Baylor scraps absence policy

Academic units now set requirements

Editor’s note: This story is corrected from the published version on individual academic units’ policies.

By Daniel C. Houston
Staff Writer

A university-wide policy mandating minimum attendance requirements for all Baylor students is no more, but most students will still be required to attend 75 percent of their course lectures to receive a passing grade.

Baylor, long committed to its 75-percent attendance requirement, decided on May 5 to scrap the university-wide rule in favor of a more decentralized approach. The various academic units — such as the College of Arts and Sciences — are now responsible for setting their own attendance requirements, while Baylor continues to allow professors to set more stringent rules than those of their respective units.

The decision was made by the university executive vice president and provost, Dr. Elizabeth Davis, in consultation with the Council of Deans and the Faculty Senate.

“Based on the conversations among the faculty and the deans,” Davis said, “we concluded that the academic units are really in the best position to say what the most appropriate attendance policy is for their units. For example, an engineering course is very different from a music course and the attendance requirements for those two types of courses are likely to be very different.”

But increasing academic flexibility was not the only reason the administration felt pressed to change policy. Chris Holmes, assistant general counsel for Baylor, emphasized the influence of new “program integrity rules” established by the U.S. Department of Education that require universities with their own attendance policies to ensure professors are fully complying.

Baylor has rarely, if ever, checked up on faculty to make sure they are complying with the attendance policy, according to Davis, and the inconvenience and cost associated with this form of investigation is part of what drove Baylor to accept the decentralized approach.

Most of the academic units opted in favor of retaining the 75-percent requirement, according to various sources within these units, meaning most students will see no institutional changes in the number of classes they have to attend. These units include the College of Arts and Sciences, the Hankamer School of Business, the School of Education, the School of Music, the School of Engineering and Computer Science, the Honors College, the Graduate School, Baylor Law School, and the George W. Truett Theological Seminary. The Louise Herrington School of Nursing set a slightly higher bar, requiring its students to attend 80 percent of their scheduled class sessions to receive a passing grade.

One exception to this approach was adopted by the School of Social Work, which will allow its professors wide discretion to set their own attendance policy. Dr. Rob Rogers, associate dean of graduate studies, said enforcing an attendance requirement involves “too much paperwork” and is “not a good use of time.” He emphasized the importance of allowing attendance policy to reflect a multiplicity of teaching philosophies.

“We felt it best to let the professors make their own decisions as long as the policy is reasonable,” Rogers said.

But Rogers also expressed professors “can’t say it doesn’t matter if you don’t come to class,” and outlined a process by which the associate deans in the School of Social Work review each professor’s syllabus and make adjustments, if necessary.