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Generally speaking, keeping the door open to your office while attending with a student (or students) is a safe policy given the amount of danger one can get in should any allegations be made. (I mention this last bit in light of the number of Title IX investigations that seem to be on the rise.)

However, is there ever an appropriate situation where closing the office door while meeting with a student or students is okay as a teacher/lecturer/professor?

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    Suggestion: default to open door, tell student that they're free to close it. By making it their decision you remove the power dynamic from the equation. If there's some reason you shouldn't let them close the door then you probably do want to consider the third party approach.
    – keshlam
    Apr 8, 2015 at 2:43
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    When it is private!! You should close the door if you have to tell the kid something really important or something very bad to him or her. Apr 8, 2015 at 3:22
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    Your question reads to me like you are missing a "not" before "a safe policy", do you want to edit it? Apr 8, 2015 at 6:27
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    @StephanKolassa No, it's correct as it is. Leaving the door open is safe because it indicates you have nothing to hide: it's unlikely that somebody is going to behave inappropriately if anyone walking past could see and hear it. Apr 8, 2015 at 10:23
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    What about using a glass door?
    – o0'.
    Apr 8, 2015 at 10:54

3 Answers 3

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This is one of those topics for which different people have different opinions. Some professors (and some programs) have no issue with meeting with students one-on-one behind closed doors. Others will avoid it whenever possible. There are many, many factors that can affect the decision - including sensitive issues such as gender, power imbalances, tenure or job security, etc. It is impossible to give one-size-fits-all advice.

That being said, I think it is a fine practice to meet with your door open whenever possible, and simply lower your voice to avoid sharing private information such as grades. For ordinary meetings, such as office hours, there is no serious reason to meet behind closed doors.

For situations where there are other concerns - such as concerns about of any kind of unprofessional behavior or claims about unprofessional behavior - it is often better to ask another faculty member to be present for the meeting. Even if they do not speak, their mere presence can genuinely help defuse tense situations by keeping you and the student more calm. Moreover, the other person is also able to recount their memory of the meeting should it be necessary, avoiding some issues that can arise when only two people were present for a conversation.

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In my experience, a closed door is most likely when the two people have already established a trusted relationship and are on the same side in a tricky situation. For example, when I was a TA and the professor and I were talking about how to deal with a possibly-cheating student, then we would likely close the door.

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I think the convention, at least in the US is that if you are in a position of authority to convey anything confidential to the student, and if the conversation happens to be of confidential nature, it should take place behind closed doors. To be practical, I would make sure I have a clear idea of what I want to communicate and try to keep it as brief as possible. If there is a chance that things might escalate, may be have the conversation somewhere in the open such as a ground or a walkway around the institute.

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    The most safe option, if there is any real chance of escalation, is to ask a neutral third party (such as another faculty member) to be present. Apr 8, 2015 at 1:00

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