Classroom Disruption Policy

    An Advisory from the Dean of Students Office

    Last Revised July 2015

    During recent years, we have seen an increase in the number and severity of incidents of classroom disruption, whether the classroom is online or held in person. The classroom could also extend to those course-related discussions between an instructor, teaching assistant, or graduate assistant and a student during office hours. The Dean of Students Office offers the following advisory to assist instructors who may encounter a disruptive student.

    1. Classroom disruption is seen as misconduct, as defined by the University’s Code of Student Conduct. Classroom disruption is behavior a reasonable person would view as substantially or repeatedly interfering with normal class activities. 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. An instructor is responsible for management of the classroom environment. Instructors focus on relevant issues, set reasonable time limits, assess the quality of ideas and expression, and ensure participants are heard in an orderly manner. Instructors need to exercise authority with a sense of fairness, and with appreciation for the reality of human fallibility. Disruptive conduct may determine a student’s fitness to continue in an academic program. Instructors should keep their department chair informed of any situation involving student behavior so that the appropriate assessments may be made regarding the student’s status.
    3. A student has the right to freedom of inquiry, of legitimate classroom discussion, and of free expression of his or her opinion, subject to the instructor’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 is 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. Share with students your explicit expectations for conduct in the classroom. 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 students.
      3. If instructors believe inappropriate behavior is occurring, offer general words of caution, rather than warning a particular student (e.g., we have too many conversations at the moment; let’s all focus on the same topic).
      4. If the behavior is inappropriate, 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. Give the student a specific example of the behavior you want him or her to modify or eliminate.
      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 and with respect, 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 Dean of Students Office (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 called (852-6111). Instructors 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.
    6. The Dean of Students Office can review University conduct procedures, and meet with accused students formally or informally. It is important to document and report disruptive incidents promptly, even if they seem minor.