Codes of conduct urged for student and teacher classroom behavior

BLACKSBURG, Va., March 5, 2005 – Oft heard in the halls of academe are complaints of students who come to class late and then don't pay attention. A new book from the "New Directions for Teaching and Learning" series contends that lapses in student behavior often reflect shortcomings in the person at the head of the class.

"Faculty members perceive incivility, but don't see that they foster it," says Alan Bayer, professor of sociology at Virginia Tech. John M. Braxton, professor of higher education at Vanderbilt University, and Bayer are co-editors of the book, Addressing Faculty and Student Classroom Improprieties (Fall 2004 Jossey-Bass, San Francisco).

Faculty and student misconduct is not new, but in the past, student misconduct has been identified with behavior at sports events and abuse of alcohol and drugs, while faculty misconduct has been defined by falsification of credentials and research misconduct, such as falsification of data and results, Bayer and Braxton write. "In the teaching-learning domain, institutional focus on student improprieties has been concentrated on cheating and plagiarism," the authors note. Moral turpitude, particularly inappropriate relationships with students, has been the focus of charges of faculty impropriety.

The book identifies a broader range of student and faculty incivilities, and explores the impact such acts by teachers may have on student learning. "We note the potential synergistic interplay between incivilities of faculty members toward students and the uncivil behavior of students that sometimes results," Bayer said.

The editors were impressed by an analysis of classrooms done by Bob Boice, professor emeritus of psychology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, published in Research in Higher Education in 1996 ("Classroom Incivilities"). "He observed that two-thirds of the classrooms he observed had incidents of incivility, and most of it was fostered by faculty members," Bayer said. "That is, students were responding to perceived faculty incivility."

For a chapter that explored the synergy between faculty and student misconduct, Braxton and Melinda Rogers Mann, a doctoral student at Peabody College, Vanderbilt University, surveyed 831 students regarding their observations of faculty teaching norm violations. The most frequent violation was "inattentive planning," observed by 19.6 percent of the students.

"Students rarely report such violations," Bayer said. "I think that when students arrive at a university, they don't know what degree of professionalism to expect."

But students do respond with inattention and insolence. The combination of a teacher's lack of preparedness or worse and students' incivility can negatively impact the academic experience of a room full of students, and even their commitment to their college education, Bayer and Braxton observed. They urge college and university administrators to encourage students to act in their own best interests.

A chapter by Bayer looks at the way some institutions have responded to improve civility among students, such as expressing expectations of behavior in the class syllabus. Bayer would publish student rights, as well as expectations regarding behavior. Bayer and Braxton recommend reworking the student evaluation of teachers. "Give students an opportunity to report on improprieties on the part of the faculty, such as grading practices, organization, preparedness, classroom environment, and intoxication," Bayer said.

He said there could also be more codes of conduct for faculty and students. "We have them at the federal level, in professional organizations, and at the university level for research, but not for teaching."