My contract requires that I maintain a certain number of office hours a week where I am available to meet with students. In practice this time is rarely entirely taken up by student meetings however.

Recently I have joined some relatively large university committees that (not surprisingly) have a hard time arranging meeting times. I have historically indicated that I am unavailable to meet during my office hours but I am not sure if this is the appropriate position to take.

The solutions that I see are:

  1. Consider this time booked and unavailable.

  2. Consider this time flexible and reschedule office hours as needed (this would likely be somewhat frequent and could also just create more downstream conflicts).

  3. Cancel the office hours as conflicts arise.

What is the appropriate way to deal with responsibilities that conflict with office hours?

  • One data point: I usually keep my office hours, unless the committee meeting seems particularly important. – Anonymous Oct 24 '14 at 15:12
  • Practice varies in my department: some faculty refuse to miss their office hours, other are happy to reschedule them. I think you just have to do something reasonable to try to balance your commitments. Remember that neither teaching alone, nor committee work alone, is what you are there for. – Oswald Veblen Oct 24 '14 at 22:47
  • Just to clarify: The committee meetings do not have a fixed timeslot throughout the semester, at a time when all committee members are available? – O. R. Mapper Oct 25 '14 at 8:19
  • @O.R. Mapper The meetings do not have a fixed time but are each scheduled seperately. – DQdlM Oct 25 '14 at 11:57

It seems to me that you need to generally be available for students a certain number of hours per week, without scheduling appointments. That's because scheduling an appointment is somewhat of a barrier, making it less likely students will avail themselves of your assistance. Office hours are largely intended to be for students who may have a hard time asking for help; those students may have a hard time getting help otherwise. (Of course, whether this works in practice is another question...)

As such, if it's a rare thing, it's probably fine to just cancel the hours; but if it's as frequent as your question makes it out to be, you should keep the office hours as set. If the committees often like to use that time for meetings, I would (permanently) move your office hours, but not reschedule them frequently - that leads to confusion over what hours you hold that particular week.

  • 5
    If the conflict is frequent, just changing the official "office hours" for the rest of the semester would also work. – Oswald Veblen Oct 24 '14 at 22:46

My feeling is that it is fine to cancel or reschedule office hours when other responsibilities conflict, provided:

  1. You announce it to students several days in advance;

  2. You tell students that you are happy to meet them at another time, if they make an appointment.

  • 4
    I think this is OK as long as you don't do it too often. As a student I had a few professors who canceled their office hours every other week and gave off the impression that they were not available if students needed them (even if this was not the case and they were available at other times). – Conor Oct 24 '14 at 21:28

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