A recent question asked how students should deal with professors who "think their class is extra special". Putting aside the question of how good students are at judging what an appropriate workload is: how should other professors handle this?

For instance, I've had students whose previous class routinely ran late, causing them to be late for mine. I once taught a class where several students had a professor immediately before me who decided, in clear violation of university policy, that their midterm exam would take place during a double length class period, which meant that would miss my entire class (which was in fact also my midterm). (This is slightly less crazy than it sounds, because it was a summer course.)

Let's stick to the case where the other professor is actually violating university policy. Students are usually very reluctant to try to enforce such policies on their professors, and I don't think I could in good faith encourage them to: even when there are written policies about these things, it's often unclear how a student would go about enforcing them, it's not clear that the relevant chair, dean, or provost actually would enforce them, and there's real potential for negative repercussions to the student.

I could be inflexible, but this seems unfair to the students, who are then stuck between two inflexible authority figures. Even if I'm right and the other is wrong, students shouldn't bear the brunt of that.

Finally, I could seek to enforce the policy on the other professor, but as mentioned, it's not clear how one does that, especially if the other professor is in a different department. (And since it's often relatively senior professors doing this sort of thing, at that point I worry about negative repercussions.)

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    "Students are usually very reluctant to try to enforce such policies on their professors": Of course: it's not student's business to enforce policies. At most, they can complain, but enforcement of policies is a faculty or department's duty. Nov 15, 2014 at 16:58
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    Dear Henry! This is an interesting problem. Did you talk to that professor about it (in person)? This is the first thing one should do before involving any power. Just man to man talk. Much better for personal relationships at any workplace. Might be the easiest and humanly thing as well, but sadly, people often forget about this possibility!
    – Tomas
    Nov 15, 2014 at 20:36
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    I know of one university when the time table software is linked to the lighting system, so the lights (and projector etc) are turned off in the room just after the lecture is due to finish. (The door locks are also integrated so an unbooked room cannot be used.)
    – Ian
    Nov 16, 2014 at 18:02
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    The situation where the professor routinely runs 10 minutes late is qualitatively different from the others. The solution there is that the student simply knows they have to walk out in order to get to their next class on time.
    – user1482
    Nov 16, 2014 at 19:16
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    @BenCrowell I had this situation as a student. Often, the overrun was essential information for the homework, so simply leaving was not a realistic option. Nov 17, 2014 at 3:04

5 Answers 5


Finally, I could seek to enforce the policy on the other professor, but as mentioned, it's not clear how one does that, especially if the other professor is in a different department. (And since it's often relatively senior professors doing this sort of thing, at that point I worry about negative repercussions.)

I see no alternative to "enforcing the policy on the other professor". Seniority does not confer the right to violate university policy. In my opinion you should not let hypothetical concerns about your career or your tenure case stop you from standing up for your students in a situation in which policy is clearly on your side: assistant professors are university faculty, not captives who hope to be rewarded in the future for their docile behavior.

The way to bring it up is to communicate with the other professor as soon as possible. I would recommend speaking in person or over the phone, as email renders trivial a large variety of passive-aggressive behavior: e.g., they might not respond at all, leaving you to wonder how long to wait. If you talk to someone face-to-face they have to either be reasonable or display their unreasonableness directly to you. How do you look another faculty member in the face and say "I'm sorry that students will be missing your midterm, but it is critical that my midterm last double its scheduled length"? You should come to the meeting knowing the relevant policy cold. You should bring printed copies of the policy, but only take them out if things are not going your way.

You should continue talking to this person until you have conveyed that their proposal is against the policy, is specifically detrimental to your course, and that students are being caught in the middle. If they agree to that or at least acknowledge receipt of the information and still are intransigent, then you should end the conversation, calmly, by saying that you will have to take the situation up with the administration.

I would then bring the matter to your department head and see what is suggested. If the faculty member is in a different department then it may be in order for the two department heads to have a discussion. If the department head does not take ownership of the issue you should ask whether he [I happen to know that the head of the OP's department is a "he"] wants you to take up the issue with the higher administration. If not, then as an assistant professor this may be the place to drop it, but again you should communicate clearly that policy is being violated and students are suffering. Or you could take it up with the higher administration: I might have done that as an assistant professor. (As a tenured associate professor I would probably do it now, and would not worry about it jeopardizing my future promotion or dealings in the department. On the other hand, the egregious behavior you described would probably not even be attempted at my large public university.) Tenure and promotion is not a docility contest, and "He reported a rule violation" is not a point against someone's case. I think honestly the issue is mostly one of your own peace of mind, so act accordingly.

