Monday, July 1, 2013

Open Door Policies

As teachers engage students and become more familiar with students over the semester, the desire to extend the learning outside of the classroom seems natural. Some of the most rewarding conversations between teachers and students can happen outside of the classroom, during office hours, when the student has shown enough interest to discuss ideas further in a more direct way.

One informal policy I have adopted over the years is to have an "open door" before the student arrives and after the student arrives. Closing the door when only the teacher and student are in the office can send the wrong signals and can lead to misinterpretation.

Perhaps it was not misinterpretation when a Communication faculty member at Pasadena City College asked a student to come by the office to look at vacation photos, then closed the office door. Among the photos was a nude image of the faculty member on his boat during the vacation. The student showed minimal interest in the nude photos. The student later reported to officials that his grades suffered because he did not show interest in the instructors photos. The faculty member denies any wrongdoing.

This case brings up a number of issues, let alone policies related to sexual harassment. There are times when, based on the need for student privacy, discretion is the order of the day. I have had students ask, as they want to discus details of their grade and standing in the class, that I close my office door for the sake of confidentiality. If there is something I need to say to a student with my office door closed, I think twice about what I am about to say and question whether a closed door is necessary (often, it is not). I always I make it a policy that anything I need to say to a student should be said behind "open doors."

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