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University clarifies absence policy

Becky Hogan | Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Attendance policies may grow stricter this semester following a letter from University Provost Thomas Burish reminding professors that students are not allowed three unexcused absences.

“Contrary to common student lore, there is no University policy permitting students … three unexcused absences from class without consequences,” Burish said in the letter, which was sent to professors near the end of winter break.

The letter also outlined a schedule change for fall semester: Students will now have the Wednesday before Thanksgiving off, but will have one fewer study day before winter final examinations.

“Most” faculty members that were surveyed supported this change, the letter said, providing “a strong and clear statement be sent to students and faculty alike reiterating the University policy that classes must be held on all scheduled class days, including the days before and after holidays, and that class attendance was expected.”

Executive Assistant to the Provost Brandon Roach said the letter was sent out primarily to clear up any confusion about attendance policies.

But English professor Noreen Deane-Moran said she wasn’t sure why students and professors believed Notre Dame allowed each student three unexcused cuts.

“Some people have strict attendance policies and some do not. But there was no University allowance of three cuts or that every teacher had to let students take them,” Deane-Moran said. “I don’t know where that idea got started.”

University academic policy states that instructors are responsible for stipulating attendance policies at the beginning of a semester. They may also, at their discretion, fail students for excessive absences. Before this happens, however, instructors must warn students in writing.

A class’s attendance policy can depend on the degree of importance its professor gives to in-class participation. For Deane-Moran, participation is a significant part of a student’s grade.

“[I] count class participation as part of the grade and if a student is not in class, he or she can’t very well be participating. So my policy is that everyone should be there for every class,” she said.

Roach said the University expects all faculty members to hold regularly scheduled classes – and students to regularly attend them.

“Interaction between the faculty and students in the classroom is an integral part of the educational experience and when classes are held, students should attend,” he said.

But that concept seemed to be overlooked around breaks and long weekends, Roach said.

Holly Goodson, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, said the letter clarified the University’s stance on students that cut class the day before a break begins.

“I think that there have been some faculty who have cancelled class before major holidays, and I think that part of the purpose of the letter is to remind faculty that they are expected to hold class when it is scheduled,” she said.

Goodson, who teaches a chemistry class with more than 350 students, explained that class size affects attendance policy.

“In a class such as a seminar, class participation is an important part of the learning process itself,” she said. “In my large [chemistry] class, issues such as the number of classes missed by a given student are basically irrelevant. Student grades are determined by performance on exams and problem sets. Students who miss lots of classes are unlikely to do well on these.”

Sophomore Bill Warren said he felt it was warranted for professors to take attendance – especially if it can help students boost their grade.

“In smaller classes, professors should at least take a mental note of who is there,” Warren said. If someone is trying really hard in class, class attendance should [be reflected in the student’s grade].”

But students like freshman Brian Cook believe that attending class should be left to the student’s discretion.

“I’ve always felt that since we are paying money [to attend the University], it should really be up to the student to choose to go to class. You’re not going to get as much out of it [if you don’t go], but that’s your choice,” Cook said.