“EMU-AAUP Message on Classroom Student Conduct– Response to Provost’s Email”

Remember the email exchange I posted about here, “Message to Faculty from Chief Heighes and Provost Schatzel” (which is more or less a response to Moeller’s earlier email on faculty safety)? Well, EMU-AAUP President Susan Moeller has sent another email to faculty in response to the response (I’ve posted that email after the jump). I’ve been thinking about several things about all this; here are three points that occur to me.

First off, safety for everyone on campus needs to be taken seriously, and that includes the safety of the faculty, lecturers, part-timers, and graduate students who are teaching classes. As I think I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been teaching in one role or another for going on 27 years now, and while I’ve never been “threatened” by a student (as in someone suggesting bodily harm, etc.), I’ve had lots of students “intimidate” me over the years. Or maybe a better way of putting it is I’ve had students who have attempted to intimidate me but I’ve been able to deal with those intimidations without incident. Anyway, what I’m getting at is I don’t recall how I answered that survey question about “intimidation and threats” and it hasn’t been a serious problem in my academic career, certainly not while at EMU.

But I also realize that as a heterosexual white male (albeit not exactly a physically threatening one), I’m not as likely to be threatened/intimidated by an angry student as one of my colleagues who is female, non-white, LGBT, etc. Further, I think a lot of this has to do with age, status within the institution, and the courses being taught: that is, as a middle-aged professor teaching mostly advanced students, I am not as vulnerable to these kinds of threats as the twenty-something female graduate assistant teaching an unruly section of first year writing.

In other words, while I’m not sure how widespread this problem is (and I’m not sure the EMU-AAUP’s survey makes a great case that it is widespread), it’s still a serious problem that needs to be addressed. Look, we live in a country where about once a month someone in a school gets shot. Granted, the majority of these school shootings have taken place in K-12 settings, but stuff like that happens in universities too, and as several events over the years around EMU make clear (most recently the Demarius Reed murder), it can happen on or near campus. I can’t speak for anyone else, but the idea of a shooter in my class has certainly at least crossed my mind. I don’t let the possibility of it stop me from teaching (much in the same way that I don’t let the possibility that I’ll be killed in an automobile accident stop me from driving), but I do get a tinge of worry every time there’s another shooter in a school story.

And as a slight but important tangent: it seems to me that EMU has done a lot more work at making the campus safe for students and not as much for making campus as safe for its employees. Sometimes, those things are one in the same: that is, a beefed-up campus presence of DPS officers provides security for everyone. But the problems of students threatening/intimidating teachers is a good example of how that isn’t always the case.

Second, I just don’t quite understand why this has to be negotiated at the bargaining table and why it can’t be just “worked out” as common sense for lack of a better way of putting it. For example, take this passage from Moeller’s letter:

For example, recently a faculty member had a disruptive student in class for six weeks before the Provost would allow him to be removed from her class.  This student was yelling in class, ripping up his exam, and throwing it on the floor and stomping on it. The faculty member had gone to her department head many times with no results.  Finally the students in the class called DPS as the student was acting out so badly right as a class was ending.  The faculty member then refused to teach the class until the student was permanently removed.  Eventually the EMU administration did remove the student but not before the faculty member and students in the class had six weeks of dealing with a disruptive student.

How does this happen? For six weeks?! I have to assume that the details of the story is more complicated than this, though I have no idea how. As Moeller tells it here, it seems pretty cut-and-dry to me. It’s also interesting how as soon as the students got involved, the wheels of the process turned and the student was removed.

Anyway, what I’m getting at is this is the kind of example of a problem (along with the one about a professor who had a restraining order out against one of her students) that ought to be a no-brainer and shouldn’t require a specific and contractually negotiated clause that says something like “if a faculty member is feeling threatened by a student, they have the right to have something done about it.” It’s certainly a lot less complicated than the real stuff of contract negotiations– salary, insurance, rules for tenure and promotion, etc.

