When Miami University students are tempted by Frisbee games on the quad or the warm covers on their beds, they aren’t always tempted to attend classes that occur rain or shine.
Despite Oxford’s often unpredictable weather, the university’s attendance policy is unwavering, as it is clearly stated in the Miami’s Student Handbook each student is handed at the beginning of their first year.
“Every student is expected to attend every class session for which the student is duly registered,” reads Section 01.701.
The handbook continues to address how individual faculty members set their own attendance policies and must make it known to their students.
This leaves no wiggle room for students to create their own regulations.
According to the administration, attendance should rarely ever be affected by the weather, mainly because of the conditions that would need to occur for a university-wide class cancellation.
“For class to be canceled it would have to be very extreme weather conditions, very extreme,” said Steve Snyder, the executive assistant to the president and secretary to the board of trustees. “I’ve been here, including time as a student, since 1969 … I can think of three occasions (the university has canceled classes).”
Senior Director of Human Resources Carol Hauser explained that Miami closes due to bad weather if students’ safety is in question. Since Miami is a residential campus, the consultants who meet to decide whether or not to close campus must see extreme circumstances.
The committee that makes these decisions is comprised of President David Hodge, and other administrators including Miami Chief of Police John McCandless and Senior Vice President of Business and Finance Richard Norman. Their job is to check the surrounding counties to see, for example, if the snow has blocked access to buildings, if the roads and sidewalks are in bad condition, and if the university still has heat and electricity.
The conditions that determine student and faculty attendance policies are usually as extreme.
Communications professor and Director of Forensics Ben Voth doesn’t have a class attendance policy. He sets no strict requirements for his students to attend class and he doesn’t reward them with points for showing up.
“Ever since I’ve gotten to Miami, I wanted to lecture and educate in a way that would make people want to come to class,” Voth said. “It’s a personal challenge to me to make it interesting enough. I feel like it has made my relationship with students better. (It has made) an educational environment that they want to be part of, (students) feel like they’re missing something if they don’t come … they don’t have to come for external reasons, they come because they want to learn something.”
In regards to his attendance policy differing greatly from the university’s standards, Voth expressed that he agrees the administration should have expectations for attendance, but that he doesn’t want any policy that would mandate professors to do something in regards to punishment or grading based on attendance. He feels students should orient themselves.
Senior history major Justin Marmor admits to being tempted to skip class due to the shining sun or slush covered sidewalks.
“I think that you should go to class because you signed up for that course for a reason … every class is going to help you for the final exam,” Marmor said. “In a small class, if you miss, you’re affecting the rest of the class because you’re not contributing to their learning. But, I think that if you’re (extremely) sick, (if you) just need a personal day, or you just need some time to catch up … then an occasional skip, as long as it’s not every other day, is fine.”
Weather has played into Voth’s class schedule, too. He canceled class Feb. 13 when the university closed at 4 p.m. due to the amount of snow and the cold. The university remained closed until 10 a.m. Feb. 14.
On the other end of the spectrum, once the warm weather hits, Voth attempts to compromise.
“I’ve had class outside … I’m aware of how students want to be outside, I want to go outside too and play disc golf,” Voth said. “I understand what they’re talking about. I’m trying to get (students) in the mindset – do what you have to do, then have fun. Make responsible choices.”
Visiting faculty member Rhonda Gilliam-Smith has a different take on the attendance policy.
“I do adhere to a strict attendance policy … I have class once a week, if (students) miss one day, (it’s like) missing a whole week,” Gilliam-Smith said. “I think (my attendance policy) satisfies the school’s objective in making sure students attend class.”
If students miss a day in Smith’s Cultural Diversity class they are required to attend an event, write a paper and then complete a presentation on it. Smith explained that due to the time of her class, 5 to 7:45 p.m., she understands that this can be a busy time in students’ days and inevitable events can come up.
“If the student can’t help but miss, their absence becomes a learning experience for them and the whole class.” Gilliam-Smith said.
Smith feels her attendance policy has changed over time because of the time slots in which her class falls. If class was from 9 to 10 a.m. she feels there would be no excuse for not being in attendance, since that is where a student should be at that time of day. Since it currently falls so late on a Tuesday, Smith grants more pardon to excuses, but still weighs them to see if they are necessary and legitimate reasons to skip.
For sophomore accounting and philosophy major Rachel Siciliano, winter weather provides a challenge for her class attendance record.
“In winter, I just don’t want to get out of bed,” Siciliano said. “I just feel like I can get the notes from someone else.”
Many class notes, assignments and Powerpoint slides are made available to students from anywhere via Miami University’s Blackboard site.
Smith used Blackboard as an attempt to catch her class up. Her once a week class was canceled when the university shut down this February due to snow, setting the class far behind schedule.
First-year student Maxwell Cantor has seen students use access to this information as a reason to skip class.
“Some teachers put the information on the Web site and I think it’s OK to use that, but people will get the best learning experience hearing it from their teachers,” Cantor said.
Cantor has only missed a total of three classes this semester but admits to not being aware of the specifics of the Student Handbook attendance policy.
“(The weather) has tempted me not to go to class, but I usually make it out there, like a champion,” Cantor said.
He said the classes he skipped were due to a more important assignment due that day or studying for a test.
Whatever excuses students e-mail their teachers, it often seems like the first day of sunbathing weather or falling snow results in more empty desks.
As finals week and sunnier skies approach, it seems the thoughts weighing on Miami students’ minds is “weather or not to go to class.”