107

Last week, because of a subway delay due to bad weather I arrived 15 minutes late to class to find out my professor had left 10 minutes before because nobody else had arrived.

Was it okay for him to do that? Would it be rude to complain about this matter?

We are just 4 students between mid 20's to mid 30's, this is a grad school elective course with a single session of 3 hours every week, starting at 17:00 ending at 20:00.

I'm also a former TA and currently a lecturer of an undergrad Physics 101 course, so I'm aware of how it feels when even half of the class is missing.

Update version 2 Today I was the only one to attend (unsure about the reasons my classmates had, the weather was OK this time). And talked to the professor about the issue. He said this situation wasn't his problem. About the weather/commute issue he said this: "Of course I know that happens, I'm much older than you". Then decided there wasn't enough people, handed me the class notes saying we will skip theory again because "everyone is irresponsible" (exact words again) and left. I'm dumbfounded a second time.

Final update I decided to let it be for now. I'm not going to pick a fight alone like a crazy person (my classmates don't see a problem, neither with the professor's behaviour, nor theirs). If the situation takes a turn to the worse, I'll just withdraw for the course and hope someone else teaches it next year. Thanks for everyone's interest :) never expected so many comments!

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – ff524 Jun 7 '17 at 22:15

18 Answers 18

15

This is something that is going to vary quite a bit from one country to another. My personal opinion about the ethics of this, for a three-hour class that meets once a week, on a day of a torrential downpour (and I have lived in places that featured this kind of bad weather, so I get the picture): the professor should have waited a bit longer. Also, it would have been considerate for him to go to an office or library nearby, to get some work done, leaving a note in the classroom.

But I will focus my answer on a positive action you can do, now, about what happened.

You had prepared some questions. Good. Now bring those questions to the professor in office hours.

If the professor looks at his watch in a nasty way every three and a half minutes, ignore it and pretend he is being polite. And be polite.

Do not make any snide or subtle remark connecting your visit to office hours with what happened the day you were late. You may briefly apologize for being late, if you can trust yourself to do it completely deadpan.

This approach has a couple of things going for it:

  1. You get your questions answered

  2. The professor may put two and two together and realize that it is less convenient to answer questions in office hours than in class.

But don't overdo it. Don't spend more than half an hour in his office discussing your questions with him.

It might be inconvenient for you to make a special trip to campus just for 20 or 30 minutes in office hours, but it will worth it, as this can be more effective than grousing.

Note: This answer was written in response to the un-updated version of the question. If OP would like me to write an answer to the question in its new form, a separate question should be posted.

  • An extended discussion (including comments that are critical of this answer) has been moved to chat. I encourage readers to check out that transcript to get a fuller picture. – ff524 Jun 11 '17 at 20:47
141

I think this is less about regulations and more about respect and conditioning the students. Also, don't feel offended, you are not the (primary) reason for what happened.

Legitimate Reasons for Leaving

Respect

The fact that 0% of the students arrived shows the professor an

  • immense lack of interest in his teaching subject ("I disdain the subject that you spend years researching and thus I disdain you.")
  • OR complete disregard of his didactic skills ("You are so bad at teaching, that I don't think I can gain anything from your lecture.")
  • OR disregard of his personal status ("You are such an unimportant person and your status is so much below me, that you will have to adjust your life to mine and wait for my arrival.")

Even if the class only consists of 5 students, he might extrapolate that everyone has one or more of these convictions. If he waits for students to arrive, he accepts his lower status and/or personal offense.

Operant Conditioning

If the professor waits for students to arrive, they will be conditioned that coming late has no negative consequences. Canceling the class will incur a penalty to students and might force them to take arrival times more serious in order to gain the advantage of having the course material explained to them.

Recommendation

Communicate (in person or via e-mail) to the professor

  1. that you are very sorry for your absence
  2. state your reasons (should be severe enough)
  3. and make sure to allude to one more of the three points mentioned in the respect section.

If he feels that you have legitimate reasons for being late and that your absence was not a sign of disrespect, I am sure that he will be more inclined to wait longer next time you are late or might even offer you to come by his office to "pick him up" for the lecture.


OP's Update

(This should probably be a new question, since the update significantly changes the circumstances.)

