Attend this

Maybe it’s being a dad, or an Aquarius, or maybe it’s just that I’m a contrary son-of-a-gun, but for whatever reason I cannot stand arbitrary rules and guidelines.

I’ve always had a problem with folks lording them over me, and mindless authoritarianism drives me crazy. If a regulation has nothing to do with the quality of a given experience, I say toss it out. Why create more chances to mess up? Isn’t life complicated enough without further muddying the waters with sheaves of ill-conceived, anal little rules?

High on my list of unhelpful, infantile bureaucratic arrangements is attendance-based grading. In and of itself, it serves absolutely no purpose.

Now, in fairness, I should admit that I’m not the most assiduous of students when it comes to making it to class. I often find my mind zinging along at a frenetic clip when the wall-clock hits midnight, and starting a project – or a beer – in the middle of the night is not always conducive to dragging one’s ass out of bed at seven. My teachers have by and large made their peace with my sporadic attendance. Most of them have been quite gentle with me.

However, there’s always the bad apple that spoils the peck, and a disproportionate pile of rotten fruit seems to reside in the University Studies department. Rife with busywork, adult babysitting and layers of irritating requirements thicker than a Newport fogbank, it’s no surprise that here attendance-based grading is king.

Friends, we can entertain daydreams of a mahogany-paneled, hoary old English educational system, where the teacher’s every word is fraught with import and our self-images are defined by term-end exams, but that’s not the reality. With PSU students generally working at least one “real world” job, living off campus, and being a few years older than your traditional college student, the slavish dependence on roll call – and its absolute, quantified pegging to final grades – is a fucking joke.

Let’s assume that, in a given University Studies class, I complete every assignment, read every page, write every paper, all on time, and all thoughtfully done. In class, I participate fully, engaging my professor, and encouraging my classmates. However, I like to sleep in, or just want to do something else some days, so I miss class around once a week. By the end of the term my grade, far from being the A that my performance would dictate I receive, will be somewhere in the toilet. Why?

I pay for my classes – though in the greater scheme of things education is certainly a privilege, the paying of tuition makes it my right. The expectation is that if I complete the work and show mastery of, or competence in, the subject, my grade will reflect this and nothing else. I should never be penalized in the classroom for anything that takes place outside, unless I am in some way disrupting other students’ ability to learn.

Penalties for missing class serve no purpose but to punish, or to act as a sop to a given teacher’s self-importance. They are to the university what the appendix is to the body: useless, and potentially a source of harm. If my missing class were to have an actual effect on my learning, such would be borne out in my performance. If, despite a penchant to sleep in on a Tuesday morning, I complete all my work at an A-level, who are you to give me a C?

The awkward fact is that the largely subjective, arbitrary world of academia, or more specifically the allocation of grades, has actual ramifications for one’s job prospects and post-scholastic life. As such, to allow profs to flex atrophied senses of empowerment by playing Lord Johnny Hardass with your grades because you don’t come to every class session is not only vicious and purposeless but patently unfair and a potential danger to one’s future.

At a job, I have a role to fill that goes unfilled if I’m lying on my couch watching the NFL Network. My absence would be detrimental to the business itself, so it’s right to penalize me. However, as a student my purpose is to learn. If I’m continuing to do that, and do it well, the rest of my life is none of your damn business and certainly should have nothing to do with my GPA.

Riggs Fulmer can be reached at [email protected]