Despite 15 minute myth, students must wait for tardy teachers

Sarah Brewington | News Editor

Students shift in their seats as the clock ticks ten minutes after the class period has started. The professor is nowhere in sight. Itching for those last five minutes to pass swiftly, students cross their fingers that they will not have class. Almost by a stroke of luck, it turns to 15 minutes past the start time. Many students rapidly pull out of their seats, backpacks in tow, and leave the classroom with not so much as a glance back.

When a professor does not arrive after 15 minutes of class, it signals to many students that it is time to go. At the University of San Diego, this idea is no exception. Time and time again, students will wait for the professor to show up, and after 15 minutes of tardiness they leave without any notice from the teacher or the department.

To the disappointment of many students, this notion is a myth. There is no rule among university policy that states that a student can leave class when the teacher fails to be present for 15 minutes or more.

Many USD students abide by this supposed standard. Junior Hailey Brooks follows the myth herself and was unaware that it was fake.

“I usually give it five to ten more minutes [after the 15 minute mark] and if the professor hasn’t showed up by then, I’ll leave,” Brooks said. “I had no idea it was a myth. It was something basically everyone said so I figured it had to be true.”

Upon learning that the rule was indeed a myth, Brooks explained that the expectation to wait for the professor to show up is outdated.

“I think it’s a bit unfair,” Brooks said.  “We shouldn’t have to sit and wait. No way I’m sitting in a classroom for more than 30 minutes not learning anything. We’ve got things to do.”

Many students would agree with Brooks, that waiting the entirety of a class period for a teacher to show up is unfair to the students.

Brooke Cowan, also a junior, agrees with Brooks. She too thinks that waiting longer than 15 minutes would be unfair for the students.  

“I do think that the 15 minute rule should become an actual rule,” Cowan said. “Not because the students already expect it, but because I think it’s a little outlandish to expect a class to wait up to 3 hours for a professor who may never show up.”

Thomas Herrinton the Vice Provost at USD as well as a Chemistry professor, does not think that a 15 minute window should become an actual policy.

Herrinton explains that he expects students to wait the duration of a class period before leaving.

“That is their place to be in class,” Herrinton said. “They should remain in class until the period is over.”

Herrinton elaborated that students who have three hour long classes, should seek advice from the department before making any decisions.

Cowan explained that although many students take the rule at face value, she was always suspicious.

“I have always been suspicious of the rule because I’ve never seen it explicitly written anywhere, but most people I know would swear by it,” Cowan said. “I’m not sure if it was like this anywhere else, but at my high school, the 15 minute rule was an actual regulation, though never needed.”

As Cowan’s high school actually had a 15 minute rule, Herrinton hypothesizes that the origin of the myth could have come from actual truth.

“Maybe there was a policy somewhere at a different school and it propagandized into an urban myth,” Herrinton said. “I heard it myself when I went to school, I went to UC Irvine.”

Herrinton strongly emphasizes that students should look at the policies as outlined in the bulletin, and if they are unsure of whether a professor will show up, they should check with the department.

Herrinton expects students to do what professors do, which is respect the time of each other.

“Just like when students show up late, I do not wait,” Herrinton said. “If I have a 10 o’clock class, I start at 10. I start at the class start time and honor the efforts of the students who decided to stay. And if students do not show up, they made their choice.”

Susannah Stern, a professor in the communication studies department at USD, agrees with Herrinton and hopes that students would take more actions if a professor did not show up on time, instead of just leaving.

“I think that since it is so easy to make a phone call, a student from the class should call the department office for that professor to find out if there is any information about the professor’s status,” Stern said. “Are they coming? Are they ill? Was there an emergency? If the professor hasn’t notified the department that they are running late or they have a need to cancel class, it is reasonable for students to leave.”  

Although having never been late to class herself, Stern believes that considering a policy about a tardy professor might be advisable.

“I didn’t realise that this was such a common occurrence that it required any kind of rule, or that the adoption of any such rule was being considered,” Stern said. “It seems like maybe there should be a protocol, rather than a rule.”  

While tardy professors are not as common as tardy students, the idea that students can leave after 15 minutes unsupervised is a common misconception. The myth is believed on such a large scale that students are unlikely to alter their behavior.  


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