Debunking the 20-minute rule myth

Are you really free to leave after 20 minutes if your professor doesn't show up?

Students waiting for their professor. (Veronica Kos/The Omega)

The clock is ticking. You’ve been waiting in class for your professor who has yet to show up. Once that clock hits 20 minutes past the start of class, everyone gets up to leave. You’ve waited the “official” amount of time needed before you’re allowed to leave class and you’re free to go, right? Well, not exactly.

If you’ve ever had a similar thought, you might need to brush up on TRU’s attendance policy.

The popular 20-minute rule myth has been floating around on campus for many years. What may have started as an assumption that if a professor is late by over 20 minutes, class is most likely cancelled, has morphed into a false rumour that this is an actual policy.

Students were asked by the Omega to respond true or false to the following statement: “If your professor is late by 20 minutes, you are allowed to leave class as a policy or rule.” Of the 36 students queried, 29 thought the statement was true.

However, not all students believed in the myth.

“I know it’s not a written rule, but I’ve heard from several people that you only need to wait 20 minutes. I think a lot of students believe that’s a policy,” said Riley Butchko, a first-year communications student.

While other students were unsure if it truly is a policy, they believed common sense would suggest that 20 minutes is enough to wait before safely assuming class was cancelled.

“If the professor didn’t have an excuse and didn’t notify the class, I would wait 20 minutes but then I would leave. It’s common courtesy,” said Riley Scott, a second-year natural resource science student.

Some of TRU’s faculty found the rumour amusing.

“I think it exists as a way for students to break free from the classroom as a part of the fantasy of hoping your teacher doesn’t show up so you don’t need to work,” said Blair McDonald, a professor in the faculty of journalism, communication and new media.

Shannon Smyrl, also a communications professor, recalled that a similar rumour existed during her student days, the only difference being that a student only had to wait 10 minutes.

“A lot of this is based on mutual respect. If I was 15 minutes late for class, I would not expect my students to still be there.”

However, some faculty weren’t so amused.

“You’re paying to be here. You’ve committed to being here. Why would you be happy when the instructor doesn’t show up?” said Jane Horton, university and employment preparation chair.

Horton advised students to take action if they have professors who are substantially late without notice.

“I would advise students to see the instructor themselves first to complain, or they can go to student services.”

Horton said there are policies that require professors to communicate to their students if a class is cancelled, either via moodle, email or by placing a note in the classroom.

“There should be good communication, because students deserve that,” Horton said.