Classroom Disruption Policy

An Advisory from the Dean of Students Office

Last Revised December 2007

During recent years, we have seen an increase in the number and severity of incidents of classroom disruption.  The Dean of Students Office offers the following advisory to assist faculty members who may encounter a disruptive student.

  1. Classroom disruption is seen as a disciplinary offense, as defined by the University’s Code of Student Conduct.  The term “classroom disruption” means behavior a reasonable person would view as substantially or repeatedly interfering with the conduct of a class.  Examples include repeatedly leaving and entering the classroom without authorization, making loud or distracting noises, persisting in speaking without being recognized, or resorting to physical threats or personal insults.
  2. A faculty member is responsible for management of the classroom environment.  Teachers can be compared to judges; both focus on relevant issues, set reasonable time limits, assets the quality of ideas and expression, and make sure participants are heard in an orderly manner.  While their ultimate goals may be different, both judges and teachers need to exercise authority with a sense of fairness, and with appreciation for the reality of human fallibility. Such conduct may also reflect upon a person’s fitness to continue in an academic program (See Redbook 6.6.3).  Faculty should keep their department chair informed of any situation involving student behavior so that the appropriate assessments may be made regarding the student’s academic status.
  3. A student has freedom of inquiry, of legitimate class room discussion, and of free expression of his or her opinion, subject to the teacher’s responsibilities to maintain order and to complete the course requirements (See Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities, Section 4).
  4. Rudeness, incivility, and disruption are often indistinguishable, though they may intersect.  Most often, it’s better to respond to rudeness by example and situation (e.g., advising a student in private that he or she appears to have a habit of interrupting others).  Rudeness can become disruption when it is repetitive, especially after a warning has been given.
  5. Strategies to prevent and respond to disruptive behavior include the following:

 

  1. Clarify standards for the conduct of your class.  For example, if you want students to raise their hands for permission to speak, say so, using reminders, as needed
  2. Serve as a role model for the conduct you expect from your students.
  3. If you believe inappropriate behavior is occurring, consider a general word of caution, rather than warning a particular student (e.g., we have too many contemporaneous conversations at the moment; let’s all focus on the same topic).
  4. If the behavior is irritating, but not disruptive, speak with the student after class.  Most students are unaware of distracting habits or mannerisms, and have no intent to be offensive or disruptive.  Make students aware of what behavior is expected.
  5. There may be rare circumstances when it is necessary to speak to a student during class about his or her behavior.  Try to do so firmly, indicating that further discussion can occur after class.  Public arguments and harsh language must be avoided.
  6. A student who persists in disrupting a class may be directed to leave the classroom for the remainder of the class period.  Whenever possible, prior consultation should be undertaken with the Department Chair and the Assistant Dean of Students (852-5787) to review applicable University procedures.
  7. If disruption is serious, and other reasonable measures have failed, the class may be adjourned and the University Police summoned (852-6111).  Faculty members must not use force or threats of force, except in immediate self-defense.  Prepare a written account of the incident(s).  Identify witnesses for the University Police, as needed.
  8. The Dean of Students Office can help by reviewing University disciplinary procedures with you, and meeting with accused students formally, or informally.  It is better to document and report disruptive incidents to us promptly, even if they seem minor.  One of our preferred strategies is to outline behavioral expectations with students, so they have clear guidelines about what is expected of them in the classroom setting.