The Doctor Needs Advice: Office Hours

November 9, 2007, 6:37 pm

Those of you who have been following Tenured Radical since before the 2.0 edition may remember the day when I realized (with a hot bang) that I had written about matters close to my heart in such a way as to lead my students and colleagues to believe that they could, or thought they could, recognize themselves in my blog entries. One offended colleague even wrote a snarky comment accusing me of being unfit to blog because, in one post, I had split an infinitive (yes, people were that upset.) I can’t guess in what department that person works. Can you?

Note: despite the difficult syntax, I did not conclude the penultimate sentence in the previous paragraph with a preposition. Ho ho ho. The grammarians aren’t going to have me to kick around anymore.

So what I am about to say skates on thin ice, I am sure, but only because a great many students say and do the same things, not because I am actually reporting recent encounters with my current students. My question is this – and it is truly a question that seeks a constructive, rather than a student-blaming answer — how do you get students to use the office hours that you have scheduled and publicized by every means that the university makes possible, rather than each student trying to make appointments randomly without regard to said schedule? And how do you get students to use the tools available to find out what your office hours are, as opposed to constantly writing emails (each of which requires a separate answer) to ask after your office hours as if they were a State Secret?

This is about to become urgent for me and, I suspect, for you too, dear reader. We are entering a heavy advising period at Zenith, as Spring Semester pre-registration is on the horizon. Furthermore, we are also at the point in the term where there is a need for a somewhat stepped-up number of conferences with students. Some of my students have academic issues that have snowballed; others want to know how to improve their work before it is too late. Some students need to check in for study abroad paperwork; others are trying to decide on a major in plenty of time to choose the right courses for spring. I will — this weekend — have to figure out when I will have expanded office hours and how expanded they will be. And I will send an email on Sunday or Monday saying what they are, I will post them on my door and then this will happen:

I will sit in my office reading for two and a half weeks, give or take a student here and there, and then seventy or eighty people will try to see me in a window of about 72 hours and/or try to make appointments when I can’t possibly be there.

This is an extension of what always happens, but is less of an issue when there aren’t so many official administrative duties to perform. To wit: regardless of the fact that my office hours are posted on my syllabus, on the History and American Studies websites, on the History and American Studies bulletin boards, on the class Black Board, on my faculty profile and in the group emails I send now and again to all majors, all advisees, and every student who is enrolled with me, I receive many emails that say something like…..

“Dear Professor Radical, When are your office hours?”
“Professor Radical: I come to your office but you are never there. When are your office hours?”
“Professor Radical: I am free tomorrow, Friday. I need to see you. What time will you be in your office?” (NB: I am never in my office on Friday.)
“Professor Radical, I wrote you last week/yesterday/last month — when can I see you?”

That this happens every semester makes me think I must be doing something wrong. There are so many students and just one of me, so logic suggests it is my mistake and my problem to solve. But what is it that I am doing wrong here? I honestly do not know.

What do you think?

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