• August 29, 2015

Chief Targets of Student Incivility Are Female and Young Professors

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, a new study has found.

The study, presented here on Sunday at the annual conference of the American Educational Research Association, involved an online survey of 339 faculty members, roughly evenly split by gender, at nine geographically dispersed colleges and universities of various institutional types. It was conducted by three researchers at the University of  Redlands: Rodney K. Goodyear, a professor of education, and Pauline Reynolds and Janee Both Gragg, both assistant professors of education.

Most previous research on college professors' experiences with incivility has focused on their mistreatment at the hands of other members of the faculty. The Redlands researchers' study focused solely on faculty members' experiences with incivility at the hands of students, surveying college faculty members of various ranks, from part-time instructors on up.

The study looked beyond the classroom, asking faculty members about their experiences with student incivility in the course of any class-related activities. The types of student incivility it covered included passive behavior, such as sleeping or texting in class; more actively disruptive behavior, such as coming to class late or talking on cellphones in the classroom; and behaviors that appeared directed at the instructor, such as open expressions of anger, impatience, or derision.

Only about 16 percent of the faculty members surveyed reported not having experienced student incivility at all, but that aggregate figure masked a wide gulf between men and women in terms of the likelihood of their recalling such incidents. When the researchers broke their data down by gender, they found that 24 percent of men, and just 9 percent of women, could not recall incidents of uncivil student behavior, Women were also much more likely to report that the uncivil behavior they experienced was severe, or to say that they had been upset by it.

When the researchers broke down their data in other ways, they found that the oldest and the most experienced faculty members they surveyed were the least likely to report encounters with student incivility.

Given the universal nature of some of the student behaviors examined, such as dozing off in class, it may be fair to ask whether some faculty members were just more inclined than others to have let student incivility roll off of them and not recall it or see it as worth reporting.

Other possible explanations were offered by one survey subject who said students "seemed to smell the vulnerability of the professor seeking tenure," and another who said, "There has actually been a decrease in uncivil behavior in that I grow older and more frightening."

This article was updated to correct the reference to the University of Redlands.


1. laur2582 - May 04, 2010 at 03:52 pm

I'd like to see deeper research done on this, because this contributes to a general feeling of vulnerability on the part of women and younger faculty, and could easily affect teaching. It is an additional form of bullying, it seems to me. I myself have experienced it, and while it has decreased as I age, it does continue in less overt fashion.

2. ksledge - May 04, 2010 at 03:59 pm

students aren't afraid of women or young profs, but they are afraid of men and older profs. On the flip side, students enjoy coming to office hours and connecting with us women (though it also means I get about 6x as many requests for recommendation letters as my male colleagues.)

3. daisy96 - May 04, 2010 at 03:59 pm

The name of the university is University of Redlands, not University of the Redlands.

4. 22186037 - May 04, 2010 at 04:04 pm

From my experience many of the the perpetrators of incivilty have been female and young.

5. tccrochunis - May 04, 2010 at 04:11 pm

I'm a little suspicious of "common knowledge" gender-based observations. Much depends on the complex interaction of gender perception, community culture, personal approach to gendered identity, and even academic field or course content/level. Saying some things may be true "all things being equal," but things are seldom comparable and variations in any of the above (and surely others too) can radically change the dynamics between faculty member and student.

I am most interested, actually, in the way it seems implicitly suggested that the tenure process (or rather its abusive opacity) is actually the sponsor of incivil behavior and bullying of untenured professors. Now, that seems to me to be one of those things that is both true and addressible in a fair and equitable institution. But there are institutions that may like their junior faculty to be vulnerable, seemingly to students but ultimately to their elders (who can choose how to weigh student behavior in response to a faculty member).

What kinds of tenure processes best address young faculty member's feeling of vulnerability to student incivility? How about some research on that?

6. 22286593 - May 04, 2010 at 04:25 pm

One of the main problems is that female and young professors are more likely to try and change misbehaving students by engaging them--as I did when I started out. As I get older, I have given up on changing my students--if they misbehave, I give them one chance to mend their ways, otherwise I kick them out of the class. A more subtle problem is that younger faculty members often foreground the complexity of academic debates and then they appear confused by the material. If students get a sense that the faculty member doesn't know what s/he is doing, then behavior problems often ensue. Finally, over the years, I have seen women faculty members mistreated in all sorts of ways--by their students, colleagues, administrators. Unfortunately, the folks who seem to be able to handle things best are folks with a sense of humor who can shrug things off. This is unfortunate for two reasons--first, this kind of sense of humor can't be (easily) taught; second, this way of coping does little to let offending jerks know that they shouldn't engage in these behaviors in the first place.

7. clasfaculty - May 04, 2010 at 04:50 pm

As chair of a fairly large department (almost 40 full time and 0ver 40 part-time), I receive complaints from an equal number of young male and female faculty about incivil or rude behavior. I seldom get complaints from older faculty. I realize that my observations are just that, my observations; but even as anecdotes they suggest we need to be careful about assigning victim status to one gender or the other. ssigning such status creates fear and loathing in the population we are supposedly trying to protect.
I second the suggestion from the responder that thought a more in-depth study was necessary.

8. the_book123 - May 04, 2010 at 04:54 pm

The misbehavior of students at my institution with over 19,000 students went so bad that all freshmen and transfer students have to take a required orientation course in "Respect and Responsibility".

9. generally_academic - May 04, 2010 at 05:13 pm

Anecdotal but important: two of the younger female professors in my department have suffered not only from rudeness, but also in-your-face, no apology racism!

This Christo-Fascist (that's much of our student body here) generation has gone beyond the bounds of any form of civility. Time to put in place clear and useable expulsion procedures

10. supertatie - May 04, 2010 at 05:46 pm

I'm female, and have been teaching for 19 years. I was very young when I started (29) and only a few years older than my students (who were law students, back then). There is no question but that they tested my authority. I found that having standards, announcing them, and ENFORCING THEM consistently stopped the worst of it. In year two, my reputation was established, and the problems stopped.

That said, I have been teaching undergrads for about 10 years now. I deal with all kinds of issues that I think reflect a lack of respect: lateness, sleeping in class, talking all through lectures, texting, using their laptops for all kinds of other things, lying, complaining, making excuses for not getting work done, asking for higher grades just because they want them.

In my view, the problem is that we have decided that "everyone" needs to go to college. No, they don't. Frankly, we admit too many students to college, and a huge number of them aren't mature enough for it, don't pay for it, and don't appreciate it.

11. physicsprof - May 04, 2010 at 05:59 pm

During my pretenure years I found out that introducing myself in the beginning of a semester not only as an assistant professor but also as a competitive and accomplished pistol shooter significantly improved students behavior later on.

12. landrumkelly - May 04, 2010 at 06:15 pm

From my experience many of the the perpetrators of incivilty have been faculty members--especially when they start ganging up on either a colleague or a student. I witnessed this on the receiving end at the University of Florida when I returned there to do graduate work in Spanish in 1999 at the age of fifty-four--having taught with a doctorate for many years in another field (which I am also teaching again now).

The propensity for academic bullying is almost always from the more powerful to the less powerful, not the reverse.

13. bag31050 - May 04, 2010 at 06:23 pm

supertatie, If I knew where you were teaching I would give you a big hug and a kiss. I have 30 + years of teaching undergrads behind me and feel the same as you.

We admit too many students to college, and a huge number of them aren't mature enough for it, don't pay for it, and don't appreciate it. I am at the least selective end.

14. diogenesc - May 04, 2010 at 06:35 pm

No comments on how this is all self-reported?

