While you’re lost in a drunk-infused dream about elephants and kitchen towels, your alarm goes off. Like the voice of Eosphorus himself, it drags your drowsy head away from the comfortable arms of sleep and into the rainy harsh reality of university obligations. You have a 9am lecture.
Maybe you had a late night, maybe you spent a little too much time around the Willow bar, or maybe you just hate mornings. The fact still remains, 9ams are the waterboarding equivalent of academic life. They’re cold, violent, you think you can survive them by numbing your skull and they always keep coming back for more.
Back to our little anecdote, you have two options. You can be a responsible adult and go or you can take a page from the teenager’s book and hide under your covers until it goes away. The motivation for the former, I think, is a constant across students.
It may fluctuate from day-to-day, but overall there are those who are simply more organised and tolerant of pain. You’ll see them all up and about on the first row, five minutes early for the econometrics lecture, smiling at the lecturer, pen and paper ready to take notes. If you feel like shooting them a couple of hateful looks that hide your envy of their adult-ness, go ahead. Sure, a lazy student like myself may turn up to the lecture, but that doesn’t mean I’ll hear a word.
But what if you had an extra incentive? Or rather, a disincentive to stay home? What if you knew that administration knew who was attending classes?
Apparently, that is what Harvard University has been doing for the past year. They’ve been taking thousands of pictures of lecture halls as to record attendance, without any consent from the students. Sure, the official reason behind it was research in patterns of behaviour, but that didn’t stop the researchers from communicating the information to department heads.
This sparked a conversation around privacy rights, because Harvard was in fact cornered to admit to these activities instead of announcing them at their start. But, to me, this is but a secondary question that this incident raises. They were, after all, photographs taken in a public place and ordained by the owner of the venue. What is more pressing is the extent to which universities should be obligating students to participate in classes. In other words, just how controlling should administration be?
Usually, I’m inclined to argue over the transcendental pros and cons of issues; it works better with the pseudo-intellectual image I’ve been working on since I read a book with no pictures. But in this case, I would like to take a more down-to-earth approach. Not because the abstract debate is a dead end, but because it is redundant.
Universities and students have the same goal. They both want students to get through their degree with the best grade possible. What we get is a piece of paper and hopefully some pieces of information in our heads that will open doors for us and help with our lives away from campus. What they get is simply being more recognised, better ranked, and so on and so forth. Whether that’s in pursuit of further profits or merely the proud feeling when they see our smiling faces at graduation, I can’t say.
The point is, evaluating their efficiency in getting us there is enough to answer the question.
There are, in my experience, three types of students. The lazy, the keen and those in between. The keen will devote their lives to the reading for their course. The lazy will, at best, do the bare essentials just to get by. It’s those in between that can be swayed, and those are who the various policies are aimed at. It’s worth noting that people can move between these categories, reacting to external changes.
When entering university, you sign an agreement. You want the institution to provide you with certain goods; a good grade, or education. For it to come through in this promise, they need you to tick some boxes. Give in coursework, do your essays, sit exams, pay tuition fees. The latter may feel like a grant of authority to us over the university, but it isn’t. It is just another requirement that you need to meet.
What is important is what each individual wants from their time studying. If you merely want a good grade, you should be given the means to attain that, but your motivation will not be increased with more obligations. You may attend more frequently, but that doesn’t translate into productivity.
It is not to be said that we should be reigning free. But we should be burdened with the absolute minimum commitments to reach our objectives. Anything more is a breach of the covenant.
What is more, the administrations concerned with control tend to neglect more important aspects. Such as inspiration or intellectual stimulation. They have, after all, limited resources, especially in terms of staff. If your tutor spends half your seminar explaining to you all the different attendance requirements there will be little time left for discussion.
Chains do not belong on campus. They help neither students nor staff.