A lot of people noticed Alexander Heffner ’12’s op-ed in U.S. News and World Report last month that called a Harvard education “overrated.” Although some felt that this sort of attention on the College was not positive or productive, there are some important takeaways to gain from the piece. One is the idea that, as Heffner notes, the education at Harvard sometimes “means less community” and “less intimate interactions with professors.” Perhaps Harvard tried to address this long ago when it first implemented a policy that required professors to hold weekly office hours—yet this policy is not as efficient as it could be. The next step would be to implement a mandatory office hour attendance requirement for all students.
There is something wrong when professors sit in empty offices waiting for students like Heffner, who feel that the faculty is “inaccessible.” In early March, The Crimson published an article reporting low student attendance at office hours, showing that the faculty is doing its job in holding office hours but that students are often failing to show up. In the same article, Professor Eric A. Beerbohm said that a good way to motivate students to come to office hours is to just ask them. If students were obligated or mandated to attend, however, this would serve as sufficient motivation.
Many professors are coming up with creative ways to bridge the faculty-student gap, but a college-wide requirement would be the most direct approach and would go a long way toward accomplishing this. Students should be required to make at least one visit to their professors’ office hours per class each semester so that they can foster a more open relationship with them. With Teaching Fellows’ office hours being offered as well, professors’ office hours ought not to be overcrowded, and students will have an even wider choice of office hours to attend. In an effort to accommodate all students, instructors could even be more flexible with office hour times from week to week.
Although the requirement would be minimal, it would be the necessary push that many students need. A single interaction with a professor can make future visits less intimidating, and students will be more likely to visit as a result. Students are often embarrassed, shy, or uneasy about going to professors’ office hours if they don’t need help with course material, but office hour attendance doesn’t always have to be about that. It’s helpful and often interesting to talk to instructors outside of classroom setting, even if only to introduce oneself. It would undoubtedly create more of a connection between instructors and students in the classroom.
For the percentage of students who already attend office hours, this policy would not be a significant change. But for others don’t already do so, this could seem a bit drastic. The College should be able to build community to improve the quality of education, and taking such a measure is one way to do it even though for some it may seem as though the College is overstepping its boundaries or taking away student freedom. Some courses already mandate attendance in either office hours or other opportunities for student-faculty interaction such as small group lunches, and both students and professors benefit from this communication despite its being compulsory. In the end, everyone would realize that it’s worth it—but if not, twenty minutes once a semester isn’t too much time to waste.
Brian C. Boursiquot ’14, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Thayer Hall.