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Letter to the Editor: Going to class is essential, at heart of college experience

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Many people consider Northwestern a leading research university, with top-flight faculty and bright students who have worked hard just to get accepted into the school. And then there is the vision of Chase Reed — who wrote “Attendance policies can be detrimental to student mental health, life balance,” published May 15 — that proposes an online educational commune that eliminates the need for waking up or, for that matter, even going to class. Extrapolating from the example in his column of being allowed to miss four classes per course, one could miss 16 classes, or about a week, for each quarter. Thus it appears that Mr. Reed has already found the solution to “taking a break from the college grind” outside of summer, winter and spring vacations.

Somebody is paying over $70,000 a year for each student to attend NU through some combination of parents paying tuition, possible direct financial aid from the University, and an endowment that subsidizes the overall cost. In essence, the student has a “job” of going to class, doing homework and preparing for the next day. Without a doubt, not every class in every subject is going to stay with you for the rest of your life. And as any graduate will tell you, not every day at an office is paradise. But in the real world, bills need to be paid, and that doesn’t happen by asking the boss to fill in for a meeting you should attend and then having them email the notes. Similarly, actually going to class, engaging in discussion and increasing intellectual capital is the heart of the collegiate educational experience.

It should also be noted that NU’s faculty is not without compassion to true problems that inevitably come up. Once, while battling a particularly nasty case of the flu, I had to trudge down from North Campus to Scott Hall to ask for postponement of a midterm. The professor, observing my obvious bloodshot eyes, dripping nose and possibly contagiously infected state, granted my request without a second’s thought and provided sound advice as to how to proceed: Get plenty of rest and eat some chicken soup. The process went this smoothly because of an obvious need and the fact that she knew who I was … because I had gone to class.

Alexander W. Stephens, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences ’87

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