Sonoma State University will now require its faculty to hold specific office hours

Under a newly passed policy, Sonoma State University will require its faculty to have consistent office hours available for students in need.

Sonoma State’s Academic Senate recently recommended a policy regarding “Instructional Faculty Office Hours and Availability,” according to a document summarizing talking points from a previous Senate meeting. The policy describes two forms of office hours, one of which faculty would be required to provide for their students.  

Rachel McCloskey, executive vice president of associated students, said the Senate passed the new policy March 23.

Faculty instructing any class during a given semester will either have to provide three office hours per week or at least 15 minutes for every teaching unit they offer, depending which is less time.

The proper department chair can approve the provision of alternate office hours if needed, according to the document.

Elaine Newman — math and statistics professor, and Sonoma State chapter president of the California Faculty Association—said the new minimum requirements won’t affect faculty members who are already available for their students.

“I will be interested to see if there will be an actual change in effect overall that students will see,” Newman said.

Newman is a nonvoting member of the Faculty Standards and Affairs Committee, a standing committee of the Academic Senate. She said there is no debate among faculty on the necessity of office hours, but differences in opinion exist over “the manner in which office hours are delivered.”

“There was a group of faculty that opposed this particular policy because they feel it’s too restrictive… I think the ultimate policy that was written does provide flexibility, and I’m sure I’ll hear from faculty if it does not,” Newman said.

There was “very vigorous debate” about how to approach office hours over roughly a year and a half leading up to the new policy, according to Academic Senate Lecturer Representative Sakina Bryant. She said she felt a previous incarnation of Sonoma State’s office hours policy was not fair to lecturers “in terms of wage and equity.”

“I just was concerned about lecturer faculty,” Bryant said. “And I was also concerned about departments that had different types of systems that had been working for them.”

Bryant said Interim Provost Jeri Echeverria proposed the three-hour cap, and that the Faculty Standards and Affairs Committee added an amendment that provided more flexibility for each department.

Newman said the policy’s original wording did not require a set number of hours or require professors to show up at a physical office, but merely reinforced the importance of faculty being available for students in some capacity.

“It encouraged departments to set their own specific policy,” Newman said. “So it essentially… left it up to the individual departments to come up with what made sense.”

Some Sonoma State students have expressed frustration with a previous lack of consistency in their professors’ office hours. Jessica Swenson, an environmental studies major and senior at Sonoma State, said she has missed her professors’ office hours given some of their unexpected absences.

“A lot of them have been on sabbatical… if you’re an advisor, you should have longer hours,” Swenson said.

Jessi Laughlin, another senior and environmental studies major, said she doesn’t usually “tend to like to just drop by” her professors’ offices without setting up an appointment, but has often found that professors are more willing to talk if students just approach them after class.

“I think that kind of dashed my desires of office hours,” Laughlin said.

Robert Eyler, dean at the School of Extended and International Education, said he has always tried to stay true to a consistent office hours schedule.

“I have always [tried] to be there on a regular schedule and also [provide] more time during exams and finals,” Eyler said. “[I] have also done special time during finals as needed, as many faculty do.”

Under the new office hours policy, the additional requirements may make it easier to discuss academic concerns with busy professors, Laughlin said.

“If it was this more mandated thing, professors would be willing to stick to it… it sounds like it would be beneficial,” she said.

Keith Gouveia, a political science lecturer at Sonoma State, said the new policy does not affect his office hours schedule, but he worries that the new time requirements may eliminate time allotted for student-faculty meetings made by appointment.

“With office hours being a structured, specified time, sometimes that conflicts with student schedules,” Gouveia said. “By appointment would allow the accommodation for some students that can work in office hours without having to skip class or something like that.”

Gouveia said he appreciates having an assigned office space to meet with students at Sonoma States, a luxury he isn’t provided when he teaches at Las Positas College in Livermore.

“This seems like a great situation compared to my experience with the community college,” Gouveia said.

Eyler said that “office hours are an integral part of the faculty job,” and that he would prefer to stick with the three hours per week if given a choice under the new policy.

“Every faculty person handles office hours differently, but my practice was three hours a week,” Eyler said.

McCloskey said the new policy “was definitely the best choice for the students.”

“This policy will hold faculty accountable, and requires faculty to make themselves available for students,” McCloskey said.

For more information, contact Faculty Affairs at (707) 664-3236.