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Disruptive Students FAQ

Questions about dealing with disruptive students in the classroom appear below. Click on the underlined questions for a response. The responses are culled from MSU policies and procedures, MSU Lilly Seminars,  discussions with officers at MSU Department of Police and Public Safety, and conversations with MSU faculty, staff and administrators.

NOTE: While this page on the Web site focuses on student disruption in the classroom, instructors should discuss emergency responses to campus violence or natural disasters with their students at the beginning of the semester.  For details, see http://www.police.msu.edu/resources/eminfo.pdf.

Students are disrupting my classroom, making it difficult for me to teach and for my students to learn. What should I do?

What university policies, regulations or ordinances should I review?

Is it possible that I have contributed to the lack of classroom decorum?

How should I confront disruptive students?

What should I do if my initial conversation with the disruptive students fails to stop their misbehavior?

Can I expel a disruptive student from my class?

Do disruptive students with emotional or mental disorders get any special treatment if they become disruptive?

What patterns of student behavior are likely to identify a potentially disruptive or threatening student?

When should I call university police?

What happens to the student if I call the university police?

What happens to the student if I file a complaint with the Student Judicial Office?

Can a student face charges from the Prosecutor's Office and the MSU Student Judicial Office simultaneously?

What is my involvement if I file a complaint against the student, either with the Student Judicial Office or with the campus police?

Am I required to include a statement on disruptive students in my course syllabus?

Whom should I contact for advice in dealing with disruptive students?

Students are disrupting my classroom, making it difficult for me to teach and for my students to learn. What should I do?

Document all serious instances of classroom disruption in memo form. Be sure to state the date, time and place of each incident. Keep the memo as factual and objective as possible -- just the facts. Try to avoid judgment words that may misinterpret what actually occurred and/or was said. Include the names of all participants and witnesses and the names of any university police officers who responded to your call (see below).

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What university policies, regulations or ordinances should I review?

MSU rules and regulations that govern student conduct in and out of the classroom. If nothing else, these rules will help define unacceptable classroom conduct.  Begin your review by following these links:

Academic Freedom for Students at Michigan State University (also known as the "Academic Freedom Report," or "AFR"): Graduate Student Rights and Responsibilities at Michigan State University (or "GSRR”): Medical Student Rights and Responsibilities at Michigan State University (or "MSRR”):

Code of Teaching Responsibility

General Student Regulations:
 1.00:  Protection of Scholarship and Grades
 2.00:  Protection of Individuals
 3.00:  Protection of Student Groups
 4.00:  Protection of Property
 5.00:  Protection of University Functions and Services
           (see especially 5.02)

Administrative Ruling on Acceptable Use of Computing Systems, Software,  and University Digital Network

University Ordinances:
 15:01-15:04:  Disorderly Assemblages or Conduct (including Disruption  of Educational Activities)
  17:  Examinations
  21:  Alcoholic Beverages
  22:  Harassment
  27:  Selling and Advertising
  29:  Smoking

Faculty Handbook:
   Rights of Students to Receive Instruction
   Threats to a Faculty Member

All-University Policies:
  Sexual Harassment
  Anti-Discrimination
  Conflict of Interest in Educational Responsibilities Resulting from  Consensual Amorous or Sexual Relationships

Presidental Statments:
   President's Statement on Free Speech Rights and Responsibilities

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Is it possible that I have contributed to the lack of classroom decorum?

Some students become angry with instructors who fail to the follow the Code of Teaching Responsibility and the Academic Freedom Report (AFR) or Graduate Students Rights and Responsibilities (GSRR) documents (see especially Article 2 in each of the latter).  They complain about instructors who change their course syllabi; e.g., change the announced dates for exams and major assignments or change the method to determine final course grades. While such changes may be necessary, students nevertheless expect their instructors not to make any changes after the deadline for dropping a course with a refund.  This is especially true for any changes that affect grades, including attendance policies. 

Students often say they lose respect for instructors who:

  •  are rude to them or other students, especially in front of the entire class  (see AFR 2.III.B.10 and GSRR 2.3.11), 
  •  frequently cancel classes, 
  •  fail to show up for announced office hours,
  •  fail to reply to their e-mail notes or phone calls,
  •  require them to purchase, and then ignore, expensive textbooks,
  •  test them on material not covered in assigned readings, lectures, labs or discussions,
  •  fail to stop students from cheating (not only because cheating is wrong, students assert, but also because it raises the curve, making it more difficult for students with integrity to earn a high grade in the course), and
  • arrive late to class.

