Why Haven’t I Heard From You?

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Listen to my blog entry here.

It’s Friday. I am listening to Ella Fitzgerald, plowing through some old email, and reading news. Here’s one to shake your heads at! According to an article fromThe SUNY New Paltz Oracle, ‘”One in Four Full-Time Professors Missing During Office Hours.” The piece, by student Andrew Lipkowitz, contains this tidbit:

Attendance at office hours also varied by rank. The investigation indicated that the longer professors are at the college, the less likely they were to be in their office. Full professors were present during all three visits 41 percent of the time. Associate professors were present 55 percent of the time and assistant professors were present 67 percent.

SUNY New Paltz Provost and Academic Vice President David Lavallee responded that, “We know there’s been dissatisfaction on the student opinion survey. We’ve tried to make improvements on the academic advising side, maybe we need to improve on the faculty side.” Maybe? You think? Kinda, huh? Maybe someone should remind Dr. Lavallee that the New York State legislature just gave the SUNY system $20 million dollars to hire more full-time faculty based on the testimony of SUNY and union leaders, who told them that full-time faculty (unlike their part-time colleagues) are available to students both inside and outside of class.

I taught for ten years, and I missed holding office hours a handful of times. Faculty at New Paltz complained that students don’t make use of faculty office hours. Of course, this is a lame excuse. If students don’t make use of faculty office hours, that is the responsibility of the faculty member. When I taught, I knew which students needed to come and see me to avoid nasty conflicts at the semester’s end. It was much easier to ask struggling students to come in and work with them, than to justify a C- to an embarrassed, defensive and disappointed student at the end of term. Faculty who don’t invite students to come and chat are shirking their responsibilities. To then skip office hours because students don’t just pop in and chat on their own is worse still.

Undergraduate students are learning how to make professional connections and network while they’re in college. This is why faculty need to initiate meetings. If I had a student who participated in class infrequently, I scheduled a meeting. If I had a student who was obviously not keeping up with the work, I scheduled a meeting. If I had a student who was particularly motivated, I scheduled a meeting. I always saw office hours as a way to connect to students individually.

Unfortunately, the student reporters didn’t include New Paltz’s part-time faculty in their research. This was a mistake. Adjuncts at the college are expected to hold a single office hour each week. My guess is that many of them are holding more than a single hour. I would be interested to know, as well, whether more or fewer part-time faculty miss holding their scheduled office hour, post their office hour (20 percent of full-time faculty didn’t even bother to post hours), and whether there was a similar correlation between length of adjunct employment and whether a part-timer held her/his hour.

Tellingly, according to the article, “Lavallee did not say whether he planned to investigate the office hours matter or to take it up with faculty. He did suggest that some changes could make sense, noting that if office hours were posted online it might improve the situation.” What good posting the hours online would be when faculty didn’t show up at their offices is unclear. What is clear is that New Paltz department chairs and administrators are loathe to supervise their full-time faculty, and tell them they must post and keep office hours or risk reprimand.

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