By Anna Debeye
On monday, 2 May, AUC informed its student body that the attendance policy will return for the June intensive. In an update sent out to all students, the policy is shortly explained: “Students can miss up to 5 classes from a 16-week period and miss up to 2 classes from a 4-week period without consequence.” Although most AUC lecturers are pleased by the recovery of the attendance policy, students seem less happy about this sudden decision. The attendance policy has not been enforced since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and for many students it is therefore an unknown concept. Nevertheless, AUC trusts this to be the right time for the return of the policy, as COVID-19 currently has little impact on higher education.
Parla Paydin, a second-year Social Science student, is one of many students that has enjoyed the lack of an attendance policy over the last years. She acknowledges that her attendance has not been very consistent. Paydin does not believe class attendance to be necessary in order to pass most social science courses and consequently she does not attend the classes that seem fruitless: “If I think that the lecture adds a lot to the class, then I don’t want to miss it.” Paydin understands the current lack of attendance to be a result of the regular AUC attendance policy, as people are taking advantage of the opportunity to not show up. She is strongly in favor of a more relaxed attendance policy, since it pressures students to go to class even when sick and “you are not going to learn whatever they are telling you in class, you are going to get the other people sick.”
Although she understands lecturers’ fear of an empty classroom, she also trusts that a good and interesting class will get students to show up. However, her classes have rarely been empty since the removal of the policy, and lecturers’ fears thus seem unfounded. Paydin declares that COVID-19 is still around and she disagrees with the return of the policy in June: “Adapting back to it for June is a really rushed decision.” According to her, the recovery of the policy “shows a lack of confidence on the side of the lecturers and academic coordinators.” She argues that students want to learn and they will continue to show up for classes even without a policy and suggests a more flexible policy as a solution for both lecturers and students.
Robin Staes-Polet, a third-year Social Science student, agrees with the idea of a more flexible policy. Additionally, he stresses the importance of incentivising lecturers. As he mainly picks his courses based on the quality of teaching, it is crucial that the lecturer “is good and they can summarise material and make class discussions lively.” As of right now, Staes-Polet attends about 70% of his classes and confirms that attendance is unnecessary in order to pass the courses since “there are many ways to learn by yourself”. He has been confronted with the attendance policy during his first year at AUC. Although Staes-Polet was mainly bothered by the fact that he had to plan his vacation trips around his classes, he recounts that some of his peers would attend classes sick as a result of the pressure to show up.
Despite the fact that the policy forced him to be present in class, he doubts he actually learned more as a result of it: “If you want attendance, you have an attendance policy, if you want learning, you have engaging teachers and more interaction and feedback.” He thus believes a lack of attendance to be a reflection of the professor’s ability to engage and excite the class. As Staes-Polet has fulfilled all his academic requirements, he will not be taking classes in June. He discloses he is glad to not be around to see the return of the policy, as he believes it will be quite a shock for many people and it might cause feelings of guilt and stress for the students in relation to their attendance.
Not all third-years will be able to avoid the reappearance of the policy and it might cause problems for those that are still around. Azzurra Ceccarelli, a third-year Humanities student, is unhappy with the sudden change and calls attention to the fact that many third years will have to get used to the policy again during the June intensive. As the policy is especially strict during this period, she believes there might be a chance that some third years will fail their course and be unable to graduate as a result of this rapid return. Ceccarelli appreciated the policy when she first started studying at AUC, as it forced her to come to class and participate. Similarly, she thinks it might be useful for incoming first years in order to get them on the right track. However, she suspects that for current students it might be a bit too intense, as it asks a lot of them after a very anxiety-inducing period.
Ceccarelli specifies that she will not attend classes if she has not done the readings, is not in the right mental state or is simply uninterested, as might be the case for academic core courses. Although she realises that empty classrooms might affect the learning environment, she also thinks it would be useless for students to come in unprepared, as they will not be able to contribute to the conversation. She therefore considers it the students’ responsibility to show up and she trusts that they will, since people go to university to learn: “If I didn’t want to attend, because I didn’t want to learn, I wouldn’t be in university.”
Fu Verburg, a first-year Humanities student, also believes students should be allowed to make decisions about their own attendance. She mainly attends those classes she trusts to be useful; in some classes exam topics are explained and she therefore feels the need to attend in order to understand all the material. Although Verburg believes attendance is necessary in most of her courses, she acknowledges that as soon as a class appears useless, she will no longer feel motivated to attend, so the AUC attendance policy seems quite counterproductive to her. “The motivation to come to class should come from within ourselves and it should not be an obligation.” Accordingly, she is unhappy with the return of the policy and believes it to be too strict.
She criticises AUC’s approach towards illnesses and finds it idiotic that students need a doctor to confirm their illness in order to use it as a genuine excuse for an absence. “I had the flu in the beginning of the semester and even though I was ill for a week, I won’t go to the doctor for that, since it’s just the flu.” Additionally, Verburg explains that “the policy does not take into account other issues that students might have, such as mental health problems.” Although forcing people to come to class might fill up the classrooms, she would rather attend a class with ten motivated people than with twenty people that are only there because they have to be. Since people want to pass their courses and eventually graduate, Verburg trusts that students would continue to show up without an attendance policy.
Franca Vorwerk, a second-year Science student, is one of those students that attends her classes without the reinforcement of an attendance policy. It is mainly important for her to attend her content-heavy classes. Nevertheless, she also shows up for her other courses, even though she believes attendance to be unnecessary. She points out that she often goes to class in order to get out of her room and see people and friends and her attendance is thus not always related to the class content. The lack of students in her classes has not been bothering her, since she enjoys small classes, as she “can interact more with people when there are less people”. However, she acknowledges that this might be different for the professors and other students as the class discussions might be a bit restricted by a lack of opinions.
Vorwerk finds the attendance policy very harsh and is afraid that when students are forced to come to class, this might produce a feeling of resentment and diminish the student’s motivation. Furthermore, she believes it might be difficult for people to attend classes at times, “especially when it’s related to mental health problems or other issues, when you just don’t have the energy to go to class.” The mental health issues caused by the pandemic should still be taken into account, as she suspects many students are still struggling. The decision to reinstate the policy at the end of the academic year seems quite random to Vorwerk, as she believes COVID-19 might get worse again in autumn, which might force AUC to abolish the policy again.