Editor’s Note: Would you attend class if no one forced you?

By Megan Bennett, Editor-In-Chief

A battle is unfolding between the college’s part-time faculty union and the college administration over ostensibly unnecessary or unethical grade changes, as reported on the Front Page.

For example, P-Fac is investigating an issue involving adjunct professor Marcia Brenner. The union contends that the Provost’s Office asked for her to change the grade of a student who missed 10 out of 15 classes. Brenner told The Chronicle that after she refused the administration’s request to grade the unidentified student solely on five weeks of work rather than the entire semester, she was told they would just find someone who would.

This highlights an incredibly gray area for students and faculty: Does Columbia even have an attendance policy? Though most students’ syllabuses have a paragraph indicating how many classes they can miss before facing grade reductions or failing the course—typically three or four classes—it seems they are contradictory because the college does not have an official policy. The confusion makes it easier to push part-time faculty, who have shaky job security, around.

Poor communication on all fronts has seemed to muddle up  interpretation of this policy. If someone were to ask five different members of the Columbia community about how grades are affected by absences, they would likely get five different answers.

However, what P-Fac is fighting for supersedes the idea of attendance: It is about Columbia’s academic integrity, the need for students to actually be in the classroom to complete a course, and for faculty to have control over what happens in their classroom.

Administration’s job is to manage and make overarching decisions for the entire institution. This may sometimes include approving late withdrawals or incompletes, or other unique situations that may warrant a grade change because there are always outliers to the rules, which should be treated with care from both the faculty and college leaders working together. However, the issue Brenner describes and P-Fac is rallying against does not seem to fall under any of these exceptions. She failed a student who she said only completed five weeks of work—equal to the number of classes they attended class. Whether they attended any of the classes is irrelevant; their effort would not warrant a passing grade at that point. If P-Fac’s other, currently anonymous complaints are similar situations, it is even more troubling that the Provost’s Office was   potentially involved.

Assuming this to be true, for the administration to demand anything above an incomplete is disrespectful to not only Brenner and the student’s classmates, but also students collegewide who make themselves available for class and do what is needed for a passing grade. It rightfully brings up the concern or speculation that the college is more concerned with retention or enrollment numbers than the educational experience itself.

The administration would be undermining faculty members’ attempts to reprimand students for not attending class and completing necessary work if this is the case, despite it violating nearly all of the college’s new Universal Learning Outcomes, created by a committee led by Senior Vice President and Provost Stan Wearden—who is at the forefront of Brenner and P-Fac President Diana Vallera’s complaints. These outcomes, which students are supposed to fully meet upon graduation, include collaboration, community engagement, communication, career readiness and ethics. How can a student learn any of these if they are not being required to come to class or do their work?

The Columbia community needs to demand these accusations be fully investigated. If students are not going to value the need to be in the classroom and complete their mandatory work, then college leaders should be enforcing the value on their end, not backing out on their ideals.