Third , I really think the union needs to be careful about the tone they’re taking in terms of our relationship with our students. Let’s not focus too much on bad apples and throwing out babies with bathwater and all of that: we’re talking about a handful of extreme cases, and the vast vast majority of students just don’t behave like this. We’re not facing an “epidemic” of bad student conduct, and as the various examples that have come up here recently, students are as impacted by the bad behavior of a few.

So instead of taking a stance that for me has a “us versus the students” tone to it, I think it would be a lot more productive for the EMU-AAUP to reach out to various student organizations to address these problems. I kind of understand the “us versus the administration” in the contract negotiation process, but in the years I’ve been here, students have been allies to faculty during negotiations and labor actions. We don’t want to lose that.

Okay, the whole of Moeller’s latest email after the break.

 

Dear EMU Faculty Colleagues:

One particular item that the EMU-AAUP will address in negotiations is faculty and student safety in the classroom and our ongoing disagreement with the administration’s understanding and handling of the matter. The administration’s position was articulated in the Provost’s most recent email (February 17) to the faculty as is discussed below.  Although we are pleased that the Provost finally communicated with the faculty about this situation, we have concerns with the additional comments and interpretations on faculty and student safety as evidenced in her email.

In discussions with the Provost, and based on her comments in a recent Senate meeting, it appears that she believes that the faculty need to put more ‘rules’ in their syllabi to cover disruptive student behavior and the outcome of such behavior to be imposed by a faculty member.  The Provost wants the EMU administration to have cover if a faculty member demands that a student be removed from their classes.

However, the Provost admitted that, if a student was made to leave a class, it would only be for one day.  She is not willing to allow faculty to indefinitely or permanently remove students from their classes.

We plan on negotiating that right for faculty at the table.

Another concern with the message was the statement that minimized the impact of disruptive students in the classroom.  So unless the situation reaches the point where a faculty member feels compelled to call DPS the EMU administration does not believe you have the right to ask for a student to be removed.  The Provost’s comment in her email was:

“For all of 2014, our DPS records indicate there were 13 incidents in which a faculty member or lecturer filed a report with the Department of Public Safety regarding a classroom conduct concern. This is out of 257,938 classroom hours delivered on our campus. Of the 13 incidents that were reported, none resulted in criminal charges.”

So I guess it is OK with the Provost that students are disrupting classes, as long as DPS is not involved or criminal charges are not filed.  For example, recently a faculty member had a disruptive student in class for six weeks before the Provost would allow him to be removed from her class.  This student was yelling in class, ripping up his exam, and throwing it on the floor and stomping on it. The faculty member had gone to her department head many times with no results.  Finally the students in the class called DPS as the student was acting out so badly right as a class was ending.  The faculty member then refused to teach the class until the student was permanently removed.  Eventually the EMU administration did remove the student but not before the faculty member and students in the class had six weeks of dealing with a disruptive student.

Information from a recent EMU-AAUP faculty survey shows that the Provost has drastically underestimated the problem.  In the survey 38% (n=360 respondents) of faculty indicated that they have felt intimidated or threatened by a student at least once during their time at EMU.  The vast majority of the problems have occurred in classrooms and less frequently in faculty offices.  Although almost all of these faculty members reported the incidents to the administration only about a third felt satisfied with the effectiveness of the response.

The Provost also indicated in her email that disruptive student complaints are handled within days which we all know is not true as we have evidence of faculty going to department heads, deans and the director of student conduct numerous times before DPS is called.  We have filed grievances and even gone to arbitration to try to force the Provost to move more quickly in removing a disruptive student from a class.  Here is her claim in her email:

“As provided in the University Guide to Classroom Management (UGCM), initial steps to address any reported situation are taken not in weeks, but most often on the same day the conduct concern is reported. Depending on the complexity of the circumstances (e.g. the number of witnesses to be interviewed), the investigation may last anywhere from a day or two to several weeks until a final determination is reach.”

Unfortunately this is just not true.

I hope that if you have a disruptive student in your class that you will not wait but immediately contact your department head and the EMU-AAUP at the same time.  We can help you get action so that you can teach and your students can learn in an appropriate classroom environment.

