According to a recent Princeton Review list published in The Huffington Post, the College of William and Mary does not have the most accessible professors. The College’s exclusion from the “Most Accessible Professors” ranking may come as a surprise, as 10 faculty members were named in the Review’s “Best 300 Professors of 2011.”
At the College, professors are required to hold office hours — a topic specifically addressed by the Arts and Sciences Faculty Handbook:
“Regular office hours shall be held and the schedule of office hours shall be listed on course syllabi, posted on the office door, or otherwise made available to students. Faculty members shall also be available to students for consultation by appointment.”
However, there are no definitive rules regarding the number of office hours professors must hold. Visiting assistant professor in English and literary and cultural studies Dr. Sharon L. Zuber explained that strict hours are often useless to students.
“Few students use the regular hours, which is why the ‘by appointment’ [hours are] so important,” Zuber said. “I find it easiest to just find a time when a student is free to meet.”
Associate professor of religious studies Julie Galambush noted that a failure to comply with the handbook can lead to substantial ramifications.
“If someone does not have posted hours, the [department] chair tells them to get with the program,” Galambush said. “If someone is clearly not keeping office hours, the department personnel committee takes this into account in their annual ‘merit evaluation,’ something all faculty go through every year.”
With clear expectations in place, the problem with office hours may lie with the students rather than professors. Associate professor of American studies and English Arthur Knight advertises hours via syllabi, class announcements and start-of-term emails.
“I’m always surprised by how few students use office hours, and I’ve had many colleagues say the same thing,” Knight said, conceding. “This might be exacerbated in my case by the fact that my office is a bit off the beaten path.”
Galambush noted that students’ busy schedules and numerous distractions might be to blame for the lack of office hour attendance.
“Since the advent of email, students have become less and less likely to come by the office during office hours,” Galambush said. “This is entirely understandable, as email is so much quicker and easier as a means of communication.”
Mimi Carolus-Hager ’16 acknowledged the benefit of office hours but also said she does not attend them regularly.
“[Students] need to be able to take responsibility for our own academic careers,” Carolus-Hager said. “So as long as professors make sure to be there when we reach out to them, I think they’re doing their jobs.”
Brian Browning ’16 noted that office hour attendance seems to correlate directly with good grades.
“I have had two professors that urge the use of office hours. Those are the classes I am doing best in,” Browning said.
Office hours are often recommended for students who are struggling with the material, but most faculty members also extend the invitation to students who are simply interested in building a strong relationship with a professor.
“Getting to know your professors better can help a student negotiate all the demands of college, as well as [allow the professor to] answer specific questions about the course content,” Zuber said.
In order to facilitate a productive meeting, Knight recommended that students approach professors with specific questions or topics.
“Getting better acquainted with professors in their office hours also puts them in a better position to supply detailed, individualized recommendations for a student down the road,” Knight said. “Office hours give a professor more of a sense of her or his students’ thinking, which can then be brought back into the classroom to make the work that happens there more effective. I really recommend students make it a policy to visit office hours for each of their classes at least once a semester.”
Galambush explained the long-term benefits of office hour attendance, noting that strong student-faculty relationships are conducive to good letters of recommendation.
“Years ago, I taught someone whose father had offered her a substantial gift if she promised always to stop by her professors’ offices at the beginning of the semester to introduce herself,” Galambush said. “She did so; she was also one of the most successful students I have taught, and someone whose name and face I easily recall almost 20 years later.”