Open Door Policy Unlocks Minds
Published: Monday, February 6, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, February 7, 2012 00:02
It's not really office hours if you have to schedule an appointment.
We recognize that our professors face growing research and administrative demands. Their schedules, like ours, fill up quickly. For those who travel, maintaining regular weekly hours may prove difficult. But holding office hours by appointment only is not a viable substitute to the traditional system.
One of the hallmarks of a liberal arts education is one-on-one interaction between professor and student. When a professor opens his or her door for regular offices hours each week, it facilitates a dialogue outside the classroom and creates an opportunity for students to seek clarification and make an impression on professors who may otherwise not know the names of all students in their large lecture classes.
To students, there is a difference between stopping by to see a professor during office hours and asking for an appointment. When a professor necessitates that students schedule an appointment to discuss coursework, it can cause a student to withhold a question or discussion point that he or she would otherwise bring to a regularly scheduled office hour for fear that it might not be worth an instructor's time. Putting the onus on a student to ask for an appointment places an undesirable barrier between that student and his or her professor and discourages the more spontaneous questions and comments for which office hours are designed.
Office hours can also be particularly helpful for struggling students, but those students are less likely to pursue discussions with professors if they must make an appointment first. By holding office hours by appointment, professors risk not only adding to floundering students' difficulties, but generally dampening their students' curiosities about broader concepts that may seem trivial but can lead to important, thought-provoking conversations.
The Georgetown Faculty Handbook states that professors need to maintain regular office hours to advise and counsel students. When unusual circumstances arise, appointments may suffice, but these separate schedules should be applied only in a worst-case scenario. The idea of an open door is a lot more welcoming than one you have to it force open.