15. akprof - May 04, 2010 at 06:45 pm

Cynthia Clark, Professor of Nursing at Boise State University, has been looking at the issue of incivility in nursing education for several years - she is one of the first scholars to discuss the fact that incivility is often a two-way street - that student incivility sometimes occurs in response to faculty incivility. She is also looking at student-student incivility. Incivility is a crucial issue in higher education but it needs to be examined and discussed fully.

16. 11152886 - May 04, 2010 at 06:52 pm

I started teaching full time at 29 (and taught for 42 enjoyable years). When teaching ceramics, I never had discipline issues. At the beginning of the semester, I'd demonstrate on the potter's wheel using 30 lbs. of clay. That commanded immediate respect.

I did notice during my years of teaching that what happened to me did not happen to the men professors. They were not challenged like a woman might be. It was in the beginning drawing classes, at whatever age I happened to be, incivility might crop up on rare occasions. It usually would come from two or three guys, buddies, frat brother, or athletes, who would attempt to put me down in front of the class. I would look the other way until it occurred another time. Then I'd call him or them on their behavior. Girls in the class would be shocked that I took on the challenge, but it was just too over the top to overlook. As I grew more experienced, I'd then approach the instigator(s), individually out of class, and suggest that if it were not possible to focus on the task at hand with civility, he/they should drop the course and I would help them should they stray into unacceptable commentary and that from there on they would not be seated at drawing benches with one another, period. They were directed to an assigned seat as they came to class. The other students quickly figured out why the troublemakers were not permitted to sit together and appreciated and respected who was running the show. It stopped the crappy comments and behavior forthwith.

Another thing I noticed in various studio classes of any type, was that once in a great while an inept student would begin to be scapegoated. I would make it clear in a class discussion that that that we are obligated to help those who needed extra support, that we use the skills we have and pass them on, making it a commendable thing to assist and share. This would kind of discussion would normally rectify the situation without naming names and helped get rid of the unwanted dynamics of a particular class. If the worst of the meanies didn't stop, I found that having a personal discussion with that person and pointing out that he or she needed to be more helpful and step up to the plate and assist me in helping those who needed extra help. The personal appeal did the trick. Students often scapegoat because of a need for attention. It is true, when your authority is established and respected, it makes a difference in how you are able to reach out to students and direct them toward acceptable behavior. I find that students live up to expectations.

Speaking of class dynamics, the kind of behavior that is not acceptable occurred in few classes. It depended on the makeup of the class. These kinds of situations must be dealt with to have a successful learning situation for all the students of a class.

17. richardtaborgreene - May 04, 2010 at 09:27 pm

I will avoid the self-praising route of saying indirectly how my personal wonderfulness made this an issue for every professor extant in the world except wonderful me. However, I will be racist and genderist in a fun irritating way (come at me ladies) by suggesting that young people and female people and gentle-in-style men may be trained to and have personal habits of under-estimating the need to "command" respect, to command "respect", to direct "attention, to "direct" attention, to non-defensively respond with humor to badly phrased dis-respectful challenges while under-mining the self-appointed virtues of bad-minded ill-disciplined beings parading as if "students". I learned from MacDonald in Weston Public Schools how to, with just the right voice tone, ask obnoxious ones "are you a student today Mr. Jones or are you just inventing another amateurish vile version of your self?" This is a class for students---we have the great outdoors and unemployment lines for amateurish versions of selves---he said or things to that effect. I do not know if this is right and just, and if it works for people not the absolute top of English teaching in the USA (as Bruce was) but it worked for him and I benefitted from copying him in this regard. Hannah Arendt's distinction between educating as a transfer of responsibility for a world and learning as a transfer of info done much better by books and media than by lecturing persons, helps me in this area.

18. richardtaborgreene - May 04, 2010 at 09:32 pm

I forgot to mention the issue of passive not-doings in and out of class and assignments. I do nothing at all about them. I invite them in fact. That one would pay for education or kiss-ass to parents who pay, and then waste that---THAT is one less jerk to compete with in this world. It is not my job as professor to invite people to be people, it is my job to take people the institution admits (I do not work for places that admit less than persons) and take their minds and lives on a journey laid out by smarter people than me, eons ago in literatures and review articles. So the sleeper or the one who ignores assignments I smile at and bless---they have their own unique unemployment lines of a future to enjoy and I thank them for not competing with the harder working others in front of me. This may be cruel but I learned long long long long long ago that I will improve this world in deeds far outside of university far more than any administration would permit in a class. Minds are not enough, not nearly enough, and there is a modesty about what my profession is capable of that I have learned to live within if not love.

19. amnirov - May 04, 2010 at 10:27 pm

This is all self-reported subjective nonsense. Not worth a toss.

20. generally_academic - May 04, 2010 at 10:42 pm

In the social sciences, peoples's self-reporting is called data collection. Is that a bad thing, collecting data?

21. rachel312 - May 05, 2010 at 06:18 am

We cannot tell from this rather shoddy reporting (sorry Chronicle folks) how well this study was designed and interpreted. So please stop sniping, folks.

Many women respond to bullying by internalizing it. Many men respond to bullying by externalizing their feelings, especially through sarcasm/wit. I am female but raised in a male household, where I was socialized to respond to wisecracks by responding in kind and "topping" or outdoing the initial speaker. I do this reflexively in class as well. My students respect me because of this.

However, I am challenged in EVERY class. I have to go through this sarcastic ("I'm top dog here") verbal ritual with one or more member of every class I've taught for 16 years now. It only has to happen once near the beginning of term.

I am a small woman, with glasses, who dresses humbly, and whose speech an mannerisms are also a social class above the majority of her students. I strongly suspect my appearance also has a lot to do with this.

In other words, there are linguistics, social, environmental and phenotypical characteristics involved in classroom dynamics (as well as cross-generational psychological factors, and new media issues) that really need to be thought about and understood. I'm grateful this study is opening up the topic and hope there's more work on it. It may tell us a whole heck of a lot about social change across generations and gender.

22. mbelvadi - May 05, 2010 at 06:48 am

I've never understood why teachers would be offended at a student who quietly fell asleep (assuming they didn't snore!). Sleep is a health issue, a response to a physiological need. If the student is not disrupting the learning experience for the other students, then their need for sleep (or choice when to sleep if you prefer to view it as an active choice) should be of no concern at all to the instructor. I've been in many situations in which I really wanted to hear a lecture despite being desperately tired, and dozed off in bits and would keep re-awakening to listen again. From my perspective, it was a compliment rather than an insult to the instructor/lecturer that I cared enough about hearing them to have at least made the effort to try to keep awake to hear them rather than skipping it entirely and staying in bed.

Of course, I attended universities where attendance wasn't compulsory, in the classes I took at least. If you tell the students that their attendance is required, you are telling them you want their physical body in front of you; they will comply and drag their physical bodies into your room even when their brain needs to be in a different wave state, so you ought not to be offended when their brain does what it needs.

