A Letter to the Editor - 02/24/14
In response to Dean of Students Stephanie Ives’ recent contribution to The Faculty Herald, I am pleased that we are in at least partial agreement. Despite some apparently inaccurate information to the contrary, Dr. Ives now notes that faculty can indeed ask a student to leave a classroom; security issues do necessitate the involvement of campus police; and that faculty hold primary responsibility for classroom coordination. Granted, Dean Ives does recommend that asking a student to leave may elicit negative reactions. Of course, allowing a student to remain when she or he is disrupting the learning experiences of others may well result in the same. As such, and although I fully recognize and appreciate Dean Ives’ suggestion, faculty have the right to accept or decline her recommendation. As she has established, faculty are the primary directors of the classroom.
Still, however, there are two areas that deserve additional consideration. First, as evidenced by the lengthy reading list in Dr. Ives’ response, there is an assumption that disruptions are typically the effect of faculty members’ ignorance of how to properly manage their classrooms. For the myriad faculty who have been teaching for decades, several having earned awards for their efforts, the contention that disruptions result from a lack of training is rather presumptuous. It also assumes a dearth of faculty learning as opposed to tangible student hostility. Surely, several faculty members recall the sage advice of our graduate school advisors who noted that we should read another book as we continued in our path toward degree completion. At that stage of our educational development, that advice was very well warranted. To suggest, however, that a faculty member should just become more equipped with classroom tactics or to imply that faculty should consult another text and workshop connotes that a lack of experience is what precipitates an ineffective response to a hostile classroom environment. The onus is thus not on students and is therefore not their responsibility. I could not disagree more fully.
Even if, however, a student is charged with disrupting a classroom, the solution is hardly definitive. As Dean Ives rightly notes, a faculty member can—and I would posit should—ask an overtly hostile or disruptive student to leave a classroom. This situation raises the question “and then what?” Beyond assuming that the student might need mental health counseling, the response is that a judicial board must be called in order to prove whether or not a student was indeed hostile or disruptive. But what exactly does being disruptive or hostile mean? If a student used overtly hateful speech and does so to attack a student or faculty member, is that disruptive enough? If a student backs a faculty member literally into a corner of his or her office while complaining about a grade does that action meet the standard of hostility? Regrettably, there is not one word in the current Student Code of Conduct that specifically defines student disruption or hostility. Even more, a faculty member must prove conclusions about such perceptions before a judicial board—a review board that is, of course, not privy to the occurrences of a classroom that a faculty member will see throughout the semester and cannot use a behavioral code as a reference to guide its assessments.
If Temple University is genuinely concerned about classroom disruptions and trusts the faculty to oversee classes, a code that deals clearly and strongly with student behaviors and faculty rights should be crafted. Currently, such a code does not exist. The Temple Student Code of Conduct leaves so much room for interpretation that it is not an effective deterrent or guide.
I would hope that the Student Affairs Office will remedy these glaring problems in Temple’s Code by not only consulting with faculty but inviting us to co-write this missing material. After all, it is we, the faculty, not administrators, who are more directly affected by disruptive students. I look forward to making this positive outcome a reality through discussions with Dean Ives and members of her office. •
Associate Professor of Instruction, Department of Strategic Communication School of Media and Communication