I am very sorry that the professor refused to give a lecture for you alone. It is not your fault that you were the only present and thus it is imho unfair that you have to bear the consequences.

Updated Recommendation

I would approach him again

  1. start with how unsatisfactory the situation for him and you is
    • again alluding to the respect section and
  2. then ask him: Why do I have to bear the consequences for the action of other students? hoping that he is rational enough to realize his mistake. Basically you should try to make him understand that he does the same to you that other students are doing to him.

Maybe he was just disappointed about the low presence again and is an overly emotional person. Unfortunately that is not something you will be able to change.

If this does not resolve the situation I would ask around the department for existing regulations regarding this.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – eykanal Jun 8 '17 at 19:52
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    [I don't think this was part of any extended discussion, so I'll copy it here again.] Frankly, I don't understand this answer at all. (1) A legitimate reason for leaving is that professor has better things to do with their time than sit on an empty lecture hall. Otherwise I don't see how deducing that students don't show enough respect is a legitimate reason for not doing their job. (2) Whether you need to state reasons for absense depends highly on the local culture. In my university (in Finland), I would be very confused if a student started explaining why they missed my lecture. – JiK Jun 8 '17 at 20:23
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    I think the first section is frankly ridiculous and unprofessional. A professor should not be reading so extensively into perceived personal slights that they refuse to do their job. – k_g Jun 10 '17 at 2:03
  • @k_g: I agree: He should not. But he did as I interpret from OP's updates. What you probably mean is that behavior described in the first section is "ridiculous and unprofessional" and not the answer itself? – problemofficer Jun 17 '17 at 18:07
  • @problemofficer Correct. I think that explaining in such a matter-of-fact way gives the impression you support such behavior. Sorry for my misinterpretation. – k_g Jun 17 '17 at 18:53
65

If my classroom was empty a full five minutes after class was scheduled to begin, I might start wondering if, unbeknownst to me, class had been cancelled for some reason. I don’t know that I’d leave after a mere five minutes, but I would certainly start thinking about it by then.

To prevent this from happening again, perhaps the best solution is to make sure at least one student is on time – even if you all have to draw straws to figure out who that will be.

There is really too little information provided to say much else. You have omitted a lot of critical details, such as the size of the class, how bad the weather was that day, and how habitually students wander in late to class. If the majority of the class is rarely on time, your professor might have been using this as a chance to teach a lesson about promptness, manners, and the value of an education.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – eykanal Jun 20 '17 at 14:04
19

Generally, Professors have the authority to schedule their classes as they see fit in accordance to their department policies, i.e. tests and assignments. Ultimately, cancelling class is usually at the discretion of the Professor in question.

If you are concerned with missing out on class materials taught on that day, or if attendance is part of your grade, it would be wise to send an email to the professor indicating that you were present on that date (albeit late due to the subway delay) and that there was no one present in class.

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    Key word in the first sentence is "schedule", and in the second sentence "cancel". Disappearance and radio silence is not "scheduling" or "canceling". Both of those involve communication. – Mehrdad Jun 6 '17 at 10:32
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    @Mehrdad Standing up during the scheduled class and saying "this class is cancelled, any objections? None? Ok, see you next week." is communication at a time when students are supposed to be present. – Yakk Jun 6 '17 at 15:26
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    @Yakk: Every single time I ever had a class cancelled, it was announced via email or similar. Not during lecture. Students have interviews, doctor appointments, sometimes even kids that make messes, etc... you announce in a manner such that people with legitimate reasons not to be there can be aware of the cancellation. – Mehrdad Jun 6 '17 at 15:32
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    @Yakk Sure, you could argue that, but did he do that? I bet he didn't even bother to do that. – xDaizu Jun 8 '17 at 11:13
15

I guess it was kind of frustrating for your professor, too - imagine yourself to prepare a lecture, and to go to the lecture room... and noone shows up, and then you have to re-plan all the future sessions in order to catch up with the missing lecture.

You certainly may make a complaint. But then he alike may dock points for being not there when the lecture started (...or, even worse: remember your name). Thus, I'd strongly advise against complaining: You should cooperate.

