Addressing Disruptive Behavior
As a faculty or staff member you may find yourself having to contend with
a disruptive or emotionally disturbed student at some point during your career,
a trend being experienced nationally. Student behaviors that you may encounter
range from simple disruptions in class, to ongoing harassment, or verbal and
The recommendations detailed here 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 adequately prepared for such situations, the chances of
serious disruption may be lessened. Students may exhibit disruptive behavior
in a classroom, lab, department, office or anywhere on campus. Faculty or staff
members may find themselves on the receiving end of a student's anger or frustration.
Often the behavior in question constitutes a violation of the Student Code of Conduct,
and able to be addressed in accordance with Student Conduct procedures. However,
it is rarely enough to simply hand a situation over to Student Conduct and Community
Standards when a student has caused significant disruption within a department.
The department or office involved may also need to address issues related to the
perceived safety of its faculty and staff, as well as the well-being of other students.
A student is considered disruptive when he or she engages in behaviors which
interfere in a significant way with your normal teaching or administrative duties
as a faculty or staff member. Disruptive behavior may sometimes threaten or endanger
your physical or psychological well-being or safety, or that 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 which is 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 his or her
- 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 on your voicemail.
- A student who attempts to contact you at your home in inappropriate
- A student who displays behaviors indicating a romantic or other obsessive
interest in you.
Three Levels of Threatening or Disrutpive 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, leading to
a prompt resolution. (Level 1 Details)
- The second level involves an ongoing problem, or a more serious incident
in the classroom. In these situations, you may consult with Student Affairs.
If necessary, a Student Affairs assessment team will assist you in evaluating
and resolving the situation. (Level 2 Details)
- The third, and most serious, level is reached when there is immediate
danger of some kind. If this occurs, you should call the Campus Police
immediately at (314) 516-5155. (Level 3 Details)
Adapted from the University of Southern California's Disruptive & Threatening
Student Behavior: Guidelines for Faculty and Staff. Their guidelines can be