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Mariah Furtek: UCLA must improve professor accountability, accessibility for students

By Mariah Furtek

May 29, 2017 8:21 pm

UCLA boasts a faculty roster almost as impressive as the starting lineup of its men’s basketball team, but these faculty members aren’t necessarily accessible to their students.

The UCLA Academic Senate expects faculty members to hold office hours, yet it allows them the freedom to choose how to make themselves available to students. Unfortunately, some professors and teaching assistants take full advantage of this leeway by using an appointment-only office hour policy that puts the burden on students to arrange meeting times, discouraging them from engaging with their instructors.

To make professors and lecturers more accessible and accountable to students, the Academic Senate should require all its members hold standing office hours, in which faculty are available to students at a set time and place each week.

Some faculty members argue they’re constrained by a lack of office space, something UCLA could address by expanding the space available to faculty.

Aaron Bautista, a fourthyear human biology and society student, is no stranger to this problem. In his two years at UCLA, half of his professors have had appointment-only office hours, a policy which he thinks discourages student involvement.

This spring, however, was the most egregious case.

Bautista emailed his professor during the second week of the quarter to arrange a meeting, only to have the professor reply that they were unable to meet until five weeks later – after the midterm.

Bautista ended up dropping the class.

“I felt like I was a chore. They weren’t interested in getting to know me, and my questions certainly weren’t a priority,” he said.

This policy requires students to go to great lengths to engage with professors, as opposed to the professors engaging with the students. If that sounds backwards to you, it is.

Putting the burden on the student to arrange the meeting keeps them from interacting with professors and makes it nearly impossible for students to develop relationships with faculty.

I’ve had professors who failed to show up to office hours after I’ve scheduled time to speak with them and professors who set the tone for the quarter by informing the class they’re too busy to hold standing office hours and could only meet by appointment. I certainly didn’t feel comfortable reaching out after being told I was less interesting than a lab experiment.

Current office hour policies are destructive. They not only limit students’ ability to receive clarification on course material, but also deprive students of the opportunity to interact with some of our nation’s intellectual leaders and find mentors who inspire them to pursue fields of study they’re passionate about.

“A number of professors choose to put their office hours at awkward times to discourage students from attending,” said Dr. Laurel Martin-Harris, who has taught three courses at UCLA as a lecturer after spending seven quarters as a TA on campus.

A lot of faculty don’t want to be teaching because they need to be writing grants and doing research to pay the bills,” Martin-Harris said.

Martin-Harris suggested some faculty members might be more supportive of their students outside class time if they were not constrained by limited office space.

TAs, for example, only have shared office space, which isn’t conducive to holding office hours. They are also only allowed to make room reservations in their own buildings and Powell library; leftover space isn’t up for grabs until after the first or second week of the quarter.

Lecturers face a similar lack of resources. Martin-Harris, for example, is unable to list her office hours on the syllabus she distributes at the beginning of the quarter simply because she doesn’t know where she will find space to hold meeting hours.

It’s no secret UCLA is fighting a losing battle against its limited campus size. To address the shortage, faculty needs to use current space more efficiently. For example, instructors should be able to sign up for rooms in all buildings, not just their own building. Though not ideal, outdoor space should also be utilized to afford faculty and students a greater range of meeting locations.

Some argue professors shouldn’t be required to hold office hours because students rarely show up. Professors have an obligation to be as available to their students as possible, though. An appointment-only system further discourages students from showing up and makes sure fewer, not more, students come to office hours.

UCLA needs to improve faculty accessibility. If it doesn’t, students will essentially be left racking up exorbitant amounts of debt for an experience they could’ve easily gotten from any run-of-the mill online lecture series.

But even those have chat rooms.

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Mariah Furtek | Opinion staff columnist
Furtek is a staff columnist for the Opinion section.
Furtek is a staff columnist for the Opinion section.
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