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    Few Professors are so unprofessional and petty as to hold something like this against a student. – Jack Aidley Jun 5 '17 at 9:40
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    "re-plan all the future sessions in order to catch up with the missing lecture"?? Really? No one showed up. I would consider the lecture as already given. – Gabriel Jun 5 '17 at 14:53
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    "and then you have to re-plan all the future sessions in order to catch up with the missing lecture." So is this a thing at universities? At our university if you are not in the lecture then it's your fault. The topic will still be in the exam and that's it. – DSVA Jun 5 '17 at 21:46
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    @jvb I don't think I understand your answer. The Prof.s are doing exactly that. They provide knowledge and insights, they answer your questions, they help you with problems,... But we are at university, not in school. Everyone is a grown-up and everyone is responsible for himself. The university offers all those lectures which you can attend, but if you don't want to attend then that's your decision. In the end you have to prove you know the content of the lecture. Imo that's exactly how it's meant to be. – DSVA Jun 6 '17 at 6:43
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    @jvb the Prof. isn't skipping it, the students are. The Prof. would hold the lecture if the students show up, if they don't then there's no point in talking alone in a room. If it's safety related (for example for lab courses) you want to have compulsory attendance. If you are talking about a particle in a 1D box it should be up to the student to decide if he wants to learn this (in class) or not. It's not the Professors duty to force the students to learn something, it's his duty to provide all the information and skills needed if the students want to learn something. – DSVA Jun 6 '17 at 15:51
14

"Stuff Happens".

You don't say how bad the bad weather was, but I'll assume if it was bad enough to impact your commute, and if NOBODY showed up to class, the prof had some reason to assume that nobody was going to show up.

Been there, even from the teaching perspective. Once, I allowed an extra 90 minutes for a 30 minute commute, and the commute ended up taking me FOUR AND A HALF HOURS. I missed my class, and did my best to get word out to my students.

Would I have waited a bit longer to leave if I were the instructor in your narrative? Possibly, especially if the weather weren't that bad -- but if it weren't, it's not that unreasonable to expect that if students are going to show up, that they show up on time -- especially graduate students.

Flip to the other side of the coin ... you were late, and presumably only once. Do you think your teacher would be justified in calling the head of your grad program to say that you're an irresponsible student?

  • It was raining lightly at the beginning and heavily when I was halfway there. Some areas in the city are prone to small floods, that's why my train got delayed. About the last point, it never occurred to me to go as far as talking to his superior. My intention is to bring the topic to the professor himself in the less aggressive way. – Ann Greene Jun 5 '17 at 18:52
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    @AnnGreene -- then complaining accomplishes little. If you would like to start a communication with the prof asking directly what his attendance policy with regard to lecturing is, and to ask that he wait 15 minutes or so before calling it a day in order to better accommodate commuting students, that might be more productive. It is quite odd that NONE of the students were there by the start of class. – Scott Seidman Jun 5 '17 at 19:40
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    @AnnGreene By all means feel free to explain the situation to your professor, but be prepared that they're probably going to tell you to be on time next class. If your city is really prone to flooding on a regular basis it sounds like you should be leaving 30 minutes early on rainy days. Showing up 15 minutes late for a professional meeting of any kind reflects badly, regardless of whether it was out of your control. – David Jun 5 '17 at 20:09
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As a TA you should also know that teachers, like students are allowed to leave after a certain period of time if there is a no show. This may change based on university policy, but most schools I have attended give the students 10 minutes before they are able to leave if a teacher does not show up. Most schools make an attempt to avoid this by sending another faculty who is free to the class to stall for time until they can find a sub OR release people. Why should teachers not have the same luxury? Even if you showed up 15 minutes late and was the first person to arrive, by technicality he would have still been gone.

You also made no mention to attempt to tell him you are arriving late. This is something you can easily see. You are stuck on a train, there are issues, bad weather. You see it is 10-15 minutes before class starts and not having any success in showing up on time. Email the teacher and notify him that you are running late. The teacher is aware of the bad weather. They had to get through it too or can look out the window and see. No students, no one tried to contact him until after he left. He figured everyone took advantage of the weather and left.

