The second part of that NPR series on flex-time that I mentioned yesterday was on this morning and it really hit home. As any professor will tell you, we were doing flex-time long before anyone coined the term “tele-commuting;” bringing grading home, doing our reading for class at bedtime, and so on and so forth.
Those of us in public institutions have also have had to deal with sentiments like this:
“I didn’t like it [flex-time] at all because I feel we’re accountable to the taxpayer,” says Bob Brinkhouse, a child-support officer who’s been with the county for 17 years. He admits he’s “old-school,” and felt that “someone should know where we’re at during our eight hours a day.”
That reminds me of the people who think, “Why do teachers get paid for the whole year when they get summers off?” Yet I know plenty of people who schedule all their classes on Tuesday and Thursday, and don’t even show up at the university the other three days a week. Of course, just like the Minnesota government office in that NPR story, this doesn’t mean they aren’t working.
Besides classes, the other thing we have to schedule for our days on campus are our office hours. Around here, we have to have to have five of them each week. I always schedule them on either side of my day classes because that’s when my students are most likely to be free and I’m already in my office anyways. So if any taxpayers of the great State of Colorado are reading this: Yes, I’m doing my duty. No angry comments please!
The thing is, I’m also doing my duty when I answer student e-mails at 3PM after my hours are over, at 9:30PM before bed or when students walk in my open door any other day and time of the week I’m on campus. In fact, I answer far more student e-mails than questions in person during office hours. Indeed, I bet I e-mail more students to come see me in office hours about some complex question than people walk in during those hours without an appointment.
This all probably sounds like a complaint from me, but it’s not meant that way. I recognize that responding to questions and concerns from students is the responsibility I bear for getting the privilege to basically schedule my own time. The people I worry about are the community college faculty I know who are literally compelled to be at their desks 9-5 whenever they aren’t in the classroom.
In the dystopian future when higher ed goes entirely online will we all have to sit by our computer screens and wait for students to log on and have online chats? Shouldn’t every faculty member enjoy some of the benefits of technology before the flaws of that technology completely destroy the system? It shouldn’t matter whether or not you’re chained to your desk as long as you get the job done.
Office hours are so 20th Century.