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Offices and Faculty Availability

Offices and Faculty Availability
 

This blog is about an interesting problem, to encourage further discussion. It is NOT the harbinger of some drastic new policy – just an invitation to discuss, think out of the box, etc. (Does anyone think inside boxes anymore?)

The issue is a double one: providing offices for faculty and making sure faculty are appropriately accessible to students.

The office challenge is obvious, at Mason and at many places, particularly amid tight budgets. Most faculty expect offices to be provided, but the fact is many faculty members do not use their offices with any regularity. That’s not an accusation, simply statement of fact. Many faculty work largely from home, showing up only as needed. Of course there are many exceptions, particularly, though not exclusively, in the lab-based research areas. The fact remains that at any given time there’s quite a bit of empty space de facto.

Now, as an administrator, I want to encourage faculty to be around. That’s how students can contact them readily, that’s how they can interact with other faculty most easily, even across disciplinary lines. So I have every reason to try to make sure faculty are encouraged to use their offices, without setting up some monitoring system.

But should we become a bit more candid about the fact that we are over-officed, in terms of common use patterns? Should we talk with some faculty about what might be more helpful to them than a private office, such as better computer equipment or conference funding? Can we think of some more flexible arrangements that would give faculty a perch as needed, with places to meet students, without the expense of a full office for everyone? No specific answers here, just an issue that deserves a bit more air time.

And thinking about this, however inconclusively, also made me think about faculty accessibility. The last thing we want to do is to make it harder for students to find faculty. In fact, our course evaluation responses about accessibility (“either in person or on line”) are pretty favorable, with 4.5s and above in all units for conventional classroom instructors. Are students telling the truth, or should we find a way to probe a bit more deeply on accessibility? Is it not probably the case that increasingly the contact is on line, more than through office hours (that’s certainly my experience in recent years)? Is this an entirely good thing – should we find ways to promote a bit more face-to-face?

Again, another set of issues. One specific point just came up, on which opinions are welcome. Barring emergencies, what should be the expectation for the timing of faculty responses to student email queries? Many students get impatient after 24 hours, though that clearly isn’t reasonable. Perhaps within four days (and hopefully more promptly if there is particular urgency involved)?

Offic-ing faculty and forming expectations about availability are not brand new issues, but they are surely taking on new dimensions. Further innovations may be warranted, and a few may prove unavoidable.