Zach Petroff | Opinions Editor
Jan. 5, 2023
I really enjoy the first day of a semester.
When coming back to the Bluff, it is impossible not to feel that electricity in the air as students and faculty embark on this four-month educational journey.
Some of the more charming back-to-Duquesne traditions include a full parking garage as if Taylor Swift is performing at the PPG Arena, students dressed in their newest threads and the elevators filled with the overwhelming intoxication of the latest perfumes and body sprays of the youth.
There is so much hope and nervousness as we find our ways into our classrooms. The possibilities are endless. I even find myself getting swept up in the moment as I find myself uncharacteristically coming to campus early out of sheer “giddiness.”
It really is a magical time of year.
And while each new “first day” is different, a lot is the same.
Perhaps the most familiar tradition of the “first day” is going over the ever-so-redundant flexible blueprint of the course known as the syllabus. The often three-page document covers a variety of topics, but only a few sections catch the eyes of the intended audience: The grading scale, when major exams/assignments are due and most importantly – the attendance policy.
Every semester, in every class, students spend a significant amount of brain power in order to figure out how a particular professor is going to assess attendance for the semester.
I propose that in the year 2023 the best way to prepare young people for the “real-world” is to get rid of the archaic policy of taking attendance.
The physical presence of a student is not a valid measurement of a student’s ability to comprehend and evaluate the information taught in any course. Associating any letter grade to a student for their attendance seems lazy, arbitrary and useless while doubly punishing those students who are unable to make a class.
I’m sure the proponents of this primitive policy will claim this is some sort of safeguard to “protect students from themselves.”
“If we don’t make attendance mandatory — then students just won’t show up,” said the fictitious authority figure in my head.
My argument against this outdated and elementary rule spans past the cliche argument that we, the students, are paying customers and it’s hard to see how this “agreement” benefits any of the patrons.
The art to evaluate the success of a student should rely solely on the information presented. A professor has a plethora of ways to evaluate if the key objectives have been learned efficiently. Penalize a student for not knowing the information, not whether or not they were present when that information was delivered.
The price for a student missing a class should not be quantifiable, as all courses and classes are not created equally. It is absurd to think that each course requires the same amount of teaching time. “Intro to Film” and “Biofluid Mechanics” are both three-credit hour courses. However, it’s pretty reasonable to conclude that the structure of these courses is greatly different.
The emphasis should always be on the material that is being taught. Otherwise, it feels as if professors are just trying to pad their thin agenda. The punishment for missing class should not be measured; the penalty should be the missing out of the information that was presented.
Higher learning spans beyond education, especially at a smaller private university. The preparation for the workforce while shaping a well-rounded individual is the foundation of advanced education. We are doing a disservice to our students by this hand-holding policy.
We need to prepare our youth for the real world. While it is true, there are jobs that will fire you for not showing up – the job market, especially for the educated, is changing.
The work force is about time management. It is about being able to make sound decisions in how one’s time is spent. We are a result-based market, employers care about bottom lines. We should allow our young people the confidence and the experience to be able to decide how they prioritize their time, just as they will have to in the “real world.”
The only real preparation that a mandatory attendance policy has is getting students familiar with lying to their “boss.” As someone who has spent almost two decades lying to his bosses, I always get a little bit of pleasure as I hear these young people muddle through their half-contrived stories as the professors pretend to believe them.
It truly is an art form.
When shaping the future, the goal should be to focus on education. We need to prepare the learning class by solely focusing on the lessons that the extremely talented professors provide.
When you start mandating attendance, you’re tarnishing the product.