  • 3
    We don't have a written rule about how much time do we/they have to wait in my University. 5 minutes of a 3 hour class is less of 3% of the period, that's why nobody expected he would leave so quickly and without warning. It did happen to me once, nobody out a class of 50 showed up. I waited roughly 20 minutes, gave up, posted a message in the class's website and then left. – Ann Greene Jun 5 '17 at 22:21
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    Oh ya, by no means is he completely innocent either. He could have left a message on the door saying... due to weather, class has been cancelled as no one has shown up on time and the arrival time of students is unknown or what ever he may want to put on there. – ggiaquin16 Jun 5 '17 at 22:34
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    +1 for "tell him you are arriving late." This is absolutely expected in the private sector, and is a clear sign that you respect their time, no matter what they decide to do with the information. – l0b0 Jun 7 '17 at 7:11
6

As a former university professor, I can only speak to my experience. Students were required to be in class, whether or not the professor was in attendance or not. The reasoning is that perhaps the professor was late and/or a substitute was on the way. However, this policy is entirely up to the individual school. If many to most of my students were missing at the start of class, personally I would assume there was a transportation issue. I would wait a reasonable amount of time and then start the class. However, if all the students were missing, I definitely would think something is amiss and would investigate.

If you have an issue with your professor's actions, talk to the faculty supervisor, or whomever might be in charge, and discuss what transpired an why you were frustrated. That is the best course of action.

6

Given your update.

I do not believe what your professor did was OK.

What he should've done:

"Since most of the class is not here, I am not going to cover any new material today. Do you have any questions about previous material? Anything you want me to explain in more detail?"

If your questions lasted for only 5 minutes, then you guys would be done in 5 minutes.

The way he handled it: calling you "irresponsible" by generalization and then leaving was just plain rude and unprofessional.

5

I would like to mention the Academic quarter. But this rules for students waiting for professor, not vice versa. Complaining is not really the option since it was impolite from students to be absent at all. It shows disrespect.

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    I am not sure what "academic quarter" has to do with this; usually, there is no vagueness in the starting time there it's just a style to indicate a particular starting time. – quid Jun 5 '17 at 14:12
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    Upvote for mentioning the Academic quarter. This also works outside academia. Depending on the situation, if someone does not show up in 15 mins, and there are no messages from that person that they are going to be late, you can leave. – Andrei Jun 5 '17 at 16:05
  • @Andrei did you check the site that is linked to? In my experience, It has nothing much to do with being late, a lecture announced for 14 c.t. will start at 14:15 sharp, as opposed to somewhat after 14 when everybody is ready etc. – quid Jun 5 '17 at 17:06
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    @quid Just checked link. I thought the academic quarter is applied in the case when the professor doesn't show up within 15 mins from the beginning of the lecture. Then, the students can leave without any consequence (if the attendance is checked then they can't be recorded as being absent). – Andrei Jun 5 '17 at 17:27
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    @quid I know academic quarter in the same sense as Andrei – Vladimir F Jun 6 '17 at 21:07
4

There's probably policies with the school or in his handouts from the first day around this subject. If it's not explicitly written, then it would be assumed that it's okay. Most policies are put in place to the benefit/aid of the professor so that he/she can facilitate a learning experience to students with little to no obstacles. The school entrusts in their professors to provide the best experience and leave most judgement calls with them for many areas from bad students to cancelling classes.

Having said that and going with "not explicitly written", as long as the professor tailors the homework and tests to his skipped lecture, there shouldn't be a problem. I see it from both his perspective and yours. He should have sent out an email to everyone when he left to state that class is canceled, but otherwise he was not in the wrong.

4

For a regular class (with at least 10 people, say), as a teacher, if no one showed up after 10 minutes past the beginning of the class, I would assume that there has been some mixup with the schedules or something like this. I would probably leave to investigate if the class is waiting for me elsewhere, or ask the school administration what is going on.

For a class with 4 people, in my opinion, the teacher should have a phone number or email address for the students, so that the teacher can reach them easily in case something like that happens. To me a class with 4 students is essentially like a meeting: if someone is missing from a meeting, you'll probably try to get touch with them, ask what's up, and reschedule if there's a good reason for the person being late.

4

Your university probably has a written policy covering a situation like this. Read that before deciding how to proceed. (The policy may only cover the responsibilities of the students when the professor is late, though.)

At a minimum, I'd go to the head of the department and complain that the class has effectively been cancelled for a full two weeks of the semester. (I know you don't want to make a fuss but you are not getting the educational services you paid for.)

