There are a couple big concepts mixed up in my older post about asking a student to leave class before it started rather than walk out in the middle of it (and thanks to commenters for provoking me to think this through more).
One: Students are adults.
This is college. We don’t do hall passes here.
I am not in charge of regulating their time or what they choose to do. I am in charge of evaluating their work. Now, part of that work is being in class and speaking up. Grading is an imperfect mechanism, but I recognize that time as the product of their labor by including an attendance/discussion grade (and that’s why I have one, not to force them to come to class. Although I concede there’s no real difference in practice).
But other than those specified and pre-announced blocks of time which they have committed to by enrolling in the course, it is not my business how much time they spend on their written work, not my business whether they are starting essays four hours before they are due, not my business whether they are emailing me in the middle of the night, etc. I don’t care about these things and I try not to take them into account when I can’t help noticing them.
I don’t differentiate between excused and unexcused absences,* for the most part, because it is not my place to judge which excuses are valid and which aren’t (I also don’t want to create a situation where students get rewarded for lying). Nor do I want to demand documentation for every minor move. They can make up the class, if they choose. They are in control of their own lives.
I have a standard late policy—a per day deduction.* I don’t care why a paper is late—if they need to manage their time such that an essay is late, that is their choice to make, and take the penalty. They don’t need to explain it to me, because it is not my responsibility or right to judge how they spend their time.
They are only responsible to me for the work that they do.
*Things that involve multiple consecutive absences or generate university/medical documentation are treated case-by-case.
Class went outside one sunny day, and we had to pause while a pro-choice march went by and the chanting made it impossible to hear (incidentally, my usual classroom is such that sometimes a march makes me pause class even when we stay inside). As we stopped and watched, a marcher tried to run over and hand out flyers. I am pro-choice, but my instinctive reaction, as I stopped her, was “oh hell no. You do not just walk up in my classroom like that.” Even if my classroom was currently a circle of students sitting on the grass with invisible walls around.
That time belongs to me. I close the door when the clock ticks over to 10am, and I open it when class is over at 11:20am. I don’t start early, even when everyone is already there (and they often are). If I go over time, and I try very hard not to (including asking them to remind me to stop early so that I can hand back papers), I apologize for infringing on their time, which I have no right to.
I feel like (hope?) the relationship is more citizenship than sovereignty, though.