Managing Disruptive Behaviors



What Constitutes Disruption?

"Disruption," as applied to the academic setting, means behavior that a reasonable faculty or staff member would view as interfering with normal academic functions.

Examples include, but are not limited to:

  • Persistently interrupting or using disrespectful adjectives in response to the comments of others.
  • Use of obscene or profane language.
  • Persistent and disruptive late arrival to or early departure from class without permission.
  • Physical threats, harassing behavior, or personal insults (even when stated in a joking manner).
  • Use of personal electronic devices such as pagers, cell phones, PDAs in class, unless it is part of the instructional activity.


The best time to deal with disruption is before it begins.  When discussing standards at the beginning of the semester, consider an approach that encourage expression of ideas and opinions that are relevant to the course objectives versus shutting down critical thought processes.  Faculty can take steps to reduce the likelihood of disruptive behaviors in the classroom by encouraging appropriate behavioral or establishing appropriate behavior standards.

  • Explicitly state expectations for conduct in the syllabus.  Include behavioral specifics, such as "turn off pagers and cell phones before entering the classroom."  Explain consequences for inappropriate behavior and follow through.
  • Review these expectations with students during the first class meeting.
  • Model respectful communication and behavior with your students.
  • Facilitate respectful exchange of ideas among your students.
  • Address problems consistently and in a timely manner.

Handling Classroom Disruptions

In cases of direct threat to you or others, call the University Police Department (408) 924-2222 immediately.


  1. For an isolated incident, have a private conversation (after class or schedule a meeting) with the student to discuss the behavioral disruptions you are observing, clarify expectations, and clearly and calmly state the consequence of not making necessary adjustments.  Students’ behaviors may not be intentional, and immediately addressing them will be helpful and may be an educational opportunity.  It is also helpful to start the conversation with acknowledging the student’s strengths (e.g., passionate about the topic, good attendance, motivated in class, etc.).
  2. Follow up with a written summary to the student, re-stating your care, expectations, and consequences for continued disruption.  Consequences may include referring student to the Department Chair, the Associate Dean, and/or Dean of the College, the Office of the Student Conduct and Ethical Development, and/or the University Police.
  3. Students who chronically disrupt and interfere with the learning environment may be asked to leave the class for the remainder of that class period.  University Police may be called to remove the student if necessary.  Although permanent removal from a class requires initiative of formal disciplinary proceedings, faculty may eject a student from a single class when necessary to end a seriously disruptive or threatening situation.
  4. Consultation with your Department Chair, College Dean, or supervisor may be helpful in developing a plan for dealing with a disruptive student.  If you remove any student from your class, it is recommended that you immediately inform your department Chair.
  5. Faculty or staff can consult with the Office of Student Conduct and Ethical Development or the Ombudsperson, and may consider filing a Complaint of Misconduct.
  6. Formal disciplinary action may include:  Disciplinary reprimand, probation, suspension or dismissal.
  7. If the student seems to be struggling emotionally or personally, their behavior and thought process may have been negatively impacted.  State your concern and care with the student.  Please feel free to consult with Counseling Services at 408-924-5910.
  8. Keep records of the difficulties, and your efforts to resolve them, including all written communication.  
  9. If the disruptive behavior continues, this may be a student conduct concern.  Consider consulting with us here in the Office of Student Conduct & Ethical Development at (408) 924-5985.

Threatening or Potentially Violent Situations

Call University Police (911 on any campus phone; or, 408-924-2222 from your cell; dialing 911 on your cell phone may not connect you to the University Police, depending on the cell site to which you have connected) when:

  • You are or another person is in immediate danger.
  • A student is about to harm him/herself.
  • A student seems out of control and about to put others in harm’s way.

If the student’s behavior leaves you uneasy and/or there was direct or implied threat, harassment, and/or stalking, it is recommended that you immediately discuss the incident(s) with your supervisor or Department Chair.  You or your supervisor may consider completing an incident report to the campus BIT (Behavioral Intervention Team, formerly CAIT). See Behavioral Intervention Team for more information.  It is helpful when such document describes specific behaviors, with time and date of the incident.  University Police will also assist you in assessing the threat and determining possible steps to take.

If a threat does not seem imminent or urgent and you would prefer to file a report anonymously, please consider contacting TipNow:

Additional Tips

Please see “De-escalating Aggressive Behavior” for additional recommendations.

Consult with Someone?

Faculty members and staff are educators, and we all strive to be helpful and caring.  Sometimes, being forced into another role (such as counselor or friend) by a student situation can be uncomfortable.  In such situations, consider consulting with campus resources that may be helpful in resolving issues with the student.  A range of support services and information are available to faculty, staff, and to students.

The staff at Student Conduct & Ethical Development provides information and support regarding application of the Student Conduct Code.  Referrals can also be made to Counseling Services, Accessible Education Center, and the Ombudsperson.