23. maltman25 - May 05, 2010 at 07:32 am

As former faculty development coordinator, and member of promotion and tenure committes, at a small college, the findings of the study are unsurprising to me. I'd distinguish passive sorts of incivility, like sleeping in class or not doing homework -- annoying, but relatively minor behaviors which can have a variety of causes -- from very serious problems: open disrespect, constant verbal challenges, sexist and racist comments, other sorts of bullying and hazing -- which ruin the classroom atmosphere for everyone and make it harder to teach and learn. These do disproportionately affect young and new faculty members, especially if they are female or members of minority groups, and they pose a definite challenge to efforts to establish a fair, productive classroom and workplace climate, and to maintain a diverse faculty. Studying these issues through self-report (how else would one study them?) is part of taking the voices of women and minority faculty seriously, and is one important step. One can also offer mentoring (as some commentators have been doing) in the form of classroom management strategies like setting clear policies, taking a firm and confident tone, keeping one's sense of humor, and so on. But we should also be very clear that incivil and disrespectful student behavior is not the faculty member's fault, and not a sign of poor teaching: they are a sign that students may not understand or recognize the authority of someone who does not "look like" their idea of a "professor."
My college has a clear "disruptive student policy" to signal this; chairs and those reviewing tenure cases are also made aware of the problem, and of the need to take this into account in reading student evaluations with a critical eye. There should also be someone on every campus to whom faculty members can come for confidential discussions about teaching issues that do not become part of the tenure process.
I suspect people all around the country are getting forwards of this story with the message, "see, it's not only me" or "see, it's not only you." No, it's not. This is a collective problem, and collective problems require collective solutions.
--Meryl Altman

24. jayaich - May 05, 2010 at 07:33 am

I have a student who continually refers to me as yo-dog, or yo + some 'sick' version of my last name. Although I consider this disrepectful (ten years of evil medical school and all that), he considers it the hight of respect.

Perspectives vary ...

25. stannadel - May 05, 2010 at 08:05 am

As a male professor, first young and then older, I've never had my expertese challanged the way my female colleagues have routinely been confronted with. The assumption on the part of many male students seems to be that a male prof. is an expert in his field, but a woman is just giving her opinion.

26. cleverclogs - May 05, 2010 at 08:30 am

Civility is sort of a pet interest of mine. I make it a major issue when I teach, and that starts with my syllabus. I work hard to make the assignments and policies respectful, useful, fair and humane as I feel these are the hallmarks of civility. I usually point out to my students how civilized the course is and why I think it's important (i.e because we are all human beings and deserve to act and be treated as such), and they respond with equal civility. The only thing missing in all this politeness is tea and cucumber sandwiches on the veranda.

However, many of the breaches this article is talking about are matters of etiquette. Etiquette is, by definition, fashionable - it changes from era to era. So some of the behaviors that profs may see as "uncivil" (like sleeping or texting or talking on the cell) really don't register to many students as being so. Telling students it's rude doesn't mean anything. Why is it rude? Since most people don't know why they find it rude, they can't explain it to students and students continue to do what appears to them to be not that big a deal.

I think a perhaps more interesting study might be to line up expectations about proper etiquette - student to young/female profs to older and/or male profs - and see where the disconnects are. I suspect that would be more revealing.

27. iris411 - May 05, 2010 at 08:34 am

While students could be rude to male big-shot professors, their incivility increase exponentially when dealing with foreign female graduate assitants. For example, on Student Evaluation Forms they could leave comments like "Nice tits!""Nice boobs!" And the department is not willing to do anything about it because they are annomymous.

28. justinjulesmartin - May 05, 2010 at 08:44 am

I second the comment by mbelvadi (#22) above regarding students sleeping in class.
It seems much more reasonable to be glad that a tired person came to class in spite of being very tired than to take offense that they had to close their eyes for awhile during it. I have had students come up to me after class and apologize for dozing off. I recall that one had a medical condition, and another had to stay up late to deal with a family issue. I have certainly seen very distinguished faculty doze off during talks, too, and I am sure it was not out of disrespect.

29. willismg - May 05, 2010 at 09:43 am

richardtaborgreene (#17,18)...If I were only a gentle-in-style man, I would throw myself at you. Far too many of the people on this site over-intellectualize and therefore implicitly provide excuses for what is simply boorish behavior. Sir, I am with you, and I also have use similar tactics with my classes. Eight years in the military taught me about the "air of command" and to my mind, none of the psycho-babble crap about socio-economic differences or media influences has ever taken precedence over it.

Before the rest of you fall into apoplectic spasms of derision, the military does NOT operate through disrespect of subordinates, but through a refusal to consider any excuse for disrespect of superiors.

30. dwilliams5 - May 05, 2010 at 10:18 am

I think that incivility in these various forms exist in classrooms of all of us. I'm a middle-aged male with 20 years of full time experience in the collge classroom, I'm challenged by some of these types of behavior every semester.

~Facebooking and checking email in class
~public whining about assignments
~irate student complaining that there are no study guides for tests
~students skipping class, missing a quiz and demanding that its not fair that they don't get to make it up

the list goes on.

Sometimes they are trying to make a point and they have a point. Other times they are just multi-taksing in our space together the same way they do at parties and in the cafeteria. In my best moments though, I realize that they've not ever been taught what is civil behavior and what is not. Assumptions that they are trained in academic behavior and classroom civility in high school does make an a** out of u and me. I became aware of this as my daughters reached middle and high school and described classroom conduct in those settings. Then I started listening to my former students who teach in the public school settings describe their lack of ability to enforce requirements on students either behaviorally or academically which is complicated by the need to ensure that all their students achieve academically.

I don't doubt that there is more challenge to women and younger faculty, nor do I doubt that their greater sense of insecurity in the job that sensitizes them to this situation. I also think that we are seeing more and more of this kind of behavior as a result of the shifting educational culture of students arriving on campus in recent years. Rapidly departing is the overt academic guild system in which masters have student apprentices that they feel free to punish into submission...at least as it relates to undergraduate education (grad school and tenure processes are still quite guildish). Until, of course, one learns that one can in fact punish undergrads into submission with whit, sarcasm and poor grades, but this takes a few years to get comfortable with for many and doesn't seem to be the ideal purpose of undergraduate education anyway.

Maybe, just as we've concluded that we have to teach them to write (they don't come writing all that well, or at least they claim they don't with their work), we need to teach them how to behave. Don't employers do that all the time, too? Aren't our employers doing that with the rank and tenure process? Maybe we have to say: these kinds of behavior are incivil and won't be tolerated (anyone use the fatal error checklist on writing assignments?). Then we have to back up our "no tolerance policy" with having no tolerance. Students will get it.

I also think two other things help:

1) being a parent of adolescent and college-aged children. This is just another form of the experience matters argument. I've learned much about how to recognize intentional challenges and how to meet them and which are battles not all that important to fight. I didn't know those things when I started TAing at 21 or started my full-time teaching gig at 25 (so young and so insecure about what I did know about both the subject matter and classroom mgt). Of course, that's not a benefit everyone has or wants.

A benefit that everyone can havae is:

2) being in a faculty learning community that focuses on good teaching. This is the most important thing. FLCs provide supportive structures that let older faculty work with younger faculty across disciplines on these kinds of issues. Wisdom is developed in those communities in multi-generational, -gendered, and -experience level contexts that benefit all. The power of WE is great; We need one another.

31. amnirov - May 05, 2010 at 10:37 am

Note to 20.

I simply refuse to believe that the credulous acceptance of anecdotal and self-reported yarns surfeits for serious data collection in the social sciences.

32. stalnaker - May 05, 2010 at 10:42 am

I can't believe the excuses I'm reading for sleepers in class. All of this rationalizing is the surest sign we're a group of intellectuals. Anecdotally, I used to fall asleep in class because I wanted to. Because I was bored. Not because my biology kicked in and forced my eyes closed despite my best efforts. I mean come on, really. I could fall asleep right now if I chose to, and the people I'm speaking to have every right to be offended. Barring medical conditions, even being forced to sleep by exhaustion is a bit rude. I don't find it admirable at all that the student "made the effort" to come to class after poorly managing his or her time.

33. rmusser1 - May 05, 2010 at 10:46 am

I wonder if this is not a bit over "genderized". Because young faculty would mean male faculty too... Ph.D. type people are typically intellectual types that don't like to shoot off the comments with absolutely certainity that recieve commanding stance. Often this is something that has to be learned for both genders of the intellectually slanted types. Those who are "natural" leader/doers and not thinker were attracted to being the boss or a police officer... So it is something we all had to learn as young professor. And admittedly there is a certain population in the less competive universities that we can't reach at their current inmature state.

there is no doubt that a small physical statured person would have to be even tougher and more confident to run the mass mob of non major students.

