‘Ambiguity’ may lead to attendance policy change

As the end of the semester approaches, BW students aren’t the only ones thinking about how many absences they’re allowed to have in their classes: the Faculty Senate is considering revisions to the current university-wide attendance policy.
Though all policies come up for review periodically, discussions about the attendance policy have been ongoing for at least the past three years, said Dr. Jaimy Dyer, Faculty Senate president. She said that some feel that the current policy is unclear.
“There’s been some ambiguity detected in our current policy, said Dyer. “Some people feel it should be stronger, [that] there should be stronger wording; some people feel there should be looser wording. So we want to see what are the key issues that people have with our current policy.”
The current attendance policy is “pretty general” and has not “changed dramatically” for many years, said Dr. Guy Farish, associate provost. It can be found under the “Student Status Policies” in the university catalog. (Dyer said that because students have had difficulty locating the policy, and that the Faculty Senate is working on making it more easily accessible for students.)
The current policy states that no professor is required to excuse more than 10 percent of class meetings — which amounts to six classes in a class that meets three times a week — and that the student is responsible for the work missed due to absence. “Excused absences” are also defined in the policy and include university-sanctioned events such as athletic events, performances and conferences as well as major illness.
One of the key issues surrounding the attendance policy is how much freedom individual professors have to modify it for the needs of their classes. While the current policy states that “a professor may have a more lenient policy,” it does not specify whether a professor may be more strict.
“We always say that faculty can be less stringent — so again, if they want to be more accommodating, we certainly allow that,” said Farish. “We’ve tried to avoid them being too much more stringent than that, because it will create those challenges where students are put in situations they can’t resolve.”
Faculty were recently given the opportunity to provide feedback about some proposed revisions in a survey sent out by the Faculty Senate. One proposed revision includes language that would specifically allow a professor to be more stringent, said Dyer. Professors have offered differing opinions as to whether or not this should be allowed, she said.
Some faculty feel that very strict attendance policies could “disadvantage” students and should not be allowed, but others — especially those whose courses are participatory or performance-based rather than lecture-based — argue that maximum attendance is necessary for the student to meet their learning objectives, Dyer said.
Another proposed revision included in the survey would replace the current policy with a more general set of guidelines. This version omits the “10 percent rule” about missing class meetings and stipulates that instructors include their own attendance policy in their class syllabus.
Though the Faculty Senate is a long way from making a decision on an attendance policy revision, they have already voted to remove outdated language from the current policy, said Dyer. The requirement that students document serious illnesses with the Student Affairs office has not been in practice for some time, and the policy will be updated for next year.
Dyer said that a decision on the policy will not be made before next academic year.
“There’s a lot more that has to happen before anything’s changed, if it’s changed at all,” she said.
Until a decision is made, the faculty senate will continue to discuss the options and consider the feedback they received from the faculty survey, said Dyer. Farish said that he hopes that these discussions will help clarify the university’s attendance policy for both faculty and students.
“There’s still some uncertainty right now, which is unfortunate,” said Farish. “But hopefully we can get some good information back and reach an agreement and get a clear policy established — and do a good job of communicating that and making it available to everyone who needs to know.”