The list could go on and on, but it’s important to note here that students cannot justify disruptive behavior in a classroom based on any of these issues, legitimate or not. They do, however, have rights and responsibilities. According to the Academic Freedom Report, students have a “right to scholarly relationships with faculty based on mutual trust and civility.” (See AFR 2.III.B.10.) They have a responsibility to behave in the classroom in a manner “conducive to the teaching and learning process for all concerned.” (See AFR 2.III.B.4.)  Your behavior will set an example for your students.

Following your self-assessment, determine if you have discussed your expected classroom procedures, including decorum, with your students at the beginning of the semester.  Have you told them, for example, to silence their cell phones or put away The State News or other reading materials when you begin class discussion? Have you explained your classroom policy on arriving late to class? Using computers? Sleeping in class? Eating in class? Bringing guests or children to class?  Some instructors allow their students to share in developing such classroom standards.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported a research study ( http://chronicle.com/article/Chief-Targets-of-Student/65396/?sid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en) that concluded, "When it comes to being rude, disrespectful, or abusive to their professors, students appear most likely to take aim at women, the young, and the inexperienced."

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How should I confront disruptive students?

During class, tell the disruptive students, in a calm, respectful and non-threatening manner, to refrain from their behavior, because it impedes your ability to teach and their classmates’ ability to learn. Remind them of the agreed-upon class standards. If that fails to stop the misbehavior, privately invite the students to visit with you before or after class or during office hours. (If you have reason to believe the disruptive students might threaten you in any way, ask a colleague or administrator to attend this meeting.) Again, the key here is respect and civility. If a group of students is the problem, the situation becomes more difficult than dealing with a single student, but you must notify these students that they are disrupting the classroom and making it difficult for others to learn.

During your meeting, carefully and explicitly explain why you believe their conduct is disrupting the learning environment in your classroom and thereby violating a specific MSU rule, policy, ordinance or regulation cited in question 1 above. Politely ask the students to stop this behavior. Then ask the students to explain their behavior. Ask if they accept or deny responsibility for their conduct. Listen carefully, for the students might cite any number of reasons, including serious health concerns or personal problems. Do not argue with them. While health conditions do not condone the behavior, you might be able to direct the students to a campus resource, such as the Counseling Center, for assistance. Advise the students that if the disruptive conduct continues, you will file a complaint with the Student Judicial Affairs Office.

Also, follow up the meeting with your student with a memo outlining the highlights of your conversation and any subsequent conversation and/or disrupting behavior. Your notes will be helpful if you decide to file a formal complaint.

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What should I do if my initial conversation with the disruptive students fails to stop their misbehavior?

Having warned the students clearly and precisely about a possible referral to the Student Judicial Affairs Office, follow through by contacting that office (call 432-2471). A staff member will then contact the students to set up a meeting to discuss the matter. A hearing, either by an administrator or a hearing body, will likely follow. If a hearing is scheduled, you would be the complainant and the student, the respondent. (See below.)

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Can I expel a disruptive student from my class?

No, but you may ask a student to leave the classroom for the session in which s/he refuses to behave in a manner conducive to learning. In the extreme, judicial action could result in suspending the student. Also, the Vice President for Student Affairs may immediately and temporarily suspend a student if s/he considers that student to be a "clear and present danger to the health or safety of persons or property. . . ."  A hearing will follow. (See AFR 5.I.I and 7.IV.D.4.)

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Do disruptive students with emotional or mental disorders get any special treatment if they become disruptive?

No. While some students qualify for special accommodations determined by the Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities (RCPD), such as extra time to complete exams, they are expected to meet the rules and regulations cited above. Sometimes, however, their disruptive conduct in the classroom may signal a change in, or lack of use of, a prescribed medicine.

[Note: Students are responsible for seeking classroom accommodations from the RCPD and for notifying their instructors about those accommodations.]

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What patterns of student behavior are likely to identify a potentially disruptive or threatening student?

Be alert for tell-tale signs that could potentially escalate the problem. For example, does the student appear to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol? Does the student appear continually confused, irritated or depressed? Has the student missed several class sessions? Has the quality of the student’s work dropped suddenly? Does the student’s written work include veiled or overt threats?

