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Responding to Disruptions in the Classroom

A Guide for Classroom Instructors

Office of the Provost
Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs

WHAT IS DISRUPTIVE BEHAVIOR?

As stated in the University Student Conduct Code, "No student shall impede or disrupt any educational, research, administrative, social or recreational activity of the University; nor shall any student create a nuisance to members or guests of the University community" (Article III.A.9.a., page 18, in the Code). Students involved in such conduct are subject to disciplinary action.

Disruptive behavior is that which persistently or grossly interferes with academic or administrative activities. Such behavior actively inhibits students' ability to learn, instructors' ability to teach, or the regular operation of the campus. Occasionally, disruptive behavior may even threaten or endanger the physical or psychological health, safety, or welfare of others.


PREVENTION

In order to foster a campus culture of civility and respect, it is important to articulate expectations, encourage discussion, and respond to problems consistently. Faculty members encounter fewer problems with student behavior when they clearly state their expectations about the importance of respectful classroom behavior.

The following statement can be used by faculty members in their course materials and early class discussions:

  • "Stony Brook University expects students to maintain standards of personal integrity that are in harmony with the educational goals of the institution; to observe national, state, and local laws and University regulations; and to respect the rights, privileges, and property of other people."

 

  • While the University is a place where the free exchange of ideas and concepts allows for debate and disagreement, all classroom behavior and discourse should reflect the values of respect and civility. Both students and the course instructors share the responsibility to maintain an appropriate learning environment that reflects these values. Students have both the right to learn and the responsibility to participate in and respect the learning process.

CONSULTATION

Generally, faculty and staff members are clear about which situations they feel comfortable dealing with themselves and which need University Police and/or a disciplinary response. Consequently, if the behavior feels intimidating, threatening, or disturbing, it is wise to consult early on, before the conduct becomes an emergency. Many faculty and staff members find it helpful to first consult with their department chair, the University Counseling Center, Campus Community Advocate, or the Office of University Community Standards on specific situations to discuss the behavior and possible methods of response.

During early consultation, the Director of the Office of University Community Standards can check disciplinary records to determine whether there is a prior pattern of problem behaviors. This information is useful in determining how to handle the problem and whether to refer the situation to the Office of University Community Standards (this is also why it is important for faculty to copy the Office of University Community Standards when handling problem behaviors internally). In summary, if faculty and staff members have any concerns on how to handle a particular situation, they should consult the Office of University Community Standards.


REFERRAL TO THE OFFICE OF UNIVERSITY COMMUNITY STANDARDS

If a student's behavior is disturbing, or the student has not responded to clear communication about appropriate behavior, additional assessment and response is needed. To make a referral, contact the Director of the Office of University Community Standards by telephone at (631) 632-6705. Written documentation of the problem behavior is required. The student is entitled to see this documentation, so make sure it contains only factual, descriptive information. If the student interferes with the orderly functioning of a classroom or office, the instructor's ability to teach, or the safety or welfare of others, the student may be prohibited from returning to the classroom or office pending the disciplinary hearing. After consultation, such directives can be issued by the Office of University Community Standards.

In addition, directives prohibiting contact with specific individuals can be issued. The purpose of the disciplinary hearing is to review the facts in the case, hear the student's perspective, and if the student is found to be responsible for the disruption, determine an appropriate disciplinary response, ranging from a warning through expulsion from the University. In addition, administrative action such as referral for a medical or psychological evaluation, may be an option. Disciplinary decisions take into consideration both the needs of the campus community and the accused student.

Please call the Office of the University Community Standards, (631) 632-6705 for a copy of the University Student Conduct Code.


WHEN TO CONTACT UNIVERSITY POLICE

When a serious incident of disruptive behavior occurs in the classroom, any academic building, or on the campus, University Police should be contacted immediately by calling 333.

Classroom disruption by students constitutes a serious breach of University behavioral expectations described in the University Student Conduct Code. Faculty members are encouraged to respond to conduct which is disruptive to the academic environment, and they may require students to leave the class pending discussion and resolution of the concerns. Students may be referred to the Office of the University Community Standards for possible University disciplinary action up to and including suspension or expulsion. If there is any immediate threat to the safety of any person, the University Police should be summoned.

Blue light phones, restricted campus phones, and conventional academic building office phones throughout the campus can be used as emergency telephones. The average University Police emergency response time to on-campus locations is under two minutes. The University Police emergency dispatcher will contact other services, such as ambulances, if needed. If you are unable to make the call yourself, designate a specific person to do it. When making a call to University Police, provide as much information as possible about the nature of the problem.

National trends and recent incidents at several universities show an increase in disrespectful, disruptive, and even violent student behavior on campuses. While some incidents of this type may be a clear violation of the Stony Brook University Student Conduct Code, others are merely frustrating or troublesome. Most inappropriate behavior can be easily and directly dealt with by faculty or staff members. Other cases may require consultation, University disciplinary action, or immediate emergency response. This brochure is designed to help faculty and staff members assess problem behavior and determine the appropriate course of action.


IMPORTANT TELEPHONE NUMBERS

University Police (on-campus emergencies) 333
University Police (non-emergencies), Dutchess Hall - South Campus (631) 632-6350
University Police - Community Relations (631) 632-7786
Office of University Community Standards, 347 Administration Building (631) 632-6705
Counseling and Psychological Services, 2nd floor, Infirmary Building (631) 632-6720
Campus Community Advocate (Ombuds Office), W0505 Melville Library (631) 632-9200

Stony Brook University is an affirmative action/equal opportunity educator and employer. If you need a disability-related accommodation, please call (631) 632-6748. This material available in alternative format upon request.