While both students and faculty agree that attendance is crucial to the liberal arts experience offered at Concordia, the way in which attendance policies are implemented can play an equally influential role.
Senior Maddi Gemuenden still recalls the impact that the attendance policy for a freshman chemistry course made on her.
“My freshman year, there was a professor and in her syllabus the first day of school, and she said, ‘If you’re going to miss for a family or friend death, if you go to the funeral, I need to see a pamphlet, the obituary, something that they have sitting out from the funeral’, which was very extreme,” Gemuenden said. “I didn’t feel like I was allowed to have a personal problem.”
Gemuenden explained that the professor also required the obituary to be signed by someone working the funeral. Although she understands her professor’s wariness, Gemuenden said that the first impression intimidated her for the remainder of the semester.
“I came to class my first year with the flu several times because I was too afraid to have a sick day. I didn’t know if that counted and, after reading her syllabus, I was afraid to send her an email,” Gemuenden said. “I guess I didn’t know the actual campus policy. It wasn’t until my junior year that I found the resources to help me navigate absences.”
Now a peer mentor in the Office of Student Success, Gemuenden said that incoming students are similarly uninformed in regards to campus-wide attendance expectations. In fact, Gemuenden would estimate that, of the 30 students that she mentors, well over half of them are unaware of or ill-informed on Concordia’s campus-wide policy.
“About 80 percent to 90 percent don’t know the policy at all,” she said.
Concordia’s attendance policy, which can be found in the Student Handbook, states that students are expected to attend all classes. Absences related to school-sponsored activities and athletics are counted as excused. If a student misses less than 10 percent of a course’s classes due to school-sponsored activities and their attendance affects the final grade, professors are required to provide means for the student to make up that credit.
Concordia’s policy is more broad as it relates to prolonged illness or family emergency. Students in these situations are advised to consult with the Office of Student Affairs and are warned that any “excessive” absences of this kind may result in grade reduction. There are no set percentages or definitions that describe these excessive absences in the Student Handbook. Additionally, the handbook does not expressly address any absences related to mental health. For the most part, the attendance policy is open to faculty interpretation.
Gemuenden said that it sometimes makes sense for different professors to have varied expectations for attendance, but she wishes that there was a more clearly defined standard for illness and family emergencies across the board.
Several faculty members, including Dr. Vincent Arnold, the division chair for the humanities and a history professor, lauded the policy for its flexibility.
“What is acceptable for me in the department of history may not be acceptable for my colleagues in the sciences,” Arnold said. “And to try to create one policy and have everyone fit to that could be problematic, which is why if you look online, it seems very general.”
Arnold also serves as faculty athletic representative to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, and acknowledged differences in attitude between faculty respecting school-sponsored absences as well as health- and family-related absences. While he believes that students’ athletic and personal experiences are important to a well-rounded Concordia experience, Arnold trusts his colleagues to make appropriate decisions for their specific classes.
Dr. Cynthia Carver, chair for the division of professional programs and communication studies and professor in the CSTA department, gave some insight into why the campus policy treats school-sponsored and other absences differently. She serves as the academic affairs representative for the curriculum committee and oversees the development of new courses, including professors’ syllabi and attendance policies. Carver explained that this decision to stipulate a 10 percent cap on activity-related absences in the policy was made so students would understand their responsibilities as an academic student and as a member of their school-sponsored activity.
“With sponsored activities, it’s a little easier to categorize that and build a consensus,” she said.
While Arnold and Carver support a policy that allows faculty the freedom to fit attendance policies to their course demands, they acknowledge the need for an open dialogue with students on the matter.
“When I err, I want to err in favor of the students,” Arnold said. “Perhaps having a more well-defined attendance policy would be beneficial. I think perhaps working with student government would be a good way to initiate discussion.”
Looking back on her own experience as a freshman, Gemuenden said she hopes students will be encouraged to address their personal issues with their professors and that they are better informed on Concordia’s attendance policy.
“College life is so fast and if you don’t pause and take care of things in your life, they snowball,” Gemuenden said. “And that’s where we find students that haven’t been to class in a month. Peer mentors see a lot of people drop out because they didn’t understand what to do about absences or were too afraid to ask for help.”
Students can access the Student Handbook and attendance policy on Concordia’s website.
Karissa is a junior double-majoring in Communications and English Writing. She enjoys participating in performance arts and exploring national parks. This is her first year on the Concordian team!