On Behalf of the EMU-AAUP Executive Committee,

Susan Moeller
EMU-AAUP President

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15 thoughts on ““EMU-AAUP Message on Classroom Student Conduct– Response to Provost’s Email”

  1. “She is not willing to allow faculty to indefinitely or permanently remove students from their classes.”

    Yeah, nor should she.

    14th Amendment Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

    Students are afforded due process rights through the student conduct process. That process takes time. Faculty don’t get to arbitrarily say, “Leave and don’t ever come back to my class…..because I said so!” If a student is disruptive, I think an instructor has every right to ask that student to leave for that day, and the faculty member should then follow up with the Dean, and probably Student Conduct and Community Standards (provided the student isn’t being asked to leave for sleeping or listening to their iPod or something innocuous).

    I wish the AAUP the best at the bargaining table. Maybe they will be able to get the process better defined, but they won’t get indefinite or permanent removal of students based on faculty waiving their magic wand. Might as well not even waste their time/breath. But again, good luck.

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  2. Mathgeek and Steve, a couple of things:

    1. What does “follow up” mean? I’ve reported issues, both through formal channels and informal ones, to the Dean of Students and to the Student Conduct and Community Standards people in the past, and have received a wall of silence in return. Some of those issues have been disciplinary in nature, while others have been the infamous “care report” system (which seems like one gigantic black hole). Frankly, being met with silence and total lack of response doesn’t make me feel that the administration gave a hoot, either about my concerns or about the students’ well-being.

    2. Contracts are not only about the material aspects of one’s employment (salary, retirement benefits, etc.); they are also about working conditions. The right to an orderly work environment (clear process for dealing with the occasional disruptive student) and workplace safety concerns are definitely appropriate matters to bargain in that context.

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  3. I think that there are circumstances where faculty should be empowered, along with the administration, to remove students on a “because I told you so” basis- removal first, reinstatement only after the student’s due process and chance to be heard are worked out.

    I once took a class at EMU where one student was exceptionally disruptive. He was in ROTC and seemed to resist the most basic premises of the class. He made distracting, sexist, and just plain time-wasting remarks in class, and the professor dealt with him the best he could. It did take away from my ability to learn in the class, because this jerk wanted attention on him at all times.

    One day, the professor gave us our grades up until that point in the semester. The disruptive student’s grade was low, and after class, he challenged the professor on it. The professor explained that his quiz scores, preparation for class, and contributions to class discussions were reflected in his grade. He was irate and several students stayed behind and began filming the interaction because we were concerned for the professor’s safety. The student made a remark that if he fails the class, he’ll go back to active duty, and “they’ll put a gun in [his] hands and [he’ll] shoot people.”

    It seemed very threatening. We called the police and they responded swiftly. The student was removed from the class, and I can honestly say that I would have dropped the class for my safety if he had not been. He was allowed to return to campus a semester or two later and although seeing him made me very uncomfortable, it seemed like a reasonable conclusion to the whole matter.

    My point is this: there are some instances where professors should have the capacity to remove students from class. The ‘due process’ can come in the form of a formal hearing and reinstatement if the removal was incorrect. Can the admins have the veto over a removal? Sure. They should. But if we have a policy where professors are powerless to remove threatening students, it will only hurt professors and students who show up to EMU to learn.

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    • I think there are at least two things that are interesting about your story here, Waldo.

      First, the kind of disruption you describe in the second paragraph– a student saying stuff that “wastes time,” a student who is “distracting,” etc.– that happens all the time. Without going into detail here, almost every class of 25 or more students has at least one student who says and does “inappropriate” things. Part of learning how to manage a classroom is learning how to deal with “that student,” so I don’t think it would make sense to allow a teacher to just kick “that student” out of the class because they’re annoying and/or “because I told you so.”