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When should I call university police?

  • Dial 911 if a student physically or verbally assaults you or any of your students.
  • Dial 911 if a student appears to be on the verge of physically or verbally assaulting you or any of your students.
  • Dial 911 if a student destroys classroom furniture or property.
  •  Dial 911 if you observe a student carrying a weapon.

[Note: 911 will connect you to the area police dispatch service. The dispatcher will route a call from campus to DPPS.]

In short, if you have reason to believe that a student, or a group of students, poses an imminent risk of serious harm to you or your students, dial 911. If you anticipate an escalation of disruptive student conduct and wish to discuss your concerns with university police, call 355-2222. A shift supervisor will take your call and explain your options. Unlike a 911 call, contacting the shift supervisor will not necessarily result in an immediate police response.

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What happens to the student if I call the university police?

The university police will investigate the incident and take the student into custody, if the facts support such action. The police will send a report of the incident to the Ingham County prosecutor, who may authorize a warrant for the student’s arrest. As a routine part of the investigation, police will determine if the student has a criminal record. The results of this investigation may affect the charge and ultimate sentence.

If the prosecutor charges the student, the student will be taken to the East Lansing District Court (54-B) for arraignment. If the charge is serious, the student may not be released. For lesser charges, the student may have both a bond and bond conditions set before being released. Bond conditions may include a restriction on contact with the victim.

If the student is charged with a misdemeanor, the case would be heard at the District Court in East Lansing. A preliminary hearing for felony cases also is held at the District Court in East Lansing. A trial for a felony case is held in the Circuit Court in Lansing or Mason.

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What happens to the student if I file a complaint with the Student Judicial Office?

The student essentially has two options: (1) admit to the allegation and request that appropriate sanctions be determined, either by an administrator from Student Judicial Office or by the Student-Faculty Judiciary, or (2) deny the alleged violation and request a hearing, again, either by an administrator from the Student Judicial Office or by the Student-Faculty Judiciary. If the student selects option (1) or if the student selects option (2) and the Student-Faculty Judiciary finds for the instructor (the complainant), an appropriate sanction will follow. The most severe disciplinary action is suspension from the university. (For details on these hearings, see A Practical Guide to MSU’s Student Disciplinary Process at this Web site: http://studentlife.msu.edu/judicial-affairs

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Can a student face charges from the Prosecutor's Office and the MSU Student Judicial Office simultaneously?

Yes, the two procedures are independent of each other, but both require a complainant; in classroom disruption cases, the complainant is usually the instructor.

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What is my involvement if I file a complaint against the student, either with the Student Judicial Office or with the campus police?

If you file a complaint with the Student Judicial Office, you, as the complainant, will be expected to attend the hearing either before the Student Faculty Judiciary or before an administrative officer of the Student Judicial Office. (See question 10 above).

If you are the victim or the witness to what the police determine to be a crime, you might be asked to appear in court. Because of various police options, however, the case could be negotiated and the student put on a pre-trial diversion program, ending your involvement.

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Am I required to include a statement on disruptive students in my course syllabus?

No, but if you decide to do so, click here for suggested language from the Ombudsperson:http://www.msu.edu/unit/ombud/classroom-policies/syllabus-faq.html. As discussed above, including such a statement in the syllabus provides an opportunity to review expected behaviour at the beginning of the semester -- and the consequences for conduct that disrupts the teaching and learning process.

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Whom should I contact for advice in dealing with disruptive students?

First, remember this: No one person on this campus coordinates responses to disruptive student issues and concerns. This results in what is called “multiple points of entry” for instructors seeking help and guidance. Depending on the perceived nature of the disruption, contact any of the following individuals or offices. At this point, you do not have to identify the student by name:

  • your supervisor, if you are a TA,
  • your department chair/school director,
  • the assistant dean for grad or undergrad affairs in your college
  • the Counseling Center (355-8270); for open consulting time, call Monday and Tuesday between 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Wednesday, Thursday and Friday between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.
  • the Women’s Resource Center (353-1635)
  • the MSU Safe Place (355-1100)
  • the Judicial Affairs Office (432-2471)
  • the Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities (353-9642)
  • the Department Police and Public Safety (355-2222)

[Note: The Faculty Handbook directs instructors to report any threat immediately and in writing to their department chairs or school directors. In urgent cases, call 911.]

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Questions? Contact the Ombudsperson