Monday, July 26, 2010

A Very Private Office

After I completed my PhD and accepted my first tenure track full-time teaching appointment, I was assigned a faculty office that I shared with three other full-time faculty.  I was on campus usually four days a week but I hated the office even though I liked my office mates.  Trying to talk with students and trying to grade exams, or trying to do research was seriously and negatively impacted.  It is impossible to talk to students about their future plans and ambitions, about courses they needed to meet requirements and graduate, and about economics.  Often I would just leave the office and do research in the library, and talk with students at a remote table in the cafeteria.  My situation was not unique in those days.  Many faculty shared offices with the same ramifications as I experienced.

Fast forward to today.  Every full-time faculty member at Hofstra has his or her own office and once again this is not a unique situation.  The facilities provided for faculty have been enhanced with the realization that a private office is a good investment.  The more comfortable a faculty member is on campus when having meetings with students and when doing research, it should follow that the faculty member spends more time on campus.  In turn the campus becomes more attractive to students with the easy accessibility to faculty. And for many years this relationship worked as predicted.

But the world has changed.  First of all communication is very different than when many of us went to school and very different from the way it was when we started working in higher education.  When I started teaching, a student would always be able to see me if they came during my regular office hours.  Typically, this was 4 hours per week.  Student could also make appointments to see me or any other faculty member; if the regular office hours didn’t work for a student or students, alternatives could usually always be found. Notes could be left in the department mailbox and a phone call to the office was also a possibility. Today, email, text messaging, Blackboard as well as other classroom management tools, provide a much faster and more convenient way of increased student/faculty communication (but you do lose the in-person contact).   In addition, the campus library, which often was key to a faculty member’s research or to a student’s education, has also felt the impact of technology.  As a starting faculty member, I often spent time in the Government Documents Room studying economic data and trends.  All the information is now available on-line with many more analytical options. 

Furthermore, many faculty look for a teaching schedule with fewer days per week on campus and often faculty live further away from the campus.  And students often have part-time jobs and some are looking for an earlier start and a later finish to the weekends which also leads to a more compact class schedule. For faculty the end result is less time on campus and less time in their private office.  Often an office is not occupied for extensive periods of time during the academic year.  Faculty need and deserve first rate office space.  But presently we are not using resources in the most efficient way possible. It’s time for a new model of space utilization.

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