34. gstreete - May 05, 2010 at 11:03 am

I honestly don't believe this is "over-genderized." As a tenured female full professor I have experienced a lot of student incivility over the years. Perhaps I am tougher and more experienced at handling it now, but I still have occasions when students (almost always male students) attempt to bully me for higher grades. One pair actually came together and stood over my desk, demanding to know why they got the grades they so richly deserved. A further complicating factor is that female professors are universally thought to be more "sympathetic" (i.e., easier to get around) and when they actually enforce rules, they are seen to be unfair. Male professors have gotten away with verbally abusive behavior towards students, and they are almost always considered "tough but fair." I have seen my male colleagues genuinely amazed that that there is this gendered incivility and don't think it should be taken into account.

35. hccbrandonlibrary - May 05, 2010 at 11:10 am

Has anybody noticed that some of the students seem to believe that the "rules" don't ever apply to them?

36. marjoribanks - May 05, 2010 at 11:10 am

I'm a tenured associate professor, 53 years old; when I showed up to administer the final exam for my junior (3rd year) level course on April 12 of this year, I found two students and a male colleague in the classroom assigned for the exam. They refused to leave -- the professor claimed he'd booked the room through Security, the students simply ignored me -- and I had to go to the classroom computer and call up the exam schedule before I got any attention at all. The students gathered up their gear and drifted away in a leisurely (insolent?) fashion; the professor didn't budge, but continued to work on his papers. I looked at him very hard and he said, oh, you want me to leave, too? When he finally took up his work and relocated to a seat just outside the classroom, I turned to my students and said, "You know, I hate to say this, but if I were a male professor this wouldn't have happened."

The students were physics majors -- what they were doing in the Arts building is beyond me; the prof, I discovered, is a sessional lecturer (so I decided not to pursue the matter with his chair officially as we aren't on a level playing field). On following up with the physics students, I said, when a prof asks you to leave, you should leave; the male student responded, he (the prof) didn't go anywhere (confirming that the male, not the female prof, was granted greater authority in the situation). When I repeated myself, he made a cavalier-like flourish and turned away. Git.

That evening, I was wearing jeans, white sneakers, a funky designer jacket, and a dance-type top. I'd offer this as an excuse, except that I know my theatre studies colleague -- male, 6-feet-plus, and handsome, 10 years my junior -- who sports dyed hair, leather bracelets, earrings, stylish clothing, and, yes, sneakers, would have had no such problem.

Common courtesy ought to have led those people to leave the room -- after all, I was arriving to administer a final exam -- or at least to beckon me outside to discuss the matter if they thought that I'd misread the exam schedule. In reviewing the matter, I was at least as annoyed at my first reaction (really? maybe I do have the wrong room) as I was by the students' and prof's collosal disrespect.

Incivility linked to sex? You betcha. Response also linked to sex? Yah. Darn.

37. rmusser1 - May 05, 2010 at 11:38 am

Oh. I was scared/concerned for my domestic partner an (asian Woman) when I knew she was going to step into a non-majors freshman class for the first time. The same one as a white man I had hated dealing with. And it often wasn't the guys challenging me, but the women. I had to learn to toughen up, and show a command of authority too. She seemingly did well enough, she is a strong peron. Either way I hope it does not turn into who has it worst (men or women). I know I can't win that arguement... It is just not all peaches and cream if your male professor learning the ropes. I think that can be understated... And don't get me wrong it can be tougher for woman in many ways (just not all ways). And yes they call me "Mr." instead of Dr. in the freshman classes too...

reduicing this, is this really any different than the fear and respect Dads have gotten traditionally over Moms. While at the same time Moms are loved more? In reality he spanked harder (back when you could still do that), and his anger was scarier.

Also I have never seen training for how to control a mob with confidence, you have to learn it the hard way. Never seen this in an education course...

38. supertatie - May 05, 2010 at 11:43 am

Sleeping in class is as often a result of inadequate sleep at night due to partying, as studying. I often walk right up to the student and ask (nicely), "Can I get you a cup of coffee?"

That usually ends it.

39. krazyyoungkatlady - May 05, 2010 at 11:47 am

I am under 30 (and look about 25),a full time tenure track faculty member, and a woman of color, so I've the cataloge of things going against (but not short). I teach an urban population, and many of my students have various issues they are dealing with. I get pcassional disrepsect from both male and female students, but often different kinds. Every semester, every class, I have to work to establish my authority, and it's always a different challenge. But I also have students in my classes who are very dedicated and intelligent. My key goal for classroom management to protect them from a distractive environment. I try to deflect and use humor to deal with disruptive annoying behavior, refer to "the discipline" or "dominant opinions in the scholarship" when they challenge me a lot, but otherwise ignore behavior that's not disruptive (texting, sleeping, putting head on the desk). So far, it's worked out OK.
One thing that I've not seen mentioned however is the mental health issue. We've had our counsellor budget cut over the years. Some of our (collective we) students have significant and undiagnosed mental health issues, and as we know, students have bene known to engage in self-destructive behaviors. Where do our responsibilities lie in terms to helping students that want help? Or helping a student to realize they may have a learning disability? Unfortunately, my PHD program didn't train me for this. Any thoughts would be helpful.

40. barryrice - May 05, 2010 at 11:58 am

I am male and was a accounting professor for 33 years at three universities. I recognized this problem for women (especially the young, inexperienced ones) early in my career. Therefore, during my time as chair of the department at Loyola University Maryland or as just a faculty member, I always cautioned my new female colleagues about this issue. I warned them that earning the students' respect early in the semester was critical in order to minimize the incivility.

41. ncampbell722 - May 05, 2010 at 12:04 pm

Now that we know who the targets are what exactly is the solution to all of this uncivil behavior? How can we as educators cease this behvior so that we have more time to teach without interuptions? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

42. rmusser1 - May 05, 2010 at 12:37 pm

I guess it is hard for me imagine that really "old" professors aren't disrespected also. Maybe it is just not showing up for their class. Being a "hip" young faculty can also have its advantages too. I also don't suspect on average the particularly older faculty are often thrown into the mass non-majors class either.

As for advice my experience is that you need to have a clear concrete expectation listed. I also deduct points for "bad" behavior, pop quizzes for the whole class. I would also say avoid anger, smile when telling them to shut up. Also be flexable to a degree, a lot of them do have real issues. Use humor to control behavior, don't outright insult them as people. Realize irrespective of gender their not going just give you authority becuase you have Ph.D.. Most of the "bad" behavior comes from students that trully do not want to be there. It is a privelage to get a degree, help them out the door.

43. pwherry - May 05, 2010 at 12:54 pm

I too would like to see more research on this topic. As an administrator, I had to deal with three cases of serious incivility in ONLINE courses in one 6-month period a couple of years ago. The students had only names as gender cues and no idea of the instructors' seniority or lack of it. In the two worst cases, one instructor was a female TA, the other a very senior--if not emeritus--male. In both cases, what stopped the misconduct cold was calling it misconduct and pointing to the relevant section of the student code. The senior male professor was both surprised and delighted to find that the student code applied to off-campus students, no matter where they lived.

So step one in dealing with these issues has become for me identifying the relevant portion of the student code (with help from your judicial affairs office, if necessary) and letting students know it applies to THEM. Put it in the syllabus, if necessary. In the online environment there are additional dimensions (apparent anonymity, lack of visual cues, frustration with technical issues, etc.) to civility issues that merit further research. But the student conduct code applies there, too.

