Disruptive and threatening student behavior guidelines for faculty and staff at Saint Martin's University

Occasionally, Saint Martin's University experiences threatening and disruptive behavior on the part of students, a trend paralleled nationally at other campuses. You, as a faculty or staff, may find yourself having to contend with a disruptive or emotionally disturbed student at some point during your career. Student behaviors you may encounter range from simple disruptions in class, to ongoing harassment, to verbal and physical threats.

These guidelines are designed to:

  • Assist your department in thinking through its response to situations in which students may behave in unusual or unpredictable ways.
  • Help you handle an actual threat.
  • Assist you with referral and protocol procedures.

When faculty and staff are adequately prepared for such situations the chances of serious disruptions may be lessened. Students may exhibit disruptive behaviors in a classroom, department, or office and staff may find themselves on the receiving end of a student's anger or frustration. Often the behavior in question constitutes a violation of Student Code of Conduct and can be addressed in accordance with Conduct procedures (as described in Student Handbook). However, it is rarely enough to simply hand a situation over to Coordinator of Student Conduct when a student has caused significant disruption. The Academic department or office involved may also need to address issues related to the perceived safety of its faculty and staff, as well as the wellbeing of other students.

Note: A separate policy and protocol exists for handling violence in the workplace. When an employee is threatening or intimidating assistance should be sought from the Office of Public Safety.

Definitions

A student is considered disruptive when he or she engages in behaviors which interferes in a significant way with the normal teaching or administrative duties of a faculty or staff member. Disruptive behavior may sometimes threaten or endanger your physical or psychological wellbeing or safety, or of others. Disruptive behavior can assume many forms. It may be:

  • a student in your class who persistently arrives late or leaves early in a manner disruptive to the regular flow of the class.
  • a student who talks incessantly while you are delivering a lecture.
  • a student who loudly and frequently interrupts the flow of class with inappropriate questions or interjections.
  • a student who persistently calls your office and hampers your ability to continue your normal work, or to assist other students.
  • a student who becomes belligerent when you confront their inappropriate behavior.
  • a student who verbally or physically threatens you, another faculty or staff member, or another student.
  • a student who writes you a threatening letter, email, or leaves a disturbing message.
  • a student who attempts to contact you at your home in inappropriate ways.
  • a student who displays behaviors indicating a romantic or other obsessive interest in you.

Three levels of threatening or disruptive behavior

For the purposes of these guidelines, disruptive and threatening behavior has been categorized into three different levels.

The first level, which is the least serious, encompasses any situation that can be handled informally between you and the student and leads to a prompt resolution.

The second level involves an ongoing problem or a more serious incident in the classroom. In these situations a review of the Behavioral Intervention Protocols and consultation with the Dean of Student Affairs or one of the other designated contacts is recommended. If necessary, a consultation with the Behavioral Intervention Team will assist you in evaluating and resolving the situation.

The third, and most serious, level is reached when there is immediate danger of some kind. If this occurs, it is recommended you should follow the Behavioral Intervention Protocols or call the Office of Public Safety immediately.

Level one - informal resolution

A. In the classroom

It is helpful if you clarify expected behavior and performance standards at the beginning of a course and reach agreement with students on standards for classroom conduct.

When you are establishing guidelines for behavior in your class it is important you only articulate the standards you are willing to enforce. Apply these standards fairly and consistently. Students will quickly recognize and resent perceived unfairness.

Describing basic behavioral standards in the course syllabus will assist you in discussing them the first day of class. Information should specify what behaviors are prohibited, how you will manage behavioral issues, and any resulting consequences. A statement in the course syllabus might read:

"Behavior persistently or grossly interfering with classroom activities is considered disruptive behavior and may be subject to disciplinary action. Such behavior inhibits other students' ability to learn and an instructor's ability to teach. A student responsible for disruptive behavior may be required to leave class pending discussion and resolution of the problem and may be reported to the Coordinator of Student Conduct for disciplinary action."

When a student is disruptive in class

Respond immediately. This may mean employing informal action (such as standing next to students who are talking), reminding the class of the agreed standards for behavior, or directing specific comments to the disruptive student.

If the behavior continues, notify the student they must leave the room if the behavior does not cease immediately, and referral for conduct may result. If the student does not respond appropriately ask them to leave and arrange to see you during office hours before the next class session. You should consult with the Dean of Student Affairs and your Academic Dean prior to meeting with the student.

If a student refuses to leave tell them you will call Public Safety and possibly refer the incident for conduct. It is appropriate to call Public Safety any time a disruptive behavior escalates or when it is reasonable to interpret the behavior (including oral statements) as threatening or harassing to you or to other members of the class.

Meeting with a disruptive student

It is generally helpful for you to meet privately with a disruptive student following a confrontation or removal from class. You may wish to request a meeting with a student who has displayed unacceptable behavior even when a confrontation has not resulted. In either case, the meeting is an opportunity for the student to understand the inappropriateness of their behavior , and for you to discuss strategies enabling them to continue in the class. You may want to have a third person present, or to leave the door open so that someone in the office can assist you if the situation becomes confrontational. A referral to the Behavioral Intervention Team is always an option available to you at anytime.

