendance in their classroom. For comparison, Southern Connecticut State University’s class attendance policy is clearer, outright saying a student can be removed from a class and receive an “FS” grade for poor attendance.

CCSU’s policy’s brevity stems from the concept of “academic freedom,” which allows professors certain rights that cannot undergo unreasonable interference or restriction from law, institutional regulations or public pressure. Academic freedom is guaranteed to all faculty by CCSU’s American Association of University Professors (AAUP).

Per the university’s lenient attendance policy and the bolstering of academic freedom, that means professors have the power to fail a student solely on the basis of attendance, according to Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. David Dauwalder.

“That could happen within this policy if it’s identified in the syllabus and the students are made aware of it,” Dauwalder said in an interview. “But I would hope the department chair would be reviewing course syllabi and working with faculty and the department to make sure there’s a reason for the attendance requirements.”

Dauwalder has not heard any complaints on attendance from students in his short tenure as provost thus far, but the Student Government Association Academic Affairs Committee Chair Johanna Zukowski has. The most common grievance students have, Zukowski explained, is that professors do not make it clear when attendance is actually mandatory, giving pop quizzes and important class materials on random dates.

“I’ve personally never bumped into problems, but I do feel for my SGA counterparts who work full-time and miss classes a lot. I do hear from students a lot that daily attendance every class is not fair,” Zukowski said.

In Zukowski’s view, deducting points for attendance is not justified. For her, one set university policy that would apply to all classes would allow students more leniency and a clearer sense of when missing a class is appropriate.

“Generally, it would be a world easier for students,” Zukowski stated. “Professors won’t have as much leeway to be super strict about attendance or not. It would be an even ground for everyone.”

SGA Student Life Committee Chair Jamie Carbone thinks similarly. Like Zukowski, she respects professors’ rules of the classroom, but reflecting attendance in students’ grades, to her, isn’t necessary.

“If you need to go to class to improve your grade, go, but if you can do well without going, you shouldn’t have to. Everyone operates differently and their learning styles are different,” Carbone said.

In the event that poor attendance plummets a student’s grade, a Grade Appeals Committee can hear the case to see if a reversal is appropriate. But Chairman Thomas Vasko, an engineering professor, said that a faculty member’s syllabus is the “gospel” the committee goes by: if a professor clearly writes that a student can fail from bad attendance, it’s not something to go around, even if Vasko doesn’t agree with it.

“Attendance is based on whatever the instructor defines in their syllabus. I personally take attendance, but I don’t count it for anything. I typically look at it if I have to fail a student and say, ‘Well, do I really have to fail this student?’ I look at the attendance and I say, ‘Well, they missed four out of the 10 classes,’” Vasko stated.

“You don’t get deductions or bonus points for showing up,” Vasko went on. A good university policy for him would require students to attend class, but not penalize them. “If they miss the class and still do the work, that’s fine. I’m testing whether I’d drive across a bridge that this civil engineering student designed.

Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Joseph Paige also said that though “attendance and doing quality work equals success,” more consistency in the policy would be beneficial.

“I think they should have something, even if it’s an administrative withdrawal policy. If you miss three weeks of school, the university should withdraw you from the class. It could help students save themselves,” Paige said.