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No rules to excuse tardiness

September 21, 2006

The “15-minute rule” has been a long-running urban legend in college classrooms, but its validity has widely been unknown. The aptly-named rule refers to the amount of time students are required to wait in the classroom for a tardy professor before being allowed to leave without fear of penalization.

Although the theory is common, teachers do not have to arrive on time for class or give a reasonable excuse for being late. At UW-River Falls there is no written policy about professors being late for class, and the discipline for student absence is left to their discretion.

“I have worked at five universities and been a student at six. On none of those campuses, including this one, does a policy exist that would excuse a student from attending class due to instructor tardiness,” said Dean of Student Development and Campus Diversity Blake Fry.

In the UW-RF student handbook, a policy about class attendance clearly states, “It is your [the student’s] responsibility to attend each class.”

At the beginning of each and every course, professors hand out a syllabus stating a similar statute, making student attendance a requirement. If the attendance policies of either the school or professor aren’t abided by, then both authorities have the right to dole out disciplinary action.

It is not up to the student to decide what is and is not a decent excuse for missing a class. In some departments, simply arriving late or leaving early too many times during the course of the semester can cause the removal of points from an overall term grade, even if the work is made up and the excuse is considered logical.

However, the urban legend is not completely myth. According to the handbook at Tennessee Technological University (TTU), the legend comes to life as a policy under the “class attendance” regulations.

“Students may consider a class dismissed and leave the room without penalty if the instructor fails to appear within fifteen minutes,” it states.

Sherrie Parker, executive aide in Student Affairs at TTU, said the university has the rule in order to be fair to the students.

“After all, the students are paying for their education,” Parker said. “They deserve to receive the service they are paying for.”

Some students at UW-RF agree with the logic behind TTU’s decision to include an article about teacher tardiness in their student handbook, and think having a similar rule here would be useful.

Adam Vircks, a freshman in the health and human performance department, had not heard of the 15-minute rule before coming to UW-RF. However, after only two weeks of class, he understands why a rule of that nature could be effective.

“I think we should have a policy,” Vircks said. “But the amount of time students have to wait should vary depending on the length of the course.”

Vircks said the waiting time should be anywhere between 15 and 30 minutes, but Doug Franzen, a sophomore in the business department, thinks there should be a set standard.

“We’re required to be at class on time,” Franzen said. “So, if the teacher doesn’t arrive on time or in 10 minutes, then the students should be allowed to leave.”