In the meeting

Remain calm. This may be difficult if the student is agitated. However, your reasoned response will assist the student in addressing the behavior in question.

Do not take the student's behavior or remarks personally even though they may be directed at you. Disruptive behavior generally results from other life problems or general academic frustration.

Be specific about the inappropriate behavior the student has exhibited. Describe the behavior; don't focus on the person. Explain why the behavior is problematic. Ask questions and summarize what you hear the student saying. Respectful concern may enable you, as the educator, to help the student to be successful both in your class and in their general university experience.

Focus on areas of agreement between you and the student.

Recommend additional resources on campus, such as Student Counseling Services, the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs, or other appropriate services. If you and the student are comfortable, offer to escort the student to the Counseling office or to have the student call the office in your presence.

Conclude by summarizing any resolution and by articulating expectations for the future. Be clear their continued inappropriate behavior will be referred for judicial conduct.

B. Outside the classroom, or in a department or office

You may encounter threatening, intimidating or harassing behavior by students during office meetings, before or after scheduled classes, or in spontaneous encounters on campus. Should this occur, strategies for responding to the student generally are the same as those outlined previously.

In general

Remain calm, and speak in a controlled manner. This will prevent the situation from escalating and may diffuse the tension.

Identify a more appropriate place and time to discuss the matter, if the problem is occurring outside the normal parameters of professional interaction.

Use a "time out" to allow the student to regain composure or explain if the student cannot maintain composure you may not be able to discuss the issue at the moment.

Explain to the student the Office of Public Safety will be called if inappropriate behavior persists or if a threat is made. Of course, it is important to differentiate between threatening or harassing student behavior and uncivil or rude student behavior. The latter does not generally warrant the intervention of Public Safety or other disciplinary action.

Level two - disruptive behavior requiring a student affairs response

If the disruptive behavior feels intimidating, threatening, or appears to be escalating, it is recommended you consult with one of the following: the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs, Public Safety, Counseling and Wellness Services, the Behavioral Intervention Team, or your department chair. Typically a team approach, most probably the BIT, will be employed to assist you in evaluating and handling the situation.

The BIT can meet with you and other faculty and staff involved. The team will assess imminent danger to individuals or to the academic community. The objectives of such an assessment include providing appropriate levels of support for you and others involved; demonstrating concern for other students who may be affected by the student exhibiting the behavior in question; and deciding how to handle the student's behavioral problems.

Student Affairs will also follow up with the disruptive student. Various disciplinary processes will be considered at this point, including, under certain circumstances, interim suspension of the student or the negotiation of a behavioral contract, pending a formal review.

Level three - immediate threat

Whenever there is an immediate threat to the safety of any person, contact the Office of Public Safety immediately. This includes behavior one would classify as unlawful harassment, stalking, or a death threat. After a disruptive incident has occurred and a report has been taken, Public Safety customarily involves the Behavioral Intervention Team in responding to the incident. You can expect these and other resources to provide consultation and assistance on an ongoing basis. When an incident is sufficiently serious and attracts media attention, legal considerations dictate the Dean of Student Affairs, through the Vice President for Marketing and Communications, will take the lead in all communications with the press.

When a complaint is forwarded to the Coordinator of Student Conduct

If the issue involves a student, you will be asked to recommend a desired outcome, at some point after your report of disruptive behavior has been forwarded to the Coordinator of Student Conduct. Remedies can include any number of possibilities ranging from probations to more serious sanctions such as suspension or expulsion.

The Coordinator of Student Conduct, in consultation with the Dean of Student Affairs, will make a determination on how each written complaint will be reviewed. Several ways are available to resolve conduct issues: Informal Mediation; Residence Life Hearing; Administrative Hearing; and Student Conduct Committee Hearing. The Student Handbook contains a description of each process and the disciplinary procedures. The purpose of a disciplinary review is to discuss the facts in the case, to hear the accused student's perspective, and to determine an appropriate disciplinary response. Disciplinary decisions take into consideration the needs both of the campus community and of the accused student.

Note: While you, or the Office of Public Safety, may order a student to leave class session in which he or she is displaying disruptive behavior, permanent removal cannot occur without a review by the Dean of Student Affairs, in consultation with Academics. The Dean of Student Affairs may temporarily remove a student from further class sessions, pending a review, where circumstances warrant such action.

Documentation

Resolving disruption cases can be helped if you document problem behavior, including dates, times, brief descriptions of what happened, and the names of witnesses who may have observed the behavior. Such documentation should always be factual, and not include personal interjections.

Important Telephone Numbers

Department of Public Safety - 24 hour number (360) 438-4555

Director of Public Safety (360) 486-8876

Office of the Dean of Student Affairs (360) 438-4397

Director of Housing and Residence Life (360) 486-8856

Student Counseling and Wellness Services (360) 438-4371 or 438-4513