UA leaves attendance policies up to departments, professors

Adrienne Burch

Freshman Elizabeth Cook walks into her 8 a.m. chemistry class on a Friday morning to find about 20 percent of her classmates scattered across a barren auditorium.

Cook, a chemical engineering major, said her Chemistry 101 professor does not take attendance for lectures, which results in many students skipping class.

“I don’t attend that class as much as I should, but whenever I do go, only 30 or so people out of a class of 150 are there,” she said. “The least number of people show up on Fridays, no doubt due to ‘Thirsty Thursday’ the night before.”

The University of Alabama does not implement a schoolwide attendance policy, thus allowing departments or individual professors to craft their own. These policies can often determine if students choose to attend class or not, which could in turn affect a student’s grades as studies have repeatedly found strong correlations between class attendance and grades.

Shane Street, assistant professor of chemistry, said faculty in the chemistry department has been able to prove that requiring attendance leads to better overall performance.

“Members of our faculty have shown repeatedly by analysis of class data that absences correlate strongly with poor performance in coursework,” Street said.

However, Street said he chooses not to require attendance for his lecture sections.

“I inform students of the demonstrable fact that students who attend lectures consistently tend to do better,” he said. “But college students are adults and in my opinion they can and should decide for themselves whether to attend a lecture.”

There are departments across campus that choose to utilize strict attendance policies. Brian Elmore, a junior majoring in secondary education history, cannot miss his business statistics course more than four times. Each additional absence will subtract two points off his final grade.

“This sounds really strict, but I think this policy gives good incentive to be punctual and professional,” Elmore said. “This class has forced me to learn more by being in class every day.”

Elmore said he thinks the strict policies place an emphasis on being professional, which includes being on time.

“These professors are trying to instill good habits in the students before they get out in the ‘real world’,” he said. “Students often take a bad outlook on attendance policies without realizing they will really help them out in the long run.”

Cook said she also takes classes that have a strict policy. Attendance is 30 percent of her final grade in her Chemical Engineering 125 course, which meets 15 times throughout the semester. So, missing one class is a two point deduction on a student’s overall grade.

“It definitely causes people to show up to class more because of the threat of point loss if they miss,” she said.

She said her professor does offer makeup assignments for excused absences, but this requires documentation of a sickness or death in the family. Cook has to write two 400-word essays to make up for two of her excused absences. Official documentation is often required by professors across campus for excused absence approval.

The foreign language department implements some of the strictest policies, only allowing three absences before it affects a student’s grade significantly.

Connie Janiga-Perkins, assistant professor of Spanish, said attendance is required in the Spanish department because in-class practice is essential when learning something like a second language.

“Students are acquiring and developing skills and this can only be done with regular practice,” Janiga-Perkins said. “It is a bit like dancing. You have to dance to learn.”

Street said he understands there are a wide variety of opinions on the matter of attendance policies even within his own department.

“My opinions are my own,” he said. “But I don’t think (an attendance policy) as an improvement trumps individual responsibility and decision-making.”