You certainly have my sympathies: it sounds like the other professor is being both selfish and unreasonable. It's hard to deal with unreasonable people -- you just can't reason with them! -- and if a situation arises in which it is primarily a battle of wills, then the unreasonable person tends to take the outside track. The fact that you care about the students and the other guy apparently really does not could indeed make you blink first. You may for instance end up having to give a makeup exam to some of the students. If so you should clearly document every time you do that and have the individual students vouch for you as well.

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    +1 for talking to the other professor first. Sometimes the other professor means well and just doesn't know that it doesn't work out for the students. For example, many profs at my university did a 15min break in the middle of a 1 1/2h lecture to give the students time to get a coffee and some fresh air. However, when the physics department moved 4km away from the math department, the 15min less between the lectures turned out to be a real problem for the students - but the profs didn't know that, because they didn't have to get to the next lecture 4km away. Nov 16, 2014 at 18:38
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    "... captives who hope to be rewarded in the future for their docile behavior" pretty much applies ubiquitously at every level of academia, sadly.
    – Paul
    Nov 16, 2014 at 20:05
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    @Paul: I think your assessment is too bleak. The pressure to be docile is nearly ubiquitous in academia (and in many other careers...), but we get to decide how to respond to that. In the current academic climate, departments are seeking to tenure the overwhelming majority of tenure-track faculty (and tenure rates are indeed very high: I would guess over 90%). An acquired reputation of being truly difficult to work with can be problematic, but not always agreeing with other faculty is really not, in all of my experience. Nov 16, 2014 at 20:14

Where I did my undergrad, students' complaints were common, and now the dean has a zero tolerance policy towards extending compulsory lessons or exams beyond the allocated time. It takes them only one student complain to get involved.

The most immediate action they can take is just not allow the booking of the room, which is quite effective in itself; and also talking to the professor in question. In case of repeated transgressions, they can attempt other actions, like giving that subject to another department in the following years.

So, the best way you can solve this is to get the people in power involved, and show that the students don't need to go through many hoops to get their rights enforced.

If you want to ensure enforcement you need the students, because they are the only ones who will surely know when there is a collision. Make sure they know there are channels open for them, anonymous, and swift.


As a student, I have e-mailed a professor to point out the difficulty caused by his overrun habit. I was much older than most of the class, which had two consequences:

  1. I needed the entire scheduled 10 minutes to get to my next class.
  2. I had enough experience to know that sending the e-mail would not affect my grade etc.

Even so, I would have welcomed support from the professor teaching the second class.

  • Just curious: did you try to enlist the help of the other professor?
    – aeismail
    Nov 17, 2014 at 4:44
  • @aeismail Not explicitly. If I remember correctly, I did copy him on my e-mail to the overrunning professor, so he would know why I was arriving late for his lectures. Nov 17, 2014 at 5:17

Not sure whether student councils are really so unimportant at other institutions, but once again I would advice you to address a student representative from that class (or otherwise from that year). Point out the specific rules they are violating and they should know who to address and how to get the rules enforced, after all, that's a huge part of what the student council does (assuming it's in the students best interest, which this does sound like, keep in mind to always highlight the advantages for the students if the policy is enforced). The advantage is that you are not 'attacking' a colleague and the student council will never mention your name. On top of that - if played well - it will even put you on good terms with the student council (after all, by pointing out the specific policies that were violated you saved them work), which might be useful if you ever make an unintentional mistake somewhere.

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    In all of my experience with American universities, student councils / student associations have essentially no role to play in issues like this. Student associations can provide a voice for students to advocate for certain changes. In this case the rules are already as desired; the problem is that they are not being followed. It is not the student council's role to try to get individual faculty members to follow university rules. Nov 15, 2014 at 22:14
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    Agreed with Pete. At least in the case of most American universities, this would be a matter for a department chair or dean (or provost) to resolve. The student councils have no authority over faculty members. The best the student council could do would be to go to the same people you could just go to directly.
    – reirab
    Nov 16, 2014 at 4:07
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    @reirab: Absolutely true, except if you go yourself you will be conceived as attaching a colleague, if the student council takes this up it will be seen as students defending themselves. Nov 16, 2014 at 12:09


IMO you best bet is to ask the other professor to help you out with an issue. Explain that students are complaining that the "other professor" runs over.

The professor will then either engage with you in resolving the problem or will try not to engage. Either way summarize the discussion back to the professor in an email and try to use the mutually agreeable solution. You may have to try this a few times but if within one or two meetings you don't resolve the problem you can then escalate it to "upper management" with documentation of what has been tried.

If none of this works you could in clear conscious ask at the beginning of a course if your students have "that other" professor before you ad suggest that they not keep both.

Once you show the way other brave souls may follow suit and the peer pressure could evoke a behavior change where your voice could not.

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