If the professor is unwilling to stick around when only one of the four students has shown up, he may want to convert the class format officially to distance learning.

3

For a class of 4 it might be appropriate to share your phone number (or whatever means of communication you both happen to use) with your professor. That way, you could contact him in advance whenever you're late or unable to attend, and he could notify you whenever he's late or has to reschedule class for some reason.

Complaining doesn't sound like a good idea, as it can easily backfire since nobody came on time. Unless the weather was so bad that a state of emergency was declared, I doubt that a subway delay is a valid excuse for being late. At the very least, check the policies your institution has about no-shows and being late: it may so happen that you're just as wrong showing up late than your professor is leaving after 10 minutes.

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    He gave us his number but never responds (at least when I tried to contact him). – Ann Greene Jun 6 '17 at 22:54
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    @AnnG - But did you try to contact him in this particular instance? If no attempt was made to contact him to make him aware you were running late, then I don't see how you can "complain" that he wasn't there after nobody showed up. – J.R. Jun 7 '17 at 15:31
2

I've been teaching at universities for 20-ish years, and, while I've never heard of there being an actual rule, I'd say that 15 (20 if you're feeling generous) minutes (for both students & teachers) is the standard. If it came to it, there's no way your prof could justify leaving at 5 after, especially during a storm. For the first 15 min., I'd agree with a previous poster that he's being paid to be there; after that, he should go do other work. I would have emailed him email immediately, saying that you're in class and wondering if class was cancelled. He would then have to explain. That way you have proof of the time; plus,it would not come across as aggressive to wonder where "everyone" is. Then you'd have it all in writing just in case. He'll recognize this (these days profs- depending on tenure status - worry a lot more about complaints & bad evals than in the past), so doing this will put him on notice that you are going to require explanations if he pulls stunts like these in the future (again in a nice, non-aggressive way :).

Situation 2: Canceling class due to low enrollment -- barring any additional mitigating factors -- NEVER justifiable. It stinks to have to teach one person, and I could understand his being annoyed because it might require completely changing his lesson plan, etc. However, that's part of being an instructor. Plus, it's not your fault, so being rude to you is indefensibly unprofessional.

Solution: You could discuss it with him directly, which is the "correct" answer, but you know that may very well blow back on you (he's clearly a jerk). Realistically, I think that after the fact, the only "safe" options would be to ding him on the evals (written comments carry a lot of weight these days), to do nothing, or to withdraw. At the time, I would have gone with a surprised, "Wait. Why?! I'M here!" Because, while he might still be a jerk & leave, you'd have (non-aggressively) reminded him that you're there, having paid good $$, and it doesn't matter if no one else comes. This would have required that he respond -- even if it were something rude ( more info to use in a bad eval or complaint).

Sorry, I don't have any fabulous solutions; I'm just looking realistically at what a typical student who wants to avoid any negative fallout would probably feel comfortable with.

Good luck!

2

'Is it okay if...' won't get you anywhere.

Drop the blame-frame. Instead, try to tell the professor upfront what you need, but without judgemental language or assumptions, thus putting​ neither of you on the defense.

For the last class, I arrived 15 minutes late and saw that you weren't there. I'm sorry I was late and l'll do my best it won't happen again. I really need to learn xy (and want to discuss issues yz), but for that to happen I need to be able to trust that the lessons won't be canceled. Could you perhaps wait at least 15 minutes before walking out of class the​ next time students are late?

Notice what judgements or diagnosis this doesn't entail:

  • You are wrong and I am right (nor vice versa)
  • You waited too little and the students were only slightly late
  • You waited only five minutes (you're just assuming this in your question)

Of course, the professor can still say no. That's just the nature of a genuine request. But you increase your chances of getting a yes if you say precisely what you need and why, and avoid blaming and assuming.

