Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Fifteen Minute Myth

It was the second week of school, enough into the semester to notice a student who looked a little miffed in the sea of happy students.

After class she opens up electronically. She was frustrated that another professor hadn't given the class a syllabus yet, that he was late to class. "We were ready to walk out, we waited the full 15 minutes..." she mentioned, alluding to that 15 minute myth that has been racing around campuses for generations.

Have you heard it? It goes something like this: If your instructor is a Full Professor and is late to class, you must wait in the room 15 minutes before leaving and safely assuming there will be no lecture. Along those lines, if your instructor is a mere Associate Professor, you only need to wait 10 minutes; if the instructor ranks below that you can pack your bags in 5 minutes and dash safely for the doors.

I've been teaching college at a variety of colleges for 20 years and I have never come across this anywhere in employment manuals or rules on student conduct. 

Perhaps this started back in the days of medieval snowy hilled colleges, where professors donned Harry Potter-esque robes with flared sleeves to hide loaves of warm bread and bottles of spicy wine.  Maybe the professor slipped on an icy path, maybe he was stopped by a PhD student asking another question about another little thing.  Out of respect, wait. A professor running late -- or unable to come to campus at all - couldn't call in, he just had to assume the students would know after 15 minutes that they were dismissed.

That's nice and all, but back then they didn't have cellphones in pockets and purses, phones in the classrooms, computers with internet (everywhere), Twitter, email, Facebook, Blackboard and texting.  A professor running late can notify the class.

I told my student that, and then I flipped it on her. If your professor isn't there when class is about to start, go say something, go tell someone. This isn't normal, it

That leads me to think it's a myth, just like the one about getting straight A's if your roommate dies. Across two decades  I've had three students lose their roommates to death during the semester; none of them got a break from their professors bigger than extensions on papers and exams.