I am currently taking an Art History course. Today was the first day of class, and my professor informed us that we are required to bring a monetary contribution for a potluck. I wouldn't be opposed to this. However, I was taken aback when she mentioned that we are not required to participate, but if so we would not be getting points for the event, which will prevent us from getting full point completion in her class. What should I do?
I personally make sure to never require my students to spend money to actually do the course (i.e., if my courses require the students to do something that costs money, I find internal or external sponsors for it rather than having the students pay out of their pocket), but I understand that I am coming from the somewhat privileged position of teaching at a well-funded private research university here. I would guess from your question that this is not the case here.
I think you are not fairly representing what's happening here. The deal quite obviously is not really "exchange money for grade points" (that would indeed be very bad), but "exchange money for participation in a didactic event". This really is not very different than a school forcing students to pay for participating in a school trip.
I don't see how it makes a major difference that participation in the event is graded, but of course practicalities matter here. If the event was very expensive so that some students could not afford it in practice, or if the organizer would turn a significant profit from the event, I would understand why you disagree with this. However, as it sounds, this is literally "chip in a few dollars for food", and in this case I don't really think that there is anything unethical going on.
What should I do?
If you are not opposed to the monetary contribution for the potluck in the first place, I don't see how getting some grade points for it changes anything. So, I suggest you contribute to the potluck :)
This does seem "legal". You are not getting grade points for sending in money, but rather for participating in the pot luck. I'd like to think this is similar to a field trip. Although field trips are extremely rare in university, I did go on one in my undergraduate class. It was for credit, but we had to pay about 10$ for the school bus. This sounds like a similar situation. If you aren't opposed to paying the money (like you've stated), then just attend.
I once had a professor who cancelled class so he could attend a protest and strongly encouraged all of us to attend as well. That protest didn't really have to do with the class, either. Now I consider THAT as an issue.
we would not be getting points for the event, which will prevent us from getting full point completion in her class.
I'm not sure if I'm reading the question right. Are you saying that food for the group meal will be purchased, and everyone is expected to chip in to pay for it? And not chipping in would have a negative effect on one's final grade?
If that interpretation is correct, then I suggest the following. Write an email to the instructor, with a very neutral tone, asking if you understood correctly:
Dear Prof. X,
I'm not sure if I understood you right in class yesterday. Are you saying that food for the end-of-semester group meal will be purchased, and everyone is expected to chip in to pay for it? And not chipping in would have a negative effect on one's final grade?
If the answer comes back that yes, you understood correctly, then print out the exchange, make an appointment with the department chair, and show the email exchange to him or her. Ask if that's compatible with department practice.
Of course, it's possible she didn't mean it literally. So give her a chance to clarify.