DEAR STUDENT: So You Think I Disrespect You?

Jackie Jones, Faculty Contributor

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As a department chairman, I occasionally have students come to my office to complain about what they believe is a display of inappropriate tone and tenor set by an instructor.

“You should hear how she talks to us,” a student may say. Or, “Come to class and you’ll see, although he’ll probably behave if you come.”

What students don’t realize is that I do drop in on classes to see how things are going. Sometimes I sit in. Sometimes I’ll stand outside the door and listen. I’ve also taught my fair share of classes and know firsthand that the disrespect some students believe they are receiving is often a reflection of what they have dished out to a professor who has pointed out failings in logic or performance.

I can’t tell you how many times students have barged into my office with no appointment, demanding an instant fix to a problem – sometimes while I am in the middle of a meeting without so much as “Excuse me” – and then get indignant when I tell them they must come back later.

One young woman rushed into my office while I was preparing for a meeting and asked, “What are you doing that’s so important that you can’t talk to me now?”

A student once admitted in the middle of a rant that he had questioned a professor’s  manhood after the student was chastised for butting into a conversation between the professor and another student.

Still another student once wrote a nasty email accusing an instructor of intruding into her private life, when the professor simply was trying to work around a student’s employment schedule to help her find ways to complete an assignment that had proven challenging.

In egregious cases like the aforementioned, I inform the students what is considered appropriate behavior before determining the next step. In most cases, however, I usually bite my tongue and let the student vent before providing a diplomatic response. What I’m thinking, however, is:

Since were talking about respect, why dont you explain why you have barged into my office without knocking, with no appointment, whining and moaning about something that even in the retelling you began to realize was trivial and most likely triggered by your own behavior.

As professors, we aim to treat you as the professionals you are expected to become. My door says professor, not babysitter.  Do not confuse the two. Respect is not dished out like the attitudes you serve up; it is earned. So when you come into my office complaining that you are being attacked, stop and think about how you may have contributed to the situation.

Students would be wise to document the offense, what triggered the response they found offensive, what, if any, subsequent conversation occurred and whether any resolution was offered or imposed. If they had some role in escalating the situation, they should own up to that as well. The instructor is expected to do the same.

They should also follow the chain of command: meet with the professor, then the chair, then the dean, and so on. Going to the president or the provost to complain will only get you sent back to the starting line in most instances.

The appropriate response, for me, is to acknowledge the student’s frustration and try to determine how to address it. Since I have to review both the student’s and the instructor’s behaviors and help them develop a productive relationship, I tend to bring the parties together to talk things through. I then document the meeting so that everyone gets the same message, and there is a record in case there are further problems:

Dear Student:

Thank you for coming to my office to express your concerns about the incident in Tuesdays class with Prof. X. I have scheduled a meeting with both of you for 11 a.m. on Thursday. Please bring any supporting documentation you may have.

As I told you when you came to my office, it is my policy to meet with the student and the instructor simultaneously, to get a fuller understanding of what occurred and ensure we are on the same page in the resolution of the issue.

I have copied Prof. X on this email. I look forward to seeing you both on Thursday.

Sincerely,

 

Jackie Jones is assistant dean for programs and chair of the Department of Multimedia Journalism in Morgan’s School of Global Journalism & Communication.

 

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DEAR STUDENT: So You Think I Disrespect You?