44. alleyoxenfree - May 05, 2010 at 01:26 pm

Unfortunately, professors can do nothing and make it stick without the backing of the administration. Students know this. They know what kind of school they are at; word gets around fast. I've taught at places where the chairs back their faculty and there was never so much as a grade appeal. At schools where the treatment of students was indulgent, students knew that too and acted accordingly. The more admins pass this off as "Professor X just needs to be sterner," the more we will continue to have problems. Professor X can be great at classroom management but unless she is backed up, it will be for naught. Reference kids playing one parent off against the other. The principle is the same. Productive behavior has to be enforced at ALL levels.

45. davidso - May 05, 2010 at 02:49 pm

I have been teaching at a university for over 35 years. I think that when I began, there were similar problems with students. I don't have many cases of incivility now, but when I was young (I'm still female) I had my share, and more, until I figured out that I really WAS the person in charge and non-verbally communicated that to my students.

46. kedves - May 05, 2010 at 04:51 pm

#8, the_book123, you said,
"The misbehavior of students at my institution with over 19,000 students went so bad that all freshmen and transfer students have to take a required orientation course in 'Respect and Responsibility'."

Have you noticed any effects?

47. painter33 - May 05, 2010 at 05:24 pm

A number of years ago my wife and I happened to teach at the same school and had a student in common. This young woman was consistently abusive to and dismissive of my wife and everything she said while the same student was acceptably tolerant of me. My wife and I approached the classes in the same fashion with the same demand - attendance counted - but in my wife's course the student was defiant and openly uncivil, aggressively so. Whether she thought she could get away with it or for some other reason, her behavior was on one hand discourteous and on the other acceptable. Of course, the root problem may have had nothing to do with my wife personally, only that she was a woman in a position of authority; who can know what that signified to the young woman.

48. timewaster123 - May 05, 2010 at 06:26 pm

Eh, I was a young woman when I started adjuncting while finishing my PhD and my kind dept chair had this advice: Wear a suit. It worked.

Add this to a reasonably comprehensive review of the syllabus and classroom expectations on the first day, (and maybe occasionally losing my cool and snipping at someone once in a while for text messaging) and I think I did fine. Oh, and learn names, so that you can call people out if necessary. But you have to decide what your expectations are for the classroom - I don't care if people doodle or type on the computer, but I tell them to sit in the back so as not to distract other people. And NO text messaging.

But then again, I remember being all bored, tired, distracted by boys and so forth in college, so I guess the big difference is that I expect them to be distracted, and expect that I'll have to say something once in a while - eg. "ok, [girls in the back gossiping], let's please show some consideration for your colleague who's presenting next." This kind of thing doesn't have to be unkind, you just have to address it. Put another way, I appreciate my position of authority and the responsibility that comes along with it. I guess things would be quite different if I tried to "be one of the gang" with my students, but I think that's a bad idea for various reasons. Instead I expect respect, try to behave in a fair and reputable way that should engender respect, and hey, I generally get it.

If you see a lot of incivility though, a good exercise is to remind them how much they're paying per class session in tuition and that one of their goals of college is getting a good job, so they should learn how to behave in a professional manner. Again, this doesn't have to be done in a sharp way, but instead helping them to learn what is appropriate and what is inappropriate -- because obviously they don't know. For example, I don't give them a lot of reminders if they're missing assignments (not my job) but before a major paper I like to go through an exercise to discuss how a good paper should take at least X hours, and if they can schedule times to work on it in their planners, that helps, and that they should leave 1/3 of that time for revisions. I point out that writing is still hard for me, so to just expect it and make time for it. That's life advice, in addition to study skills, and I get way fewer complaints about grades because I can always ask how many hours they spent on the assignment...

49. hmroff - May 05, 2010 at 06:35 pm

I am slightly dismayed to see several things: 1) the (almost) total disregard for ABDs teaching. 2) While yes, the study definitely seems to be unclear about the data collection and, therefore, representativeness of the study, any person in a graduate program or involved with young faculty know that this is a problem. Anecdotes go far sometimes. The social sciences aren't "hard sciences" and so you take your lumps over methodology; it is unavoidable (though perhaps can be mitigated).

I am an ABD, and my department has had me teaching my own courses for over 2 years now. I have had to teach 5 different courses over this term. Most of the time students are OK; however, there are always a few that really try to push the limits. I have had to ask students to leave; I have had to ask students to "respect" me and the space; and, I have had to be much harder than any of my male counterparts. I do not doubt that this pattern of behavior isn't just anecdotal, it is a symptom of a larger problem.

Students are, as someone previously noted, led to believe that anyone can go to college, and that this is an extenuation of high school. Rigor, discipline and self-sufficiency are waning at an unacceptable rate. Most of my students cannot even write, and when confronted with their earned grades, retort: "I tried really hard" or "I was in class", etc. etc. ad nauseam. Moreover, at least in my dept, when the student comes to a prof. with a gripe, well, he/she typically gets his/her way. This only rewards bad behavior! If a student acts out in class, the instructor or professor is left with several options, but none of them very palatable.

1) As many have noted, be sarcastic and throw it back to them. Well, most men can pull it off, women are then, for the most part, labeled bitches and even more snarky behavior is elicited.

2) Ignore it. Great, this could just make it worse.

3) Address it in all seriousness, tone, language, etc. Great, now all discussion is cauterized.

So, all in all, not much seems to be a magic bullet. All I can suggest, from my limited experience, though as experience hitting all the independent variables listed, is this:

i) for the first month or more, dress very professionally. Distinguish yourself from your students - especially if you look particularly young.

ii) address all your students by Miss/Mr. X. Bringing back salutations isn't a bad thing.

iii) have a no cell phone/ no computer policy. If you see someone texting, address it immediately. It will only take one or two times and the students will know you are paying attention and desist.

iv) If someone sends you an email addressed "Hey..." or by your first name (w/o you indicating this is appropriate), respond by addressing them formally. If it persists, draw attention to it.

v) if someone addresses you in class as anything other than Mr.Ms X, Dr. X, or Prof. X, correct them. In front of everyone. If it makes you feel better, make a joke about it. Quote, like our friend above mentioned, Dr. Evil. "I didn't spend 10 years in evil medical school to be called Mr., thank you very much."

It is the way you carry yourself that can make the difference. Like sharks, students can smell blood in the water. You must be confident in your abilities and qualifications, and you must bring back a level of formality that is currently lacking.

English does not have a formal case, like most languages, so I think that we all must work a little harder at maintaining levels of respect and formality when there isn't a structural feature to our language that allows for it.

Hope this helps someone. You'll still get it, but mostly just at the beginning, and then the students will get the picture.

50. qtprof - May 05, 2010 at 06:41 pm

I've encountered more incivility between faculty members than between faculty and students. Some tenured faculty have a bit of the bully in them, I've discovered. It's not always easy to establish the relationship with them. Students are easier.
Maybe it's because I'm a little older; I worked in the field before getting my graduate degree. In most practical courses, I I take on the role of "boss"--a "managing editor" or "executive producer" and that sets the relationship from the start. If a student gets upset, all I do is look at them and say,"Is the really the response you would have if I were paying your salary?" and that stops the behavior cold. (I just hope I don't run into someone who'll end up working for the post office--Just kidding!)

