College Students' Perceptions of Faculty Approachability

Article excerpt

College students' perceptions of approachable faculty were investigated in three studies. The first study employed qualitative interviews. The second was based upon Q-methodology and the third employed a ummated rating scale. All three studies found very similar results and high consistency among students in their perceptions of approachable faculty. Characteristics of the approachable faculty member tended to be specific behaviors reflecting concern for students.

Before I go to their office I drink a lot of Kaopectate. Cause I do get really sick. I usually try to scope out their office in advance. Try to figure out my method of escape. I mean physically and geographically saying "O.K. if this gets ugly how can I get out of the situation". I try to make a mental list of all the good things I've done in their class for defense of myself. Cause I see it as something where you're very much on the defense. And it probably doesn't need to be that way. I don't know, I think I've had so many negative experiences with faculty. I sit in my classes and when I withdraw in my head, I think to myself "this person doesn't know me, this person doesn't care about me". (Sophomore Male, Speech Communication major)

This student's apprehension about approaching faculty is not an isolated case. Previous research indicates that many undergraduate students find it difficult to approach faculty members (Denzine & Pulos, 1995). Although students report that faculty approachability is an important issue for them, little is known about students' perceptions of faculty approachability. The purpose of this study was to discover the characteristics of an approachable professor from the student perspective.

Although higher education literature suggests the importance of informal student-faculty interaction (Astin, 1993; Lamport, 1993; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991), the reality is that student-faculty interaction in nonclassroom situations occurs minimally. A recent study of more than eighteen hundred undergraduates in New Jersey revealed that 19% of the students reported they had not talked to a faculty member in their office that semester. Thirty- eight percent of the same sample reported they had talked to faculty two times or less that semester (New Jersey Institute for Collegiate Teaching and Learning as cited in Stetar & Finkelstein, 1997).

The frequency of student-faculty interaction may be limited because some students find it difficult to approach faculty members (Denzine, et al., 1995). The issue of faculty approachability is an important one because it can be directly related to a student's academic experience. For instance, a male undergraduate student stated that he would withdraw from a course before he would go to see a faculty member during their office hours (Denzine, et al., 1995). Harold, Hendel, & Scouten (1994) who asked undergraduate students, "how welcome would you feel approaching a faculty member about course work", have reported similar findings. Sixteen percent (n=474) of their sample reported feeling either "very unwelcome" or "somewhat unwelcome" about approaching faculty concerning their course work.

For the purpose of this study, the authors reviewed two sources of literature: (a) student evaluation ratings of faculty and (b) college teaching preparation texts.

Student Evaluations

In student evaluation ratings of faculty, questions are often asked regarding students' perceptions of faculty approachability. Faculty approachability is commonly assessed by the use of one or more "approachability" items on a questionnaire. For example, Marsh's (1984) student evaluation survey contains a subscale called "Individual Rapport" which is based on items such as; "accessible to individual students", "friendly towards students", and "welcomed seeking help/advice". It is speculated that faculty approachability may be a unique component of Marsh's "Individual Rapport" factor. …