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As a preface, this is a related question but it is from a different perspective.

I am an undergraduate student in physics and have a professor that routinely ignores his own office hours. He has three scheduled office hours/homework help sessions each week (two hours on one day and a third the next).

The professor has (and has had all semester) a known staff conflict during the second hour of the first help session and as such has missed at least one hour every week. He has not and will not reschedule this hour.

He also is routinely late to the first hour on the first day as well. As such, he is only at his office hours for twenty or so minutes for the first session. The second day he holds office hours he also often comes late but is much more consistent in attending. Unfortunately for me, I have a class conflict at that time and can rarely attend.

As a student, I learn best while working on homework problems and in one-on-one (or small group) interactions with the professor. Because of his unavailability, I feel like I am not learning anywhere near as well as I could. This is extremely frustrating to me as a student and overall I would like to know what, if anything, can I do as an undergraduate student to encourage my professor to attend his office hours?

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    Email him...? Talk to him after class and arrange a time to meet? – spacetyper Mar 10 '15 at 3:12
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    Jeez. That sounds very very bad and very much like something the administration (or at least the department head) should be made aware of. – Kyle Strand Mar 10 '15 at 16:37
  • Unfortunately this is hardly atypical, especially at US research universities. The fundamental problem is that teaching is given little value. The professor you have is merely one especially bad manifestation of this problem. – Kenny LJ Mar 11 '15 at 15:28
  • Contact him after class and set up a time. Either email or in person. He should be there once you set it up. Else, TA. – neuronet Jul 21 '16 at 3:12
  • If universities place more emphasis on research than pedagogy, then an academic favoring research to the detriment of pedagogy is unlikely to be accountable for things such as maintenance of office hours. – Stumbler Nov 9 '18 at 10:52
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Most faculty members state that they are available during their scheduled office hours or by appointment. If this is the case, then the most effective way for you to handle this situation is to send an email (or in-person) request for a short meeting outside of the regularly scheduled office hours.

If the request is declined, you may want to speak to the person in your department who is responsible for undergraduate education to let them know about the situation, and ask for help in resolving the situation.

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    Unfortunately, I have a pretty hard time thinking of a scenario where escalating ends well for the student. – Corvus Mar 9 '15 at 23:28
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    @Corvus: that's a matter of checking the culture of the institution, and escalating in the "right" way if it's possible at all. Are professors on the whole honest and committed to teaching, or are they on the whole liars? If the former, then this professor might be shamed into acting more like his peers, by a series of polite queries from his students to someone with specific responsibility for undergraduate teaching arrangements, saying they went to his office hours and he wasn't there, what should they do next? If the latter, he probably acts with impunity: watch your wallet in his presence! – Steve Jessop Mar 10 '15 at 0:14
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    @Steve Jessop If by escalate you only mean sending a series of polite emails, I totally agree. By escalating, I meant complaining to a chair or dean -- and I just can't see how this could end well irrespective of the culture of the institution. It might end worse for the professor than for the student, but even then the student isn't feel comfortable going to the enforced office hours and getting the help needed. – Corvus Mar 10 '15 at 0:20
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    Having been a chair in this situation, I can say in all honesty that this can end up OK for the student. When I was presented with such complaints by students, I investigated, and if it was true that the faculty member was routinely skipping office hours, I spoke with the faculty member without naming specific students. In this case it seems clear that the faculty member isn't doing their job, and I'd hope that most department chairs (or if there is one in this department undergraduate coordinators) would be able to deal with the situation appropriately. – Brian Borchers Mar 10 '15 at 1:07
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    This is also something that the student can and should complain about in teaching evaluations at the end of the semester. – Brian Borchers Mar 10 '15 at 1:08
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The professor should honor their office hours but it seems like you want a mini-class every week to sum up what he has already taught.

I would first try to engage the professor during class. If your questions are answered during class then you are done - and great for you because now you don't have to go back to his office.

If the professor tells you that he does not have time for your questions or that to ask him during office hours, then great again because now you have a solid reason for having his office hours enforced.

I would follow up with the professor via phone or email to make sure to schedule an appointment. And then also show up at the office hours and email the professor then. "Hi Professor X, I am currently at your office during your designated hours. Are you going to be available soon and if not when can we make up the hours?"

The tone of your question worries me a bit though. If I were a professor and there was a student who expected me to tutor them one on one then I may take appointments with that student less serious, especially if this student isn't asking any questions in class. Can you imagine if everyone said "I learn better in one on one situations"? The professor would need 40 hours a week of office hours and his classes would be useless.

