by James Hearne
The taking of attendance is an iconic experience that students in the American education system encounter, from kindergarten until they graduate from high school. What about after that? Does the faculty of Whatcom Community College have an obligation to enforce any kind of attendance policy in college courses?
Johnny Hu doesn’t think so. Hu has been teaching math for three years, but this is his first quarter at Whatcom. He said that he takes attendance the first week of class, but only to learn students’ names. He said that how much a student attends is reflected in their final grade.
“This is college,” Hu said. “I’m not going to babysit you.”
Hu said that he rarely has students who show up only for exams and the grades of these students reflect their lack of attendance.
Gerry Large, a drama and theater instructor, splits the difference. His acting class has an attendance policy that allows for three ‘excuse-free’ absences. After that, absences start to affect an overall grade.
The production class, where students actually put on a play, is even more stringent. If a student is so much as late two times, they risk being dropped from the production. However, Large never takes attendance for his more lecture-based classes. Large said that while attendance is important, “stuff comes up outside of school.”
Bob Winters, a faculty member in the English department for 26 years, takes regular attendance. Currently the division chair for Arts and Humanities, he teaches only one course per quarter. Winters said that he was less diligent about taking attendance when he was teaching three classes a quarter, but noticed that attendance improved as he got more diligent. “That’s my sense of it,” he said.
Winters explained that his current policy stems from the fact that many Whatcom students are fresh from high school and are not ready for the less-structured environment of a college campus. “We do owe students the courtesy of teaching them how to be good students.” Winters said.
Students seem to understand that attendance may affect their grade. Noelle Bertels, who said she is taking three courses, says that all three of her instructors take attendance and that it does impact the grade. Bertels said it motivates her to get to class.
“I think it is, for the most part, understandable,” Bertels said.
Austin Carlson agrees. He is taking two classes this quarter, and both take attendance. In one of his classes, attendance is 10 percent of the grade.
“I think it is a good thing,” Carlson said. In the long run, he adds, attending class is “worth more than just a few points in a class.”
Josh Gage, however, claims that he likes the freedom of not having to go to class if he so chooses. “If I know the material being covered in class, I can just leave,” Gage said. “If I know I don’t need to be there, I don’t need to bother going in the first place.”