It is important to establish expectations and guidelines for the students up front. Address these issues in your syllabus and review the information on the first day of class. For example, an instructor’s preferences and proper academic tone may be set by reviewing ground rules for discussion or questions, tardiness, and safety and decorum concerns. Even outlining your preferences regarding issues such as cell phones in the classroom is important to include in your syllabus. Invite the students to comment on these expectations and have them offer suggestions. Students will know the boundaries and can make informed decisions about their own behavior based on that information.
Have a plan
Staff members should have a plan on how to handle students who are disruptive and/or disrespectful. Know what your personal “breaking points” are and when you need someone else to intervene in the situation. Consider the following when planning:
- How will I help myself remain calm during the interaction?
- Are there other staff members who are especially good at diffusing situations?
- Is there a time to call in a supervisor to resolve the issue?
- Would it be better for the student to schedule an appointment to come back when they are calm and you have had the opportunity to learn more about their concern (if they are looking for a solution) and can properly address those questions?
Having a plan in place may prevent disruptions from escalating.
Initially confronting disruptive behavior and/or situations
If a disruptive situation develops and is non-threatening, minor, and/or annoying, it is best to correct innocent and minor first offenses gently and directly. The instructor may first want to consider a general word of caution instead of warning or embarrassing a particular student. For example, “We have too many private conversations going on at the moment, let’s all focus on the same topic.” If the behavior is repetitive (within that same class period), or if student(s) are disruptive and disrespectful, is it is recommended that the faculty member speak directly with the student or students involved.
If a student is disruptive, it is important for the staff member to remain calm and let the student know that they want to help, but cannot if there is disruptive behavior.
If there is an immediate danger or threat to safety, call the University Police immediately at 7-4215 or 911. They will respond to the situation as described by the staff member. The staff member may also document the incident and refer the student(s) to the Office of Student Conduct. The office will then contact the staff member for any follow up and can meet with the student to discuss and resolve the issue.
Informal conferences with students
When an instructor meets with a student one-on-one, refer to the particular behavior the student is displaying and how it impacts the instructor, the class, and/or other students. Clearly request that the student stop the behavior. The instructor should also identify any academic consequences that may be imposed or that may have already been assessed based on the statement in the syllabus.
Through the informal conference the instructor and student should strive to reach a general understanding that will put a mutually satisfactory end to problems stemming from the student’s behavior. The instructor and student may also wish to explore the reasons behind the behavior and perhaps to identify acceptable alternatives.
If the disruptive behavior continues, even after an informal meeting or warning from the instructor, the instructor has a few options. No matter which course the instructor chooses to take, it is important to try and meet with the student again to explain what actions are being taken and why. It may be helpful to have a third party present in the room when meeting with the student.
The instructor may issue a written formal warning. This letter should be addressed to the student and copied to the instructor’s Department Head, Dean, and to the Office of Student Conduct. The letter should also warn the student of the likely academic and/or discipline consequences should the behavior persist.
The instructor may also contact the Office of Student Judicial Programs to determine how to best address the issue. If it is suitable, document the behavior in an incident report and refer the student to the Office of Student Conduct. The office will then contact the instructor for any follow up and can meet with the student and instructor to discuss and resolve the issue.
Failure to Comply
If neither an informal discussion nor a formal written warning satisfactorily resolves a non-threatening situation, then further action is necessary. Please also note that some situations may be instantaneously threatening and jeopardize the health or safety of faculty members, students and/or other persons. USCPD should be called first when the danger is pending, immediate and/or threatening. Depending on the urgency of the circumstances and the need for outside support, the faculty member may refer the matter immediately by telephone to the University Police or to the Office of Student Conduct.
As always, for immediate assistance, contact the University Police. The Office of Student Judicial Programs should be notified by the faculty member following the incident. If police respond, they may also forward their report to the OSC.
There may be times that a student claims to a faculty or staff member that their disruptive behavior is a result of a disability. Here is what you need to know:
“The fact that a student may have a disability should not inhibit you from notifying appropriate authorities (including the campus police, as needed) about disruptive behavior. Students with or without disabilities need to know they must adhere to reasonable behavioral standards. Setting and enforcing such standards may encourage students with disabilities to obtain needed therapy, and to take prescribed medications.”
“Disability claims and accommodation requests should be discussed with Student Disability Services. There is an established procedure students should follow if they have a disability and seek a reasonable accommodation.”
“Generally, pertinent federal agencies and the courts have made it clear that an institution of higher education does not have to tolerate or excuse violent, dangerous, or disruptive behavior, especially when that behavior interferes with the educational opportunities of other students. Colleges and universities may discipline a student with a disability for engaging in misconduct if it would impose the same discipline on a student without a disability.”
ASJA LAW AND POLICY REPORT, No. 26