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    I think that your concern about extra office hours and appointments may be a valid one (it's certainly one that I have faced), but I don't think that there's any ambiguity in the situation described. A professor must be present for scheduled office hours (with obvious allowance for rare and unavoidable exceptions). If a student wants to use those office hours to work homework problems or get one-on-one help, and is not preventing other students from getting help or being disrespectful to the professor, then I think that it's the professor's responsibility to accommodate that student. – LSpice Mar 11 '15 at 1:55
  • @LSpice - I completely agree. I am more about handling this without getting higher ups involved (and possibly setting off a professor) and trying to set expectations for the OP. – blankip Mar 11 '15 at 3:54
  • One-on-one with a professor? Great expectations. There are universities with 2-on-1, but one on one would be pretty luxurious. That being said, it's ok to ask for appointment slots (or set appointments) being honoured. – Captain Emacs Jun 10 '16 at 9:54
3

If the professor is refusing to play ball, and you have reasonably done what you can to sort it out between the two of you (polite requests by email to arrange other times, dropping in during the hours to ask), you should escalate this up the chain of command. Make a complaint to your student representative, if you have one, and be sure to ask to be notified when a reply to that complaint is made. Also, make a complaint to the head of the undergraduate studies committee, or whatever equivalent you have. If that doesn't go anywhere, CC in the head of department. If you really want to be annoying, do this in person.

There is a reason to get another person involved: if the professor is tied up in another teaching or administrative commitment, one perhaps she would rather actually avoid, she now has some wriggle room to say "sorry, I'm busy, the head of department wants me to do this instead".

Believe me, academic staff spend a huge amount of time dealing with student matters. If you make the right request through the appropriate channels, it will be heard. And actually, 99% may privately grumble about having to teach students, and the time commitment that is, but they do enjoy it really and they do like to see enthusiastic students.

I don't know which country you are in, but where I am the undergraduates now pay a lot of money for their education. From that point of view I would expect as a paying customer to get my money's worth.

Obviously, you better have some good questions to ask when you do get her attention.

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    +1 for "There is a reason to get another person involved: if the professor is tied up in another teaching or administrative commitment, one perhaps she would rather actually avoid, she now has some wriggle room to say "sorry, I'm busy, the head of department wants me to do this instead". – Corvus Mar 10 '15 at 4:14
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    -1 for "From that point of view I would expect as a paying customer to get my money's worth." -- smiley or none. This view of higher education as a commercial exchange is one of the worst changes we've seen over the past two decades. – Corvus Mar 10 '15 at 4:15
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    Well, a commercial exchange is what it looked like when I paid a lot of money to go there. :) Now we can agree that it isn't the most optimal design for a higher education system, but that does not change the situation as it presently stands. – Calchas Mar 10 '15 at 4:30
  • I don't think this will get the professor out of an unwanted administrative commitment. If I schedule an office hour at the time of a committee meeting, the department won't just excuse me from the committee meeting (or from holding my office hour); I'd be expected to move the office hour to a time when I don't have a schedule conflict. – Andreas Blass Jun 10 '16 at 0:49
1
  1. Try sending an email directly to the professor in question, and bring up this concern in a reasonable manner.

Unfortunately, some professors are more rigid than others. Other things to do:

  1. It seems like small and personal interactions are more your liking. Form a study group with classmates and/or friends. Would recommend talking to someone you sit next to in lecture regularly, your lab partner (if you have one), or the likes of those.
  2. Attend a different professor's office hours who also teaches the same course. Course syllabi are usually archived on department websites, and office hours should be listed on them. Who knows, you might like this professor better.
0

Just another thought, when asked to schedule a time you can ask to schedule during explicit office hours in which you can come. The professor does not have much leg to stand on if you ask to meet during the time the professor is routinely late.

Giving the prof. the benefit of the doubt, it may be the case that the professor is routinely late during that time slot because no one uses the office hours, so they are not punctual. (Although I totally agree it is unprofessional even if this is the case.)

I agree as presented this case is problematic, but you have to remember the perspective of the professor. No matter what time slots you have the office hours it will always leave some students on the short end of the stick due to conflicts -- it is impossible to make everyone happy. I've gotten both complaints about office hours and times I've held extra study sessions. I'm willing to meet alternative times due to a tough work schedule or class conflicts, not so much because it conflicts with your afternoon workout session or because you only come to campus on certain days of the week.

  • It seems that "No matter what time slots you have …" is not related to the poster's concerns. The poster mentions an incompatibility with some scheduled office hours, but does not seem to be complaining about it. The complaint is directed at a professor who is unavoidable at a time that the professor has scheduled, which is, as you say, unreasonable, and I think does not deserve any attempt to see it from that professor's perspective. – LSpice Mar 11 '15 at 1:58
  • @LSpice - the point of these Q's and A's is to address situations that generalize to more individuals. I agree as the OP stated it the professor's behavior is unreasonable. You should always try to have empathy though for whomever your dealing with, and that statement holds true for both this OP in the future and anyone else reading this question. – Andy W Mar 12 '15 at 12:00

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