  • Sorry, but mere asking the professor to wait at least for 15 minutes would be (for me) a sign of disrespect from the student. C'mon, the student is the one that wants something (you can say that the prof wants his subject to be popular, but this is an "alibistic" argument), so unless the circumstances are unavoidable (like short breaks between classes in different buildings), it's the student's job to be on time. On the other hand, it's a good point that trying to find blames on the prof is not a way to go. – yo' Jun 11 '17 at 23:09
  • the student is the one who wants something - exactly; and to get it the student can either ask a genuine request or play moralist ('is it ok if prof doesn't do what I want'). I think the former is more likely to get the student what she wants and less likely to be perceived as disrespectful. Because the answer can be 'no' without the professor becoming 'not ok'. – henning -- reinstate Monica Jun 12 '17 at 4:58
0

This probably isn't going to be popular here, but:

No, it is NOT OK for the professor to leave early.

They get paid a salary to teach classes.

As such, you cannot just abandon your workplace just because there's nobody in class. A poor analogy would be a doctor leaving office for 2 hours because a patient with an appointment didn't show up within 5-10 minutes of the appointment time, except that the doctor is on a retainer and was already paid for the appointment previously.

It is absolutely irrelevant whether this shows disrespect from students. Or whether it's a good way to teach them manners. Or whether there are 5 or 50 students in the class.

The only thing that's relevant is that you, the student, are a customer whose money (in the form of tuition) is paying for the salary of a professor who's paid to teach the class.

At the very least, what the professor did is unethical and immoral.

At the most, it may have violated their employment contract or university rules.

Either way, contact the department and complain, preferably obtaining evidence like testimony from other students, weather report from that day, etc...

UPDATE: To address some points raised in comments:

  • Yes, I agree that there are other things a professor is paid for than teaching class. Some parts of those job facets can be done while sitting at a desk in class, waiting for students (perhaps with a laptop); so if the issue is best utilization of professor's time, there are valid solutions NOT involving leaving the class after 10 min.

  • No, it's not reasonable to assume that being 10 min late for class is something outrageos in bad weather. This is graduate school - people come to class from work; and/or have families to take care of; and don't necessarily live on campus. Throughout my life, I had commutes which literally jumped from 1 hour to 2 hours one way in bad weather - in a major metropolitan area with advanced mass transit.

    While it's rather disrespectful to be late, and bad form, and unprofessional - the bottom line is that the student pays for the privilege of being in that class and the professor is paid to teach it. That's a fundamental asymmetry in expectations.

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    At least my boss wouldn't want to pay me for sitting in an empty classroom while I could do other things I'm also paid for. Usually you also won't get paid for a certain class but for teaching (a certain amount of hours per week) in general. It wouldn't violate any university rule or employment contract at my university if I leave the classroom, after waiting for a reasonable time, if no student shows up. (please show me one contract that says that the teacher has to wait the full time of a lecture in the classroom if no one shows up) – DSVA Jun 5 '17 at 16:30
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    (Frequently, Doctors' offices will have a stated policy that patients arriving more than 10-15 minutes late may be required to reschedule) – Darren Ringer Jun 5 '17 at 17:10
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    This does not reflect reality at any institution I've ever been apart of, even the small, liberal arts schools that really emphasize teaching. The dept. chair or dean at a larger school would laugh you out of their office for suggesting that the professor needs to sit in an empty room accomplishing nothing. Teaching is a major obligation of professors no doubt, but my faculty handbook describes it as one of nine responsibilities of a faculty member. – David Jun 5 '17 at 18:31
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    My comment is about your description of the actions of a paid professor. If you had called them unprofessional then I would have disagreed, but I would not think it completely unreasonable. If the late arrivals had been children and the professor were in loco parentis then I would agree that the duty of care made "unethical and immoral" a reasonable description. But given the actual circumstances I think your choice of language is far too strong. The most that anyone suffered was inconvenience, and (leaving aside division of blame) causing inconvenience can be rude but is not immoral. – Peter Taylor Jun 5 '17 at 22:19
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    Suppose that thirty minutes later, one student arrives. What then? Should the professor proceed with the lecture, and somehow cut thirty minutes of material from it? Or, if you are suggesting that the professor has an obligation to teach because that's what he/she is paid to do, should the lecture be given to an empty room, starting on time? – 200_success Jun 6 '17 at 23:48
-1

For me, the professor is bound for three hours (within your class timings). He should spend all time in the class or library and conduct class as any student reached. For me, ethically, legally it is not allow him to quit the class after 10 seconds of wait. He can do this only if he certain that no one will come to join class or students are too rude, not take class properly on time.

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