Tuesday, April 22, 2014

It's closed for a reason

My students do not understand my office door.  They (probably) are conscious of it - they don’t smack their nose by trying to walk through the door, as entertaining as that would be.  No, they don’t understand basic decorum: when a door is closed, you knock as a means to ask for an invitation to enter.  Of all the surprising and disappointing trends in student behavior, this is the saddest (so far) and it gets worse every year.

Some do knock but only as a warning before they barge in.  I’m sure they never consider that I’m busy.  Doing what?  I’m not teaching, after all.  They look surprised and annoyed to see that I’m on the phone or already talking with another person.  The oaf will stand inside my office, waiting for me to drop everything to help him or her.  Speaking of which, it’s an offense independent of gender but most often committed by non-Western foreign students and those who are generally unable to interpret social cues.  My trusted colleagues who know about such things tell me that the cultures of these international students place a greater emphasis on hierarchy and respect for authority than we Americans do so I really don’t get it.  I’m inclined to excuse the latter group of students for simply being unable to navigate aspects personal relationships like this but I can’t get my head around the fact that students who can learn electrical engineering can’t follow a simple rule to knock.

Maybe I should tell knock-knock jokes in class as a way to drop subtle hints.  I’m thinking of designing a flow chart to help them figure out the proper etiquette, though that would require them to read and think.  The easiest solution is to work from home.

-- Bob from Bennington


  1. I like the idea of a flow chart. Perhaps you could post it more or less at eye level on the office door (keeping in mind, of course, that eye level is a relative concept; maybe you should post it at at least three or four different eye levels just to be impartial in your admonition). Or you could use a hotel-style "do not disturb" sign.

    Or you need a locking door (you must have a locking door; can't/don't you lock it when you're not in?), or, barring that, one of those really loud alarms that you can install on windows and hotel room doors.

    If questioned (and assuming you're in the U.S.), you can express grave concern about FERPA violations.

  2. I'm surprised some "Student as Customer" administrator has not suggested removing all the professors' doors to "facilitate an open and friendly learning environment." Of course, the administrators will have steel vault doors to keep professors and the rare murderous psychopath out.

    1. The last office I had while I was teaching had a full-length window beside the door. For several years, I papered it over because I didn't like having students coming along and gawking at me while I was at my desk. I also kept my door closed because I wanted to be able to think while I was there. It was bad enough to hear the kiddies yapping but my colleagues were often quite noisy as well.

      Both acts irritated my department head. Because he insisted that students were "customers", I had to be "accessible" to them and not put up "barriers" to learning.

      At the same time, students used to wander freely through our office area whenever they felt like it. Again, that was part of being "accessible". I was among those who opposed that because I had stuff stolen out of my office. The response I got was: "Keep your door closed."

      That ended when the department was ordered to tighten security after an audit had been conducted.

    2. Ripberger said, 'I'm surprised some "Student as Customer" administrator has not suggested removing all the professors' doors to "facilitate an open and friendly learning environment." '

      Like this? http://www.brownalumnimagazine.com/content/view/2462/32/

      When I saw this article a few years ago, I groaned for those professors and grad students and wondered:

      1. How many would spend much less time on campus in order to have uninterrupted work time; and
      2. Whether prospective hires would see the office space and flee.

    3. Particularly cringe-worthy quotations from the article:

      'The heart of the institute is the second floor, on which a core of glass-walled faculty offices is ringed by a library-in-the-round . . .'

      'Climbing the stairs one day last fall, Alcock grinned widely when she caught the sound of several simultaneous conversations taking place outside the faculty offices. "I love this," she said. "Listen to all the voices." '

    4. Proffie Galore:

      I used to teach service courses in one building on the campus I was at. It was originally a department store and had been remodelled accordingly. Several departments had their offices there and, in one, it was simply a cube farm for the teaching staff. There was next to no privacy whatsoever nor could anyone shut out any noises in the area. The administrators, however, had doors on their offices.

      Just how anybody could properly get any work done in that area was beyond me.

    5. In modern offices, these design trends (open office plans without even cubicle walls, one bare brick wall, industrial trappings) go with free sodas and paintball activities to show that the company is a high tech and cool place to work. See -- Widget Co. is just like Google! Management loves it because those areas are cheap and easy to reconfigure, plus makes them feel like they are part of the startup culture, failing to consider the lack of walls or cubicles and industrial trappings happened because the now-rich company couldn't afford anything else as a startup (the ones with Aeron chairs and art collections went the way of Pets.com). Management gets offices on the claim that they deal with sensitive data and personnel decisions (too bad IT knows when someone is being fired before the victim does).