51. alan_kors - May 05, 2010 at 08:53 pm

Because the incidents and their cateogorization are self-reported---was the study truly *that*?---there is no way to know if one is measuring unacceptable classroom behaviors or different levels of response by different sets of professors. I find (it's not a study) that if you respect your students, they respect you. If you consider your students "This Christo-Fascist (that's much of our student body here) generation" (see above), you possibly might give off signs of your contempt for them, to which they'd likely respond. At any rate, neither what is being measured nor what correlates with what is the least bit clear in this. My own sense is that although this generation of students does not share my own politics or worldview, they are the most tolerant and generous souls ever to set foot on American campuses. They don't occupy your offices or trash your offices, which invicilities are still celebrated in American academic mythological history, but across lines of sex, sexuality, race, ethnicity, and political differences, they get along more civilly and humanely than any generation I've observed.

52. reformhigheredu - May 05, 2010 at 08:55 pm

I agree with comments #10, #13, and #44. In particular, I agree with #10's statement: "In my view, the problem is that we have decided that "everyone" needs to go to college. No, they don't. Frankly, we admit too many students to college, and a huge number of them aren't mature enough for it, don't pay for it, and don't appreciate it." I work at a small private university that has open enrollment and open admissions. Anyone with a pulse is admitted. Many of the students (sadly, most are older adults who should know better) are just there to collect the nice big check from Financial Aid (they borrow huge loans and definitely will wind up defaulting). They use the money to pay rent (or the mortgage on their house), buy new cars, expensive jewelry, clothing, etc. A good education is low on their priority list.
As #44 stated: " professors can do nothing and make it stick without the backing of the administration. Students know this. They know what kind of school they are at; word gets around fast... At schools where the treatment of students was indulgent, students knew that too and acted accordingly. Professor X can be great at classroom management but unless she is backed up, it will be for naught...Productive behavior has to be enforced at ALL levels." Many students feel college is an extension of high school (as one commenter stated). If you work at a university/college that has no standards and accepts and passes anyone as long as the check clears (and if adminstrators and faculty are willing to go along and accept or dismiss student incivility), their indifference will eventually be reflected in the type of students that graduate and go out into society. Sooner or later the university will develop a bad reputation for not being selective.

53. drbenbow - May 05, 2010 at 09:18 pm

How sad!

54. fallen_angel - May 05, 2010 at 09:57 pm

As a female graduate student who teaches, I read this article and the comments with great interest. One thing that hasn't really been discussed is how these types of incivility, and the responses to it, affect teaching evaluations - and, insofar as jobs are in part dependent on these evaluations, marketability.

I know that I frequently have students who are unhappy with their grades and blame my failure to recognize their brilliance (and their perceived poor grade) on my incompetence rather than their own. I somehow suspect that tenured male professors are not confronted with this response as frequently as I am - if at all. Needless to say, some of this attitude shows up on my teaching evaluations.

I'd welcome people's thoughts on this.

55. tx_prof - May 05, 2010 at 10:32 pm


This will not happen however, because Administrations likes to have an upperhand on their faculty.

It was mentioned in the article that "students seemed to smell the vulnerability of the professor seeking tenure". I will care less about pleasing 2-3 jerks in a class, in fear of their venomous, revengeful comments.

56. bibliochick - May 05, 2010 at 11:08 pm

As a Black professor, I find myself challenged constantly. I have had students walk in to my classroom on the first day of class, say "You're a professor?" and then walk out never to return. More than once. The other day, I explained to my students how to conduct a literature review for their final paper. Several of them actually asked my GA if I was correct. Also, I have taken to grading my students' spelling. It seems that many of them have yet to have discovered spell check. I also do this so that they will realize that I can actually read. I use course management software, iclickers, wikis, and active learning/team-based learning techniques in my classes and have even received awards for innovation. I provide my students with session outlines and hold both chat and physical office hours. Nonetheless, my student evaluations are always the lowest in the department. When some students have a problem with my grading, rather than talk to me, they go to the White head of my department and complain that I am grading THEM. At least two people always check the box on my instructor evaluations that say: almost never prepared for class. I am always prepared. I have never asked my department head to take these things with a grain of salt because I know she would not understand. It's just easier for her to believe that all those White students wouldn't dislike me for no reason...

57. fallen_angel - May 05, 2010 at 11:26 pm

@tx_prof: Sadly, this wouldn't be a solution at all. These attitudes show up not only in my comments, but also in the numeric scores I am given. If anything, I think that approach would do more harm than good, because people see numbers and they tend to think "objective." At least with comments, poor grammar and the immature attitudes expressed allow me to point to those attributes as evidence that perhaps I'm not completely off base.

@bibliochick: Your experiences sound horrible. You have my sympathies. You don't mention your gender, but I suspect many low-status groups (whether defined by race, gender, or other attributes) suffer similarly. Another female graduate student in my department, one whose first language isn't English, was told by a student of hers that the reason she had given the student a poor mark was because she couldn't speak English! Needless to say, the student was completely in the wrong, and her complaints to a supervisor got her nowhere. Regardless, it was understandably enormously upsetting to my colleague.

I find it deeply disturbing that a common strategy students take when they find they are doing poorly is to attack the instructor, and that teachers who are members of lower status groups disproportionately bear the brunt of that. And I also find it disturbing that these attacks are in effect amplified by the system if, as I suggested above, the resultant lower teaching evaluations affect employability.

58. sahmphd - May 06, 2010 at 12:09 am

I am a short, white, female who developed a reputation as a 'hard grader' a 'demanding' prof and one that cared about her students and was accessible. I worked very hard to write a syllabus with clear expectations. I often talked with students in the first week or two of a semester about classroom culture. I had lengthy assignment descriptions and grading rubrics. One reason why I did such things was to avoid being challenged. As well, when I was challenged, I could point to something in the assignment description to quiet a student. A very defensive approach. All of this is very time-consuming. And it is invisible work in the eyes of the people who are evaluating you. I was recently denied T&P ... all of my efforts in the classroom didn't matter one bit. Publish or perish ... alive and well at so-called 'teaching institutions.'

59. tx_prof - May 06, 2010 at 12:28 am

@bibliochick: Inform your department chair in writing of such incidents, and keep copies of these communications. You may also want to get yourself the book by Terry Leap, “Tenure, Discrimination, and the Courts”

@fallen_angel: As a grad student I had excellent class evaluations. When I started teaching at a university who values "student satisfaction", my scores plummeted - in part because they sensed that I care about their reviews. Here's one comment: "The instructor needs to learn to write clearer and to learn some damn English. In this country (as with all countries) the language should be learned to replace the old or you need to go to your home country." Since Universities do not take actions when such comments are made anonymously by students (or "Nice tits!" and "Nice boobs!" as reported by #27), I would rather have these forwarded to me only.

60. coybean - May 06, 2010 at 01:35 am

I'm nowhere near as senior as some of the commenters here. I've only completed my first year as a TA. I am, however, responsible for my own class. I am short and black with a youthful appearance and overtly female figure.

I knew going in that every one of those facts would stack the deck against me. However, barring what my peers and I call the "one white guy who knows everything because he, and he alone, has google" I have few outright acts of defiance or insult.

I really think that some training in authoritative public speaking could go a long way. We don't get that as graduate students. I just happen to have a former professional life where the ability to command a room and spar with men and non-black people was vital to your success...and sanity. I brought that to the classroom. My peers who do not have that professional experience have far more issues than I.

It may be, as someone said above, that humor and wit cannot be taught. But, public speaking and presentation skills can most certainly be taught. It should be included in graduate programs and, perhaps, special support services for faculty who feel they need it could be made available after hire.

61. dlu39503 - May 06, 2010 at 08:44 am

"When the researchers broke their data down by gender, they found that 24 percent of men, and just 9 percent of women, could not recall incidents of uncivil student behavior, Women were also much more likely to report that the uncivil behavior they experienced was severe, or to say that they had been upset by it."

