Office Hours

The subject of office hours came up at our start-of-the-year faculty meeting the other day.  We are required to put in a relatively small number of hours on campus as office hours.  There is feeling, though, that this requirement is not necessary and is, possibly, even insulting.  Most of us put in more hours than the required ones.  I only had one student last year who came in during my office hours.  On the other hand, I get emails from students all the time.  This is an easier way for all of us to do it; they ask their questions in the middle of the night and I answer them by 8 am.

So this morning I read Dean Dad’s post about office hours with interest.  He starts off saying:

There’s something anachronistic about the way most colleges do ‘office hours’ at this point, and we need to rethink them.

That much may be clear, but the solutions are not so obvious.  Or at least,  after reading his post, I was less sure about the solution than I had been before.

One factor to be considered that he mentions and that came up in our meeting is academic advisement.  He says:

In a system in which students are required to have academic advisement, it isn’t unusual for students to just drop by departments looking for someone to talk to. In the complete absence of in-person office hours, scheduling appointments becomes a labor-intensive crapshoot.

In my institution, only professors advise.  That leaves out a number of instructors, including myself.  But, of course, we advise students unofficially all the time, so even we should be available for this purpose.

Another issue Dean Dad raises is service.  He says:

There’s also the issue of college service. In theory, of course, there’s nothing stopping professors from coming to campus on days when they don’t have classes or scheduled office hours, and some do. But experience has taught me that a non-trivial number of people will minimize their number of days on campus per week, then used jam-packed days as excuses to avoid any and all college service.

Many people load their schedules like this.  I don’t think in most cases I know of it is used as a way to avoid service, but that may be an unanticipated – and not entirely unwelcome – benefit.    And, of course, you can’t really schedule meetings during office hours or you won’t be available for students who want to talk with you.  So office hours don’t necessarily make faculty available for service.

There are many things in education that we still do the way they were done 50 years ago.  The issue of office hours is only one of them.   It will be interesting to see when and how we deal with them.


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