      People who work in those environments generally hate them -- zero privacy, can't get anything done, always under management observation. The layout happened in startups when the small team of people wanted the business to succeed and had no choice but to work in lousy conditions. Somehow, pointy-haired idiots made the connection that little companies became behemoths with that office layout, so the reason must have had something to do with the office plan itself (couldn't have been anything about good ideas or good products).

      Rather disgusting that university administrators go for the even more brain-dead idea that this makes successful companies, so it should be great for education. All that collaboration and sharing!

      Why not go all out and make the open brick decorative office wall a rock-climbing wall for students? They could drop off a paper for review, go for a climb, and be able to observe whether those lazy professors are working for student satisfaction.

    6. Proffie G----that article was truly notable for the way Alcock self-congratulated all over the place. I wonder, I really do, what her office looks like. And if it is set up like that, I wonder what kinds of things she does in her office---what her work is actually like. I just don't like students looking in on me when I am grading papers, or meeting with either a student or a faculty member. Or how about eating! Having glass walls would be a sure fire way to keep me from ever eating in my office. Maybe the admins are aiming at that! And not having a ceiling! I wonder whether the two commenters who said they'd love to attend a college like that one have truly thought that through. I have many students want to close the door for privacy!

    7. My last office mate was adamant that the cube farm was absolutely essential because it allows for the free flow of ideas. I argued that one sometimes needs to have some peace and quiet to think things through before saying something. Of course, doing that could be taken as withholding information.

      I finished my Ph. D. before the department moved to a new building. I stopped by that facility a few months later. The prof offices were now goldfish bowls--glass walls everywhere, which meant absolutely no privacy. Why bother having walls in the first place?

  3. I have never had a student barge in when my office door has been closed and they knew I was in there. Colleagues barge in all the time,but never students. I need that flowchart for my colleagues! And since we are ranked in the Top 5 for diversity (thank you US NEWS and World Report) in our class, I know we have a high percentage of non-Western students. I wonder if you also have a high percentage of students who are just low on social functioning.

    Even when I WANT students to open the door, they seem to knock and then wait until I open the door for them (as if they're helpless and do not know what "Come in" means).

  4. You might try putting a sign with big, red letters on your office door, but why bother, since it will make no difference whatsoever. Even the rare cases who do read will think it doesn't apply to them.

    1. P. S. Shakespeare called the pun the lowest form of humor. He was wrong: knock-knock jokes are lower.

      (Even lower is "that's what she said" jokes, Ben.)

  5. Oh Lordy! I have actually had students
    -- tell me, "I pay your salary, so you have no right to tell me you are too busy to see me"
    -- walk in without knocking while I was "adjusting my attire"
    -- pick up my phone (without asking) to make a call while in my office for office hours (or just walk in from the hall and ask to use my phone)
    -- pick up an mess with obviously personal things in my office - family photographs, eyeglasses, coffee mugs (with coffee in them!)
    -- empty trash out of their bags into my office trash can (without a word, just start emptying things)
    -- of course (mentioned in an earlier post) rummage through MY carry bag without asking
    -- pick up and mess with my computer mouse ...

    these behaviors are so common I have ceased to be amazed by it all.

    1. For number 1, I like to point out that I get paid by the great state of California, not you personally, and the expense of educating you is subsidized by California taxpayers, who are not well served by a free-for-all. Also, it's likely that your parents are actually paying anyway, and not you. Even if you were personally paying, it still doesn't follow, no more than you may pop in on an air force base and take one of their planes for a spin. You are not my only student: I have other students who I need to serve, so bugger off, out of the office with you, then. Yes, I've had lots of practice with this one.

      For number 2, you can make all kinds of friends that way. Anytime a student tries to ask me something when I'm in the bathroom, I tell them it's a bad idea to disturb any guy now, because he might LET YOU HAVE IT.

      For numbers 3-7, point out that this ain't a communist country. They won't really know what that means anyway, but it sounds good.

  6. "but most often committed by non-Western foreign students and those who are generally unable to interpret social cues. My trusted colleagues who know about such things tell me that the cultures of these international students place a greater emphasis on hierarchy and respect for authority than we Americans do ...."

    It's likely then that these students come from the upper ranks of their home society and are used to being treated as such.

    1. We had a foreign prince our superb department secretary straightened out, right good. It was a joy to watch!