Did the researchers ask the respondents to report experiences of positive behaviors? If so, what were the percentages for men and women? Did the researchers ask the respondents to report how positive the behaviors were? By doing these two things, the researchers could tell us if the differences were because of real-world factors or the subjects' recall.

62. cleverclogs - May 06, 2010 at 08:57 am

To all those who say, "not everyone should go to college" - would you also equally agree that not everyone should teach? Seems to me the same logic applies - some people are simply not cut out for it? And (so the implication goes) can't learn?

63. sharonmurphy - May 06, 2010 at 10:11 am

Several comments above point to the obvious: Too many non-students are admitted to colleges and universities before they are fit or ready for the experience. Too many institutions and their budget-minded administrations seek greater and greater enrollments and demand higher and higher retention rates. They frown on professors who hold their students to high standards even as they pay lip service to concern over grade inflation. They try to foster a "home away from home" feeling while not endorsing the discipline and civility that home should expect and enforce. And they profess to offer preparation for the "REAL WORLD" while not supporting the accountability (for getting work done properly and on time, attending classes, etc) that responsible professor expect. And professors, especially young ones, try to adapt to the "homey atmosphere by dressing down and letting themselves be addressed by their first names instead of "Dr. ___," and they pay the price. So, in the long run, do the students.

64. qwerty78 - May 06, 2010 at 12:22 pm

I completed my PhD in a social science field in Britain 2008 and joined a state university in the Deep South as tenure-track assistant professor. One of the reasons I left after three semesters and took up an equivalent position in Britain was rude, uncivil, and xenophobic behaviour on the part of students. My former university is located in a town suffering from persistent ethnic segregation, which leads to considerable tension on campus (e.g. the hoisting of the confederate flag on university buildings, etc.). Other foreign faculty members and I faced a range of openly xenophobic comments and abusive behaviour from students, ranging from rather subtle comments to being shouted at and insulted. In so far as 'student satisfaction', judged through the typical end-of-semester survey, was the overwhelmingly strongest criterion for faculty evaluations and eventual tenure, there was no way for us to effectively resist aggression from students. After I had been yelled at by a student for mildly asking her not to talk on her mobile phone in class, my head of department refused to take any action whatsoever and implied that I might face problems, should the student decide to complain about me (she didn't, and she actually apologised later on). I know that none of this was related to my teaching skills, as various other foreign junior faculty members reported the same kind of problems (or actually worse ones). On the whole, I found that a kind of 'culture of silence' had developed around the issue in my department; to keep a lid on an extremely tense situation, my colleagues seemed to have decided to treat the issue as taboo and simply not talk about it in any way. On the whole, I found that my department and the university were organised in a way that would allow them to look good in external audits and performance statistics while completely refraining from challenging students intellectually and creating a social environment amenable to the associated learning processes. I cannot fathom how many of the students I taught would be able to survive in a competitive labour marker, let alone act as critically informed citizens and voters in a democratic political process, given the lack of social and intellectual skills I observed. As these observations come from a relatively highly ranked, PhD-granting and research-active university, I would not like to see what goes on a few levels further down the institutional hierarchy.

65. lizgibbons - May 06, 2010 at 04:56 pm

I like physicsprof's approach. I once used a target from handgun practice above the quote, "Students can hit any target that they can see and which doesn't move" (which I use to explain that I work to make my class expectations clear and consistent). I responded affirmatively when a student asked if I had personally created that target which had a small "group" of shots. I had no behavior problems with my mostly male class that semester, LOL!

66. agusti - May 06, 2010 at 05:50 pm

This doesn't relate to gender/race discrimination in student incivility, but it's my 2 cents worth: I started working this year at a college where texting, talking and sleeping in class are rampant. After one semester of appalling behavior from students, I drafted a Participation Policy, included it in the syllabus, and made participation 30% of the semester grade. Every class, I give every student a grade of 0-5 based on how well they perform (according to the policy, which is quite specific about what they can and cannot do in class).

Cell phones have virtually disappeared, note taking and attentiveness have surged, and I have only one student (out of about 80) who persistently arrives late and sleeps in class. I don't say a word about it, I simply record his failing participation grade (usually a 1 or 2/5) each day, and his final grade is going to show it.

I came to the conclusion that the only way to make it happen is to make it count, and teach students in precise detail exactly what is and isn't acceptable class behavior. I'd like to think some of it might bleed over when they enter the workforce, but who knows. At least for now, my classroom's atmosphere has changed drastically for the better.

67. willismg - May 06, 2010 at 05:58 pm

#66... Sounds like what I did in my 9th grade general (read criminals and delinquents) science class when I taught high school. Isn't it ashame that such tactics are still necessary in college? Many of them, though, still failed to see the benefits of all these essential free points.

68. agusti - May 06, 2010 at 07:04 pm

Truly. I have reservations about doing things the way I described, but only when I think about how things "should be" rather than how they are. Give how they are, it's the only thing I can come up with at the moment. Oh well...

69. kymac - May 06, 2010 at 09:13 pm

I have just started a new job and experienced a huge amount of incivility. Those who are saying it is because women are more flexible are incorrect - I lay down the rules the first day and repeatedly thereafter, and fall back on the "I told you the first day of class and it is in the syllabus" when students have issues.

The reaction? Students screaming in my face and going to the Dept. Chair and Dean.

I think students expect women to be more accomodating (because ovaries automatically means we love all children....even children who are technically adults and are misbehaving...please) and they know it will go nowhere. In my issues of disobidience that I've had to take up with my Dept. Chair, it falls on me. If a plagiarist is upset because I am writing them up for plagiarism after I've warned them three times and they continue doing the same damn thing, it is my fault (according to the Dept. Chair). I get absolutely no support.

So I think the student incivility may be tied to the colleage incivility. If students know the prof. has no one to report them to (because the Dept. Chair is just as disrespectful of the instructor as they are) there is almost no incentive for them to behave.

....btw, my Dept. Chair's solution to getting them to behave?

"Wear a tie."

70. supertatie - May 07, 2010 at 08:06 am

hmroff is right

1. As an attorney, I discovered that one way to "intimidate" the students into behaving civilly is to wear a suit. When you LOOK professional, the students tend to TREAT you like a professional.

2. Have a stated policy that punishes the entire class for the acts of their classmates. We have a holiday here at the University of Illinois called "Unofficial St. Patricks Day" and I had students show up to class drunk and disruptive. I threw them out, and threatened the entire class with an absence deduction for EVERYONE. It's much more fun for the students to lob their loathing at each other, and it works every time. You think there will be student solidarity? Hahahahaha! No way. Peer pressure, baby.

3. I have addressed my students as "Mr. X" and "s. Y" since I began teaching in 1991. It works. They not only refer to you that way, they refer to each other that way.

Amusing story: My first year teaching law school, a group of students approached me after class and said, "Hey, we were just talking about you, and we were wondering if we should call you 'Miss' or 'Mrs'?"

"You can call me 'Professor,'" I said with a smile. And then I walked away. As I was leaving, one of them called out, "No, we meant, we wanted to know if you were married or not."

I replied, over my shoulder, "I know what you meant." And kept walking.