      But the line gets crossed in that third paragraph where he became mad about the grade and where he started getting threatening. I’d describe ripping up a quiz/test and then stomping on it as in this category too. But this brings me to my second point: notice the role of students in your story. This is another reason why the EMU-AAUP wants to keep students as allies and also why this is a student issue too: these kinds of disruptive and potentially dangerous students are a threat to other students as well. But it also is an example of how the institution responded quickly as a result of student involvement. It was the students who felt like things were getting out of hand, who started to video the encounter, and who called the cops, and the cops were responding to the students. It’s impossible to know, but I have to wonder if the powers that be would have responded as quickly if it had been a teacher doing the recording and making the call.

      In any event, I think there needs to be some kind of system set up (and I guess that’s at the heart of what would be negotiated) where a faculty/lecturer/part-timer/GA could get a disruptive/dangerous student out of the class asap but then where there would be some kind of “hearing” process. But I also think that there needs to be some “educating” going on here, too. I don’t think faculty really know the rules and their rights in responding to these kinds of problems, and it might make sense to get that word out in a systematic way. And as hard as it is to believe, I also don’t think that a lot of these students necessarily realize that their “acting out” is necessarily wrong, so maybe a bit of education along those lines is in order as well.

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      • (Stand up from chair and stars slow clap). Sitedad has hit the nail on the head with education, in my opinion. Faculty/instructors need to know the process, and I think the Provost has a decent point, that class expectations should be clearly stated in the syllabus and covered on day 1.

        To Licorice’s comment, I think follow up involves contacting the necessary person/office in the reporting structure. Student Conduct and Community Standards Office is quite serious about the ‘Community Standards’ portion of their office name. I’ve seen it first hand. They also take all reports from faculty, staff, and students seriously and take the necessary steps to try and resolve the issue. I only say try, because students still have free will and sometimes don’t get the message the first time. The conduct process takes time, and if you have a TR course, a student may be in class on R after being disruptive in T while the process is working. She/he might be in T and R next week as well.

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      • Just to be clear, Mathgeek, when I say I’ve received deafening silence in the past when attempting to work with Student Conduct or with the Dean of Students (whose title has changed multiple times, so I’ve lost track of what the current title is), I don’t mean a couple of days. I mean weeks (note the “s” on the end), months, whole rest of the semester, and never. No response. In at least one instance, the student also told me that no one ever followed up with them, either, even though that student recognized that they needed help and would have welcomed the follow-up. Now I suppose that might be untrue and the student just ignored the follow-up attempts but it is, at least, consistent with my own observations.

        I am not saying that Student Conduct staff never follow up on any cases, but that my experiences trying to navigate those systems haven’t exactly left me feeling like anybody was paying attention to serious concerns. Perhaps my experiences were flukes. And further, I am unwilling to be publicly identified, which I recognize is also problematic in terms of the Student Conduct folks responding. So people can take my comments with as many grains of salt as they feel are warranted, but the main point I’m trying to make is just that saying people should “follow up” with some bureaucratic office isn’t really much of a response because it doesn’t suggest any kind of standard plan of action or outcome, except in this rather passive way.

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  4. As a female professor, I’ve had a number of dicey interactions with students over the past twenty years. Interestingly, all of the disruptive student were male, and while I reported a number of incidences to the Student Judicial Services or other administrative offices, no substantive response to my complaints was ever made. In one instance, a male student athlete body checked one of my female students into a wall because she didn’t respond to his advances. Despite my repeated queries, I received no response from anyone involved in student judicial services. For the remainder of the term, I made sure that the female student sat at a distance from the male student, but no other intervention was made. In another instance, a male student repeatedly shouted obscenities during class. I reported him and was told that I misinterpreted his remarks and that the student was not at fault. And I was told to be more patient with my students. I was flabbergasted in both cases because of the physical danger to the student in the first case and because of the disruption to the class in the second. Frankly, I felt that there was a lot of ‘talk’ about helping instructors with unruly students, but when complaints were lodged, nothing happened. In other words, I felt the entire Student Conduct situation was a hollow shell that made the University look like it was protecting students and faculty, but actually was doing nothing.

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  5. Well, the tricky thing here (at least in terms of contract negotiations) is what CMC and Licorice seem to be saying is that when it comes to handling these issues, the administrator in question seems to have done not a very good job of resolve the complaint. That’s different than a lack of policy. It seems to me that it is possible to negotiate something in the faculty union contract that clarifies the policy, but I am a little more dubious about the chances for the union the negotiate for something that more or less says “do a better job.”

