Professors’ bill of rights

Rachel Jones

How professors’ freedoms affect your classes

When you walk into class, the professors are in charge.

They tell you what notes to take, what books to read and what days to show up. The reason they can do all of this is because of their allotted academic freedoms.

Deborah Smith, associate professor of philosophy at Kent State, said while professors do have some regulations to follow, they are granted a variety of academic freedoms.

“I think they’re very fair,” Smith said. “The restrictions that are there are very reasonable ones.”

The right to determine attendance

“The individual instructor has both the responsibility and the prerogative for managing student attendance,” according to section 3-01.2 B of the Kent State policy register.

Smith said this allows professors to determine themselves if they want to keep attendance and how students should be rewarded or penalized because of it.

“A faculty member has the right to make that decision,” Smith said. “They have a duty to make that clear in the syllabus so students know right from the first day of class what that is.”

The right to be late to class

It is common courtesy for professors and students to arrive on time to class, but sometimes delays are unavoidable.

Most think students must wait 15 minutes for a professor to arrive and 20 minutes if the professor has a doctorate, but there is no official rule stating those time limits.

“I heard the same thing four years ago when I was in undergrad, but I’ve never seen it written down anywhere,” said James Watson, associate university counsel at Kent State.

Smith, who also serves as the grievance chair for Kent State’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors, has spent a lot of time reviewing her colleagues’ contracts over the years.

“I’ve heard the rumors, but as far as I know, there is nothing written down,” Smith said. “If I were a student, I would wait until I was quite convinced that the instructor was not coming.”

The right to cancel class

During his six years at Kent State, associate history professor Kevin Adams said he has to leave work sometimes for a conference or research trip. On those occasions, he has to fill out paperwork to receive prior approval from his chair and the College of Arts and Sciences.

“We can’t take off for a week or two and simply cancel class,” Adams said. “We have to secure a substitute so that the show will go on while we are gone. Outside of that, I do not know the relevant regulations that govern class cancellations.”

Watson said frequently canceling classes simply to cancel class will be addressed by the proper authority, but there aren’t other limitations.

“Certainly, if it’s excessive, it’s a problem,” Watson said.

Professors are allotted a certain number of sick days.

According to section 6-11.1 C 3 of the Kent State policy register, “during any seven-day period, the maximum number of days of sick leave charged against any employee shall be five.”

The right to choose a textbook

It’s the individual professor’s right to choose a textbook, but sometimes professors in the same department choose together.

“In some cases, some faculty members who teach a class in common have decided to use the same textbook,” Smith said. “I think it’s more common to have common textbooks in mathematics and science than in the humanities and the arts.”

Not every professor has to go along with what the department feels the best textbook for the course is.

Smith started teaching philosophy at Kent State in 1997. During her first year, she said she was under some pressure to use a certain textbook she did not particularly like.

“But I resisted,” Smith said. “I didn’t get into trouble or anything like that.”

The right to assign and grade

While it may seem like most courses follow the same grading scale, Smith said professors actually determine their own letter grade thresholds.

“A lot of students think they are locked in this 90 percent and up is an A and 80 and up is a B,” Smith explained. “There is no requirement that you use that system. It’s just really important the faculty member is clear about the grading and assignments in the syllabus in the beginning.”

Determining their own assignments does require professors to stick to a certain topic.

Smith said each class has a basic data sheet that governs large-scale parameters of what professors can cover.

“I have quite a bit of freedom of what to cover and how to cover it,” Smith said. “But I would not be following the basic data sheet if I lectured on calculus every day [in my ethics class].”

Adams said the history department has general policies as well, but “we have complete latitude outside of those areas.”

Overall, Smith said Kent State does a good job protecting academic freedom, which benefits professors and students.

“It’s something that should matter to the students because if I have the freedom to teach what I know best, you’re going to get a better education,” Smith said. “If I’m required to teach something I don’t know as well or agree with, I’m not going to be able to convey it as clearly and fairly.”

Contact Rachel Jones at [email protected].