Give students a break, adopt more lenient attendance policies this semester

Julia Zaksek

This semester, I expected all my classes to be online, so I was shocked when I saw that my upper-division history class was listed as in-person. I quickly checked the times of my other classes, all online and synchronous, and realized my in-person class was wedged between two other classes. 

I don’t know how I’m going to attend an online class, make it to campus for an in-person class and then get back home in time for another online course. Sure, I could come to campus early and find somewhere to attend the classes before and after my in-person class, but that would be nearly six hours on campus.

As COVID-19 cases in Texas continue to rise, I want to limit my time on campus as much as possible. However, with the courses back to back, it seems unlikely that I could commute quickly enough to not miss major portions of class or be penalized for attendance. 

Professors must adopt lenient attendance policies as students navigate schedules with a mix of hybrid, online and in-person classes. Allowing more excused absences and extra time for students to arrive will make this hybrid semester easier and less stressful for all students. 

“I’ve already been sent some syllabi by my professors, and one said you can miss one class and every missed class after that is one percentage point off your grade,” international relations junior Mahina Adams said. “That’s crazy.”

Adams said she worries some professors will hold students to the same standards they did before the pandemic forced UT to transition fully online last March.

“Nothing in the real world is normal right now, so I don’t see why they’re trying to keep the same policies in place from when we were in person,” Adams said. “Things aren’t normal.” 

Many students at UT are struggling with job loss, economic hardship and physical and mental health issues. These problems alone make attending class difficult, and it will be even harder if they have to travel on and off campus. 

Accounting junior Luisa Valdez-Vela, who has one hybrid class, hopes her on-campus job will be in person, just so she has another reason to commute to campus and a safe place to go between classes.  

“Some professors don’t care and say, ‘Do whatever it takes for attendance,’ but they really should be more lenient,'' Valdez-Vela said. “Everyone is still going through a hard time.”

Some professors have recognized the potential challenges a mixed-format semester will pose and are adjusting attendance policies accordingly.

“Everyone should be more flexible and compassionate about these things,” said Michelle Velasquez-Potts, women’s and gender studies lecturer. “I feel like if you’re in one of my classes and you’re telling me you’ll always be thirty minutes late because you have to go on and off campus, obviously I’m going to tell you that that’s okay.” 

Velasquez-Potts is not teaching until the spring, but she said the women’s and gender studies department has had important discussions about making classes accessible and safe for both professors and their students. 

“I want to see (inclusivity) across campus always, but I feel like for us specifically in women’s studies, it’s no longer just about a week of disability studies,” Velasquez-Potts said. “It’s about enacting those politics and those ethics in terms of how we’re addressing a health pandemic where people are feeling unwell in a multitude of ways.”

The events surrounding this academic school year are in many ways unprecedented. As much as we’d all like to go back to normal when we get back to campus, the pandemic is still going on. 

Many students will rightfully want to limit their time exposed to others on campus as much as possible, and professors must create flexible attendance policies to accommodate students as they deal with unpredictability of fall classes. 

Zaksek is a Plan II and women’s and gender studies junior from Allen, Texas.