Opinion Asks

by The Dartmouth Opinion Staff | 11/16/14 6:16pm

We asked our opinion staff if class attendance should be a part of one’s grade. Here's what some columnists had to say:

What’s in a grade? I take it that the traditional answer to this question happens to be the best one: grades should be pegged to learning. If a student has learned the material, she should do well in the course — period. But it’s possible to learn the material and ace the tests without attending a single class. Likewise, it’s possible to attend every class and fail to learn a thing, as suggested by the hordes of students scrolling through BuzzFeed during every lecture of my CS1 class last spring. Mandating perfect attendance by professorial fiat guarantees nothing.

We are no longer in high school, and our wrists no longer need to be slapped for missing class, or failing to pay attention, or whatever. Coercing students into good behavior by making their grade depend on it is a vestige of a darker and stricter past. If a course is properly structured and well taught, students who cut class will reap what they sow — and that’s how it should be.

— Jon Vandermause ’16

Certainly it seems reasonable that attendance accounts for some portion of one’s grade. After all, consistent engagement with the professor, one’s classmates and the material necessary for appropriate class participation is essential to the best possible classroom experience, and mandating attendance is a means of ensuring that. However on the opposite side of the same coin, should professors really need to mandate attendance? We’re college undergraduates at an Ivy League institution with a total cost of attendance upwards of $65,000 a year — if we don’t attend class of our own volition, then why are we here?

— Aylin Woodward ’15

Dartmouth students (or their parents or donors) are paying more than $60,000 a year for an incredible education. If students choose not to go to class, then that is their choice. An attendance grade is simply an incentive and not a necessity. If students can perform up to standard in classes, outside of seminar-sized and discussion-based courses, then I do not see the need for a grade incentive for attendance. In classes where critical discussion between peers and instructors is heavily involved, an attendance grade is completely appropriate, as it is indicative of the students’ contribution to the course. Outside of that, I think grading for attendance serves as a small giveaway or a means to penalize unnecessarily.

— Billy Peters ’15

Given the wide variation in class structure, we ought to trust professors to decide if mere class attendance garners credit toward a student’s grade. For some classes, lecture and discussion are vitally important for learning. In others, knowledge can be gained and demonstrated simply by reading class material and completing assessments. Professors know best how to ensure their classes are learning.

That being said, professors have a duty to be sure that the methods by which they conduct their classes do not lead to widespread academic dishonesty. At the risk of sounding cynical, I believe professors ought to be vigilant in closing loopholes for potential cheating. Professors ought to consider that some students will take advantage of many, if not most, opportunities for cheating that the class structure presents them with.

— Mike McDavid ’15

During a recent phone call with my father, he complained about how much bad press Dartmouth seems to be getting, but he was in awe when I told him what the “clickergate” case actually was about. The fact that the “academic dishonesty” incident he was hearing about all over the news was just a case of students marking attendance for each other was ridiculous to him. He told me about how he had friends back in his day who would shout his name out for him when the professor marked attendance, and how it was not a big deal. When academic dishonesty is discovered, repercussions must follow — and false attendance is definitely not part of an educated scholar’s virtues. However, seeing as it was not a case of “academic” dishonesty, per se, it would be unjust to put students on the chopping block just for this.

— Annika Park ’18