From the Editor’s Desk: Weathering away attendance policies

By: Jonathan Munshaw, Editor-in-Chief

I’m heading into my final three months at Towson, and I can safely say that through taking 160 credits, I have never had a professor with the same attendance policy.

I’ve taken hybrid courses where attendance was only mandatory for the four test dates during the semester. One honors seminar required me to be there every class period. Some professors never took attendance, while some had two, three, four or even more days that you could miss without “excused absence” before missing class affected your grade.

So what qualifies as an “excused absence?” Obviously family emergencies and illness, but what about snow or other inclement weather?

That’s the dilemma thousands of students faced Tuesday when the University opened at noon after about three or four inches of snow had fallen the night before. In Towson, it was certainly safe to say that by that point, students could travel to and from class if they lived off campus in an apartment complex (as I do at The Fairways). By noon, there was slush on the roads but no ice or packed snow.

However, that wasn’t the case for commuters who had to travel from other counties or cities. When going through Twitter, it was clear to see that students who lived outside of Towson were frustrated with the decision to delay and not cancel classes, because they felt the driving conditions from wherever they were coming from weren’t safe enough by noon.

It left me wondering why there isn’t a universal attendance policy at the University, at least for inclement weather. Were these students going to be docked points in their grade if they truly didn’t feel safe driving to campus?

By the time freshmen enter college, they are almost 18 years old, which is certainly old enough to decide whether it’s OK to drive in certain conditions. Why can’t a 22-year-old use the weather as a legitimate excuse to not go to class?

There are holes in a universal attendance policy, and I’m sure some students would try to take advantage of the situation and say it was raining too hard to get to campus, but for snow and ice in the winter, what is the University’s policy? Each professor has his or her own set of rules and will likely make a judgment call on their own if they should hold class on a certain day, even if the University is open.

Frankly, I believe that there shouldn’t be any attendance policies. Students pay out of their (or their parents’) pockets to take classes, and should be able to decide on their own how often they want to show up without it affecting their grade. But I understand why professors want students to show up, it keeps them engaged in the course, thinking about the material and it’s respectful to the instructor that there are actually students in the seats of the classroom.

At least for weather, though, there needs to be something more that students can do. If they have to commute from Frederick or Anne Arundel, it should be OK for students to not have to worry about returning home that night just to attend an hour and 15 minute class.

I’m sure there were many professors who relaxed their attendance policies on Tuesday because of the weather, but I know there were others that did not.

Students have the ability to make their own calls about their safety, and while it sometimes may be disingenuous, we simply can’t guess as to when that would be the case.

Towson is, at its core, a commuter school, and there needs to be a policy that allows for those commuters to make their own decisions regarding transportation to and from campus.

It was something then-Student Government Association Attorney General Andrew Key campaigned for SGA in 2013, but nothing was ever pushed through, and SGA President Kevin Kutner said there isn’t any talk of a universal attendance policy right now.

This by no means falls on the SGA, but if enough students feel that they are responsible enough to make their own attendance decisions, they need to push for that to happen, not just send an angry tweet about it.

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