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I'm a grad student who will be teaching a course for the first time over the summer, and I'm not sure what the convention is on allowing a student to "sit in" on the class (that is, attend class without being registered, not getting credits, etc). If a student asks before class for permission to do so, is it to my discretion on whether or not to allow it? I suppose it's always within the instructor's right to deny the request, but it seems like approving the request without the school's permission could be a mistake, since I am an employee of the university. The faculty handbook seems to only consider if the student audits the course, in which case they have to officially register as auditing the class, but nothing about unofficially sitting in. Am I extending past my right as instructor if I let a student sit in?

EDIT: This is at a private university in the US.

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    This will be some combination of your university policies and unofficial local customs. You'll have to ask within your institution to find out whether it is acceptable. If you have a teaching mentor or someone else supervising your teaching, they would be ideal to ask. May 8, 2017 at 17:39
  • @NateEldredge Thanks, that's the straightforward answer that I should have known from the start.
    – Kevin Long
    May 8, 2017 at 18:19
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    Also be aware that sometimes students are confused or trying to obscure the question and think that they are then registered, re-taking, or will get credit in a different section (e.g., with an instructor they like less). Possibly generating a student grievance later on ("he said it was okay"). May 8, 2017 at 18:21
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    @MassimoOrtolano In the US, at a private university.
    – Kevin Long
    May 8, 2017 at 20:13
  • The special circumstances related to the summer term that I have seen are that some universities do not permit a formal audit over the summer. In this case, the only options open to the student might be formal enrollment (which could be quite expensive) vs. informal audit (sitting in). If you ask administration for formal permission, they might take the easy way out and give you a "no." Therefore I suggest reading your institution's policies and asking a couple of people who have taught this type of summer course whether they're aware of any precedents. May 9, 2017 at 19:29

4 Answers 4

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If you want to find out what exactly is within your legal power as an instructor and what is not, check your university regulations. They do vary from place to place. The general rule is that if there is no official policy in the handbook, the choice is yours, but you may also ask the chairman to be on the safe side (this is a good general strategy, by the way: while in doubt and seriously concerned about any legal stuff, just pass the issue up the administrative ladder). As to the rest, I usually allow people to sit in whenever they request it under two conditions

1) The classroom sitting capacity allows it

2) The student behaves in a non-disruptive way

So, unless you have a clear reason to say "No", I would say "Conditional yes" and tell the student any conditions you care about right away with the understanding that if any of them get violated, the sitting-in gets terminated.

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  • University regulations usually aren't a matter of law, so "legal power" isn't the right phrase, here. (But +1, since the rest of your answer is exactly right.) May 9, 2017 at 10:55
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Assuming that there are no university or departmental policies preventing it, you should consider the reason why the student would like to sit in on the class. I have had many cases where I have allowed non-enrolled students to attend my class. For instance, I have had several students sit-in on my doctoral courses, because they were trying to decide if they should apply to the program or not (one of these cases, the director asked me to allow the person to sit in, if I was okay with it). Some students have indicated that they have friends or colleagues with specific interest in the course topic and have asked if the student can join. I have found that acceptable, too. I have also had one student sit in on an undergraduate course, because he was deciding which school to attend and wanted to and was interested in the major that I taught in.

One case where I did not allow it was when I had a highly disruptive student who disapproved of course content (including content that I was required to teach in the course) and periodically became combative during class meetings (my director was aware of this ongoing situation). I was highly concerned that this visitor would further disrupt the course lecture or discussions and I did not allow it. So, consider how the visiting student could or may inhibit your teaching goals.

If the student is interested in attending an extended number of classes, I may also frown upon that. In my cases, they were one-time occurrences.

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    I appreciate the advice, though my question was more about whether or not it was within my power as instructor to allow/not allow this. Though you do have a good point about considering the student's motivations for doing so.
    – Kevin Long
    May 8, 2017 at 18:15
  • It's also worth considering that students that sit in on a class for no credit tend to be more motivated than other students that prioritize points over learning.
    – user67199
    May 8, 2017 at 19:49
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Have you spoken to your advisor? I think he may be the best person to give you the most accurate answer as per your university's policy.

I assume that you are a graduate TA under an instructor? In case of such confusion, they might be the best judge on what should be allowed, if it is so.

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Whether it is permissible will largely depend as others have commented on your institution's policies but regardless I would imagine you have the final say.

At my university, any student regardless of their degree, is allowed to sit in on any lecture happening on campus, providing there is sufficient space and that them sitting in does not prevent an enrolled student from attending nor interrupt or interfere with their learning.

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