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College Council disagrees on faculty office hours

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Published: Friday, May 11, 2012

Updated: Monday, May 14, 2012 17:05

updated: May 14, 2012

Dr. Paul Wilson, social sciences and humanities chair, argued at Tuesday’s College Council meeting that Item C of Procedure I.1: Teaching in Different Modalities would allow faculty to maintain as little as five hours per week in on-campus office hours.

“The way this is written, every member of my faculty could select not to be in their office except for five hours,” Wilson said. “I don’t think that’s the direction we’re trying to head.”

The discussion was part of a process begun last fall of establishing a coherent set of procedures that will be posted online under College Council and the President’s Office on Sharepoint.

Robin Collett, special projects assistant in the president’s office, said this process is not an update, and instead is collecting, reviewing and settling on college procedures.

In part, Item C reads, “Full-time faculty are expected to maintain 10 office hours each work week. Regardless of whether faculty teach online, up to half of those hours may be scheduled online using synchronous electronic communication tools.”

Wilson said the procedure stems from when office hours were dedicated solely to making instructors available to students.

“But now, I need instructors available to whoever walks into my office, for advising, counseling,” he said.

Dr. Dawn Elmore-McCrary, Faculty Senate chair and English professor, said the proposed procedure helps students who cannot always come to the campus.

“It also progresses ways that you can have people available to work with folks virtually, for folks who don’t come in to your time (scheduled),” Elmore-McCrary said. “You may have students who need advising at off times, and you can do that synchronously from wherever you happen to be.”

Elmore-McCrary said students and faculty will have to set up appointment times so faculty will not have to wait around for students.

“Synchronous is the key word,” Elmore-McCrary said. “You actually have to be in a synchronous mode.”

Psychology Chair Thomas Billimek said 30 percent of sections in his department are online, and students from all over the country are enrolled.

“We do have faculty, who do respond to these students in the middle of the night sometimes because that’s when they’re available,” he said.

Billimek said he thinks faculty should be available seven days a week because of the new online education culture.

He said he gets email on weekends and holidays and replies to them because he understands today’s student’s schedule.

“I don’t wait ’til Monday,” he said. “Just because we have those 10 office hours, those are the hours when my students come in to see me as their instructor. That’s not the time I’m supposed to be advising. I’m supposed to be advising during those other 15 hours.”

Billemek referred to the break down of hours for full-time faculty, 15 hours a week in class, 15 hours in service and 10 hours in office.

Dr. Jessica Howard, vice president of academic affairs, said, “We’ve never attached the ‘on-campus’ to those 15 (hours).”

President Robert Zeigler said, “I think the expectation is that people work their hours so that they fulfill their advising responsibilities. That’s really the concern.”

Howard said the main point of the procedure governing office hours is to empower chairs by giving them flexibility.

Wilson said, “I think my people, if you will excuse my loose language, should have their cheeks in the chair for 10 hours. I think their physical presence needs to be here.”

Billimek said the chairs and the dean need to make a decision because office hours need to be flexible.

The council approved eliminating the statement and approved the rest of the procedure. Elmore-McCrary and Helen Torres, director of partnerships and extended services, opposed the motion.

On Thursday, Torres said she opposed the elimination because she thought the procedure was reviewed enough times by the council for it to pass, and Item C did not need reconsideration.

Torres served for more than 15 years as director of distance learning here.

“The way the procedure was written allows flexibility for the chairs to address their concerns,” Torres said. “They have to ensure that the students do have access to the faculty and to the departments.”

Torres believes the flexibility was clarified in Item B: “Chairpersons may consider exceptions to this expectation for faculty teaching online if department needs are met, to be approved by the appropriate dean.”

She believes Item C should stand because that flexibility will help both on- and off-campus students.

 “Many of students’ services are being delivered more and more online,” Torres said.

She said students do not necessarily need to see a professor in person, but they need engagement, which can be done through email or video chat.

“I understand the need for faculty to be on campus,” Torres said because professors are important resources who need to be available on campus.

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