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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Are your office hours open?

I have always assumed that "office hours" means "hours when you are in your office". I think of my office hours the same way I think about classes: unless I'm out of town for a conference (or some other good reason), I'm there. So for years, I have been confused when students ask if they can make an appointment to see me during office hours. I started making a point of telling students on the first day of class that they do not need an appointment unless they cannot make it to office hours, that my office hours are the times when I promise to be in my office so they can just drop by. I'm also an undergraduate advisor so I warn them that there may be other students there ahead of them, especially at the beginning and end of the semester (we don't assign specific advisors to our majors, students can just talk to to any of the advisors), but I'm always there. But I still get emails from students wanting to make appointments during office hours - or even stranger, they want to know simply if I'll be in my office during my office hours.

It wasn't until the beginning of this semester that it dawned on me that maybe the reason students don't seem to get it is that maybe my policy is an exception, not the rule. On the second day of class, students in my Data Analysis class take a quiz on the syllabus - the point is to give them a practice run at how the group quizzes work and for them to get to know their team, but a nice side effect is that students actually learn class policies that are outlined in the syllabus. One of the questions is:
If you need to talk with Professor Imazeki, the best thing to do is
A. just show up during office hours
B. send her an email to set up an appointment only if you cannot make it to her office hours
C. send her an email to set up an appointment during office hours
D. try to catch her on the phone
E. A or B

The correct answer is E - either just show up during office hours or make any appointment if you want to meet outside office hours. As I was walking around the room listening to students discuss the questions, I heard one group debating this question. Most of the students thought the answer was C but one student said, "No, remember how she said she's an undergraduate advisor so she has to be there anyway during office hours and you don't need an appointment?" I wanted to stop and point out that it doesn't have anything to do with me being an advisor but these students clearly seemed to think that making appointments, even during office hours, is standard practice for most 'regular' faculty.

I know that there are some faculty who don't have office hours, or they say they do but then they only show up if a student says they will be coming by. But I always assumed those were the exception. In my department, everyone is expected to have office hours, and I think everyone is always actually there during their posted hours (or if they are not, there is a sign on their door to say they are sick or something like that). But I don't know, and have never asked, if my colleagues tell students they can just drop by or if they see their office hours as times when students can make appointments. Is it really so unusual to have drop-in office hours? What's your office hour policy?


  1. Steven Slezak, Cal Poly AgribusinessFebruary 21, 2012 at 12:34 PM

    My office hours are open and I expect students to stop by and talk at those times. No appointment necessary. I also tell them I am generally on campus much of the time so if they want to make an appointment I can usually accommodate them. Or they can take a chance and drop by. I tell them I respond to e-mails withing 24 hours (except on weekends) and that I don't bother to pick up the phone so they shouldn't call. And if they track down my cell number and call that they have a lot of extra work to do.

  2. I run into the same thing, although, especially in the last 5 years or so, the number of students who come to see me has declined to essentially zero (except during registration, for advising). How much of this is a result or out being entirely a commuter campus, I can't say. But students do seem to feel, regardless of what I say, that they need an appointment. And, for most of them, that never seeing me is preferable to seeing me, outside of class.

  3. I also find the same. On my campus, I think I know why.

    Many profs (not me!) close their doors during office hours to make it look like they aren't there. A student needs to be ambitious enough to knock if they drop by.

    1. That's a problem. Since we moved into a new building (about 3 years ago), students have to come into the main departmental office; one of the office staff then calls the faculty member, who comes out to get the student. I suspect that also cuts down on the number of drop-in students--you can't just drop-in.


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