Friday, February 12, 2010

By their royal powers 

I've been mildly amused by a discussion on our campus list about student attendance. There are several trains of thought traveling around the list. One is the number of students who claim they cannot come to class because of a tummy ache or some other minor ailment. I had a student write the other day "I will not be in attendance on Tuesday. What will I miss?" I answered, in full: "Class." I told the class this story, and most of them thought it wasn't too rude. Of course the ones who do, probably weren't there.

Another part of the discussion pertains to faculty who assign outside activities with mandatory attendance, part of that "voluntyrrany" I mentioned the other day. Faculty who assign these activities are bucky over other faculty not cutting their mutual students any slack from a stated policy about attendance or make-up exams. I wonder if the subtext is that, because the goal of the outside activity is noble, the other faculty member should make exceptions for the activity. Everyone thinks their own class is the most important class a student takes; I watch the piano instructor practically terrorize a student over her taking part in sports, or the Scoutmaster unhappy that a scout will attend a Bible camp instead of camping with his troop. Happens in lots of places. The biggest problem, to me, is that the professor who expects students to attend outside activities does not notify students of the intention until after students have started taking the class. Advanced notice would help.

But then I get the faculty who have to declare those of us who hold fast to rules antipathetic. Our students have lives, they have real problems, and we should try to balance our hidebound regulations on a case by case basis. If so, then why print any rule other than this?
Making up exams and deductions for missing class will be determined by your ability to provide me a way to feel better about myself through my magnanimity. I will appear on Atwood Mall promptly at noon each Wednesday, on a litter carried by four GAs dressed as Egyptian slaves. Students wanting dispensation of the rules will come to me at this time with their cases. Offerings such as burnt incense will not be needed, only your persuasive powers. My decisions are final, unless you can find the litter of the Grade Appeal Committee chair, to whom you can plead your case.
Discretion is the denial of rules. It is a use of a professor's powers to build up the ego, to allow cheap expressions of one's goodness. I do not validate a student or professor's judgment of my humanity based on whether a student can get a set of notes from me after missing my class, and I don't understand those who do.