    Though what you’re talking about here does seem like something that’s grievable potentially.

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  6. If a faculty member feels that a student has assaulted them they should go to the police. It’s a crime. What’s the Dean going to do, put them on double secret probation?

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  7. I am old and find all this mollycoddling of students and their “rights” truly disturbing. I also see it as a reflection of the larger societal issue where so many people have been raised to think “I’m special, and you need to acknowledge that.” The students today are the trophy generation – everyone gets a trophy whether they win or lose.

    There seems to be a general loss of understanding that attending a university is a privilege not a right and that students are not customers and thus must earn through hard work their grades.

    As I said, I am old. I come from a time when my professors locked the doors to the classroom as soon as lecture began. If you came late, you didn’t get to attend. All it took was one time being late and you were never late again.

    Sadly, the corporate mentality of the administration won’t permit that because in their world the customer/student is always right. This attitude has permeated so deeply that many students today feel sufficiently entitled that just by registering for a class they truly believe they deserve a good grade.

    What happened to personal responsibility?

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    • Heh. Well, as you say Lamont, you are old. 😉

      I am getting old myself (I’ll turn 49 this year) and I understand the desire to blame the “kids today,” but those kinds of narratives literally go back to the ancient Greeks. I have a favorite passage I’ll spare you that is about how the youth of Athens (around the time of Plato) were spoiled and rotten, spending their days flirting with the flute girls and cooling their wine in the fountains when they should have been studying. The youth have always been rotten.

      And narratives about the corporate mentality of higher ed are about as old. For my sabbatical research, I’ve been wading into some of the history of correspondence study (it’s a long story), which has brought me to Thorstein Veblen’s complaints about the increasingly corporate mentality of higher education. Veblen wrote about this in 1918.

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    • I definitely agree that there is a sense of entitlement and “special snowflakeism” among millenials.

      But I do think that there are pressures to get those good grades that weren’t there in earlier generations. There is a lot of information out there about how millenials are buying houses and cars and starting families at later ages or not at all because of crushing student debt and the scarcity of good-paying jobs that just didn’t exist before on the scale it is today. It is more competitive out there than it used to be, so although the “I deserve this” attitude about grades is inappropriate, the idea of “I am sinking my effort and my money into college and working so much harder than my parents just to get a job, any job; I will do and say what I need to to get the grades I need to survive” shouldn’t be a surprise. it’s so competitive out there that coming out of college with poor grades is probably worse than not going at all; not only are those poor grades on your transcript, but now you have tens of thousands of dollars of debt to contend with.

      Staring down the barrel of substantial student loan payments six months after graduation is enough to make otherwise reasonable young people act in an entitled way; after all, most people are in college to get a job, not to be intellectually challenged. Millenials are the first generation who needs to spend years after high school at substantial cost and hardship just to get a job with a living wage. Having the right attitude toward school can only come once students feel secure that they will have housing and food after college. Is it crappy that students think that paying for college and showing up for class should get them sufficient grades to go get a job when they’re done? Sure. But we’re funneling people into college who probably shouldn’t be there in the first place because they can’t make a living on unskilled labor wages (unlike earlier generations) and that’s really not their fault. Perhaps EMU should head off the problem by being choosier with admissions in the first place.

      Is being threatening or sexist the proper way for a student to go about challenging his grade? No. But it would go a long way toward addressing those inappropriate attitudes for professors to empathize with students. They aren’t trying to weasel their way toward grades they didn’t earn because they’re jerks or think they’re special or unique; it’s because they want an opportunity to work for a living, which is something that their parents’ generation has taken for granted.

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  8. Of course, this has nothing to do with this thread, BUT I heard this afternoon that every dollar that the EMU Foundation collects costs a dollar. It would be cheaper simply for the Foundation to return the money that it took from EMU, back to EMU. At least we’d know where the hell the money is at any given time, yes?

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