71. rosies - May 07, 2010 at 02:40 pm

What a cooincidence and sigh of relief to read this article! It's been 6 years since I was a TA/Course instructor. I was about 26 or 27 at the time. I taught for 2.5 years until I got my MA. Every semester, my teaching evals seemed pretty good. Always a few students that disliked me (including one bipolar student that was constantly acting out), but most provided me with fairly high end of semester evals, often recording how much they liked my course and methods. I had a pretty decent opinion of my pedagogical style until, by coincidence and out of curiosity (6 years later, mind you) I looked up my own name on Ratemyprof to see if any students had ever left feedback on my class. I was shocked and devastated. 4 students left feedback about me ranging from "the worst instructor I have ever taken at the University" to "she's probably a marxist" It seemed as if only the few really brutal students ever decided to comment. Now granted I was a young, inexperienced TA, probably too sensitive and outwardly insecure (and 5'0 to boot!), but it is really unacceptable that my public teaching legacy is reduced to 4 hateful comments! I am so glad to have read about others experiences, as I couldn't figure out why other TA's in my Department didn't get the same type of feedback. I'm really sick about it and dragged out all my old evals to try and determine if I was just too clueless recognize that there was a problem, if students were just being nice on the evals because they thought I might be grading them, or if there were a few students that just felt threatened by me and saw me as a vulnerable (short, young, white, female inexperienced target). It didn't seem like a problem at the time, and no profs or staff ever seemed to indicate there was a problem. Does anyone know when these comments or records expire?

72. johnsonian - May 07, 2010 at 02:49 pm

These comments are all very interesting. I understand the reservations some have about softcore social science studies that seem, more than anything, to measure the implementors' own biases. Yet I suspect the study mentioned in this article hit on a core of truth. I've looked at student opinion polls of male and female professors and noted a difference in tone. The male instructors are often not any more popular, and their "scores" aren't so much better, but the language describing them is much less heated and less angry. Students will tend to leave sections blank and refer to the class experience in neutral language; with female professors they feel free to use vitriolic language. And the reactions often seem to be coming from a very personal place. This is troubling, since, as more than one person here notes, those evaluations forms factor into tenure decisions.

The "be clear, be tough," philosophy has, I think, mixed results. I am a woman English instructor who teaches traditional period courses and who is tall and authoritative. I make a point of dressing professionally, because I've noticed that it does help in earning student respect. And my syllabi have gotten longer and more explicit and are starting to resemble documents from the Pentagon. The problem is, while some respond well to an authoritative woman instructor, to others, she's a dragon lady. She's certainly not the "mom" they expected/hoped for when they entered college, and this is true for the female and male students alike.

In my several years of teaching I've heard numerous complaints about my female colleagues from students. I've never heard any of that kind of badmouthing about my male colleagues. I can't believe that the women I work with are generally more incompetent, unprepared, or committed, than their male counterparts, nor do I think they're more popular. Again, it's a sense of freedom that students seem to feel in being openly contemptuous of women professors. And of course, this is not true of all students -- or of most students. We've all enjoyed warm, friendly relationships with lots of our undergraduates. But it's rampant enough to be noteworthy, in an environment in which student-approval counts as it never did in past.


73. zen619 - May 07, 2010 at 02:56 pm

Alan_Kors wrote "I find (it's not a study) that if you respect your students, they respect you."

We just have to be respectful toward our students and they'll respond in kind? Alan, I notice that you're a male from your username. Do you also happen to be tenured? Are you well-known in your field? Are you working with highly motivated students? Respect is relatively easy to come by when those factors come into play. Sit in on a few classes taught at, say, a community college by a first year female instructor. You might be surprised.

74. renprof - May 07, 2010 at 07:27 pm

Rosies: I never believe anything on RateMyProfessor. Only the most "motivated" students will comment--those who adored the professor (sometimes for the wrong reasons) and those who hated the professor. Anonymous hate-rating is bound to bring out the worst in people.

My dissertation director has horrible comments on his page on RateMyProfessor. I'm sure he hasn't bothered to find out, but the complaints are a compliment, in a way. The problem is partly that TAs and the untenured feel (and are) very vulnerable.

75. rosies - May 08, 2010 at 12:22 pm

Thanks renprof,

Looking back on it all I'm starting to not be so worried. My students evals had many of the exact opposite comments. "Best teacher I've had", "really opened up my eyes to the importance", "organized", "cares about her students" "loved the class" etc. I guess I was perhaps just a little to controversial for some students. These comments were also made when ratemyprof was just getting started. I think had I continued to teach these comments would have changed. Sure, I could have improved and am sure the last 6 years have given me a significant body of personal experiences to draw upon. Clearly, race and sex can make an instructor vulnerable. All of these comments have been so hepful in figuring what and how I might do things differently the next time 'round. I think going for the "tough, but fair approach" is the strategy.

76. cassandra_prophesies - May 08, 2010 at 01:23 pm

Let's not neglect the effect of sexuality on how students rage against their teachers. I know several gay men who get blasted for all sorts of crimes on their evaluations in almost the same way as women and minority instructors are.

It was fascinating to see a student write that he could not learn anything because my friend was "flamboyantly homosexual," and that distracted him from learning. Conveniently, in this same evaluation, the student also accused my friend of being biased, a racist, and falsely accusing students of plagiarism when, of course, that charge was completely unfounded.

It's just amazing how this sort of workplace harassment is tolerated because colleagues actually believe that wearing a suit and tie is all that's needed to change sexist, racist, and other ignorant attitudes. Then again, from some of the comments above, it's clear that education doesn't eliminate ignorance entirely. Some people just don't want to see what's right in front of their faces.

P.S. For those of you who think that self-report as a means of gathering data makes this sort of research invalid (thus ignoring decades of social science research because you don't like it), how would YOU design a study that researches this question?

77. willismg - May 08, 2010 at 10:40 pm

#76... The fact that you don't know how to formulate a valid study doesn't absolve you from that responsibility. It only means that much of what social scientists call research isn't valid. Hell, for that matter, calling it research might even be a stretch. But Education majors are far worse. I'm not trying to say that your field of study is invalid, only that trying to apply some bastardization of the "scientific method" is invalid. Trying to palm off blame on those who call a spade a spade doesn't change things or help your case.

78. cassandra_prophesies - May 10, 2010 at 02:59 am

Whoa, #77...did I touch something with a hot poker?

1 - A study is not "invalid" if it claims to study what is self-reported AS a self-report; it's actually doing exactly what it claims to be doing. A problem really only happens when it claims to be studying behavior when it's actually studying the self-report of behavior. Thus, if I am studying "perceptions of being attacked by students" amongst the professoriate, my data collection has to be 1/ from among the professoriate, and 2/ somehow finding out that sample population's perceptions. Since telepathy is unreliable, I have to ASK them. At no point can I, as the researcher, make claims (except by inference at the study's conclusion...you know, just like physicists might do) about WHY this is occuring (either by the students or to the instructors). To make that the core of the study would be a problem of validity.

2 - I actually agree about some "research" trying to be scientific when it actually isn't. But science (and the scientific method) isn't all about numbers and experimenation.

You know all those touchy-feely things that I suspect you think have no place in science? Well, they actually do have a place when studying human behavior.

3 - Finally, #77, I notice you side-stepped my post-scripted challenge and instead threw something of an insult instead. All that indicates to me is that you have a small ... Ph.D.


79. what4 - May 14, 2010 at 10:32 am

Beginning college teachers need training in classroom management, and they don't get it. What's worse, many colleagues and administrators take a "sink or swim" attitude toward new teachers.

I wasted a lot of time figuring out on my own how to handle disruptive students. Good mentoring would have saved a lot of grief.

Some of it is about power and control. I wound up taking four years of martial arts, not to fight anyone, but to be able to present a presence in class that students felt respectful toward, and to leaern how to escalate to a high level of command on the rare occasions it is needed. I recommend this highly.

Some of it is about students testing you. But in some cases, they really don't know what the rules are. So you have to tell them. Plainly. Then enforce the rules. Simply: This is the game we play in this classroom. It has rules and boundaries, and this is the way you score and lose points.

Alas, alas -- to teach at a large state university today, you need the classroom management skills of a middle-school teacher. Sigh.

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