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Academic Incivility in Higher Education

Info: 9818 words (39 pages) Dissertation
Published: 10th Dec 2019

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Researchers have noticed a significant increase in academic incivility in higher education and both students and faculty contribute to incivility. There are several similarities and differences into educators and students’ perceptions of uncivil behaviors.  Incivility can also have a huge impact on faculty including physical and emotional problems to lack of motivation for teaching.  Unfortunately, we will not know the magnitude of the problem because educators fear retaliation from students or lack of administrative support if the they discipline or report the student.  Researchers have suggested tools and strategies to help discourage incivility including policies and procedures, faculty training, communications skills, and immediacy skills.  For this literature review, several articles were examined using full-text, references available, peer-reviewed criteria obtained through Academic Search Complete, Business Source Complete, CINAHL, Communication and Mass Media Complete, EBSCO Host, Education Research Complete, Education Source, ERIC, Health Source, Highwire Press, OVID, Professional Development, ProQuest, PsycARTICLES, Science Direct, SocINDEX, and Wiley Online Library.  After looking through references of other journal articles and searching with keywords, several articles were retrieved from the Moffett Library at Midwestern State University, UAMS library, Ottenheimer Library at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and the Internet without a specific time frame.

Keywords: academic incivility, higher education, incivility, student incivility

Academic Incivility in Higher Education

The face of the academic population has changed dramatically over the years.  The student body consists of traditional and non-traditional students (Levine & Cureton, 1998).  Many students are supporting their way through college with part-time or full-time jobs (Clark & Springer, 2010; Kuhlenschmidt & Layne, 1999).  Along with employment, several students are also raising families and supporting loved ones while pursuing their education (Clark & Springer, 2010; Kuhlenschmidt & Layne, 1999).  College is stressful and students enter the academic environment ill-prepared (Levine & Cureton, 1998).  If you add several external factors, it can increase students’ anxiety levels even more (Levine & Cureton, 1998).  Attending college and increased external pressures can lead to incivility.  Levine and Cureton (1998) noted, “Students are coming to college today feeling overwhelmed and more damaged than students who came in previous years” (p. 7).  These internal and external factors can increase stress levels.  In turn, it can increase academic incivility across academic institutions.

Academic incivility or disruptive behaviors in the classroom is increasing in higher education (Amada, 1997; Clark & Carnosso, 2008; Clark & Springer, 2007a; Ehrmann; 2005).  “Like most human behavior, incivility is an interactive and dynamic process where both parties share responsibility” (Clark, 2008b, p. 284).  Both students and faculty may be contributing factors to the problem (Boice, 1996; Bray & Del Favero, 2004; Clark & Springer, 2007a; Knepp, 2012).  Student incivility can be characterized by not showing up to class to violence in the classroom (DalPezzo & Jett, 2010; Thomas, 2003).  Academic incivility can have an impact on the relationship between faculty and students, the academic environment, and emotional and physical health of both faculty and students (Clark, 2008a).

Every faculty member and student have their own perceptions on what constitutes incivility along with the level of severity.  Several studies have been conducted to determine educator and students’ perceptions.  Researchers have also tried to categorize academic uncivil behaviors, but there is not a common consensus.  There are also several factors that contribute to academic incivility including faculty behaviors (Boice, 1996; Bray & Del Favero, 2004; Clark & Springer, 2007a; Knepp, 2012), consumer-driven mentality (Nordstrom, Bartels, & Bucy, 2009), and stress (Boice, 1996).

Because the physical and emotional stress incivility creates, several professors have reported a decline in motivation and some opt to leave the profession altogether (Boice, 1996; Luparell, 2007; Thomas, 2003).  Regrettably, researchers will never grasp the magnitude of the problem because faculty fear retaliation from students along with an unsupportive administration (Luparell, 2007; Thomas, 2003).  Multiple researchers have researched and developed tools and strategies to help reduce or mitigate academic incivility in higher education.


Journal articles for the literature review were obtained through several different databases through the Moffett Library at Midwestern State University, UAMS library, Ottenheimer Library at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and the Internet.  Many articles were found through Academic Search Complete, Business Source Complete, CINAHL, Communication and Mass Media Complete, EBSCO Host, Education Research Complete, Education Source, ERIC, Health Source, Highwire Press, OVID, Professional Development, ProQuest, PsycARTICLES, Science Direct, SocINDEX, and Wiley Online Library with the following parameters: full-text, peer-reviewed, and references available without a specific timeframe.  Key words used to search for journal articles included academic incivility, incivility, higher education, and student incivility.  Most of the articles pertained to nursing and other disciplines such as health sciences, dental sciences, accounting, social work, and Geography.  Research from a country outside of the United States was not included in this literature review.  Articles pertaining to workplace incivility or faculty-to-faculty incivility were not included.

Definition of Civility

Civility is needed to foster an environment of learning and critical thinking (Clark & Carnosso, 2008).  It is important to define the word civility as a foundation for academic institutions.  Merriam-Webster (n.d.) defines civility as civilized conduct, courtesy, politeness, and a polite act or expression.  Whereas the Cambridge Dictionary (n.d.) defines civility as the quality of being polite.  Clark and Carnosso (2008) created an operational definition of civility.  “Civility is characterized by an authentic respect for others when expressing disagreement, disparity, or controversy.  It involves time, presence, a willingness to engage in genuine discourse, and a sincere intention to seek common ground” (Clark & Carnosso, 2008, p. 13).  Several attributes are associated with civility including “respecting one another, honoring differences, listening and seeking common ground, and engaging in social discourse and appreciating its relevance” (Clark & Carnosso, 2008, p. 12).  The definition of civility can also vary between educators and students.  Jenkins, Kerber, & Woith (2013) noted students’ description of civility and camaraderie were analogous and grouped into “five themes: respect, equality, caring, building relationships, and working together” (p. 98).

Definition of Incivility

Incivility is broadly defined as a rude behavior or an insolent act (Merriam-Webster, n.d.; Tiberius & Flak, 1999).  Morrisette (2001) defines academic incivility “as the intentional behavior of students to disrupt and interfere with the teaching and learning process of others” (para. 2).  Sterner, Jackson-Cherry, and Doll (2015) stated Morrisette’s definition of incivility only addresses student incivility and not contributions from faculty behaviors.  Uncivil behaviors also can be purposeful or have unintentional consequences, and these were also not addressed in Morrisette’s definition (Sterner et al., 2015).  Feldmann (2001) described student incivility as “any action that interferes with a harmonious and cooperative learning atmosphere in the classroom” (p. 137).  Sterner et al. (2015) used Feldmann’s definition of incivility in their research because it was more comprehensive.

Every educator has a diverse teaching style and might have a different definition or perception of uncivil behaviors (Bjorklund & Rehling, 2009, 2011; Carbone, 1999; Clark, 2008a; Clark & Carnosso, 2008; Luparell, 2005; Wahler & Badger, 2016).  One instructor might think arriving late to class is rude, whereas another faculty member may think it is the student’s education and ultimately their decision to attend class (Carbone, 1999).  Research also indicates what constitutes incivility in one profession might be totally different in another profession.  One profession, such as accounting, might have a decreased threshold for student incivility (Swinney, Elder, & Seaton, 2010).

Types of Academic Incivility: Faculty and Student Perceptions

For several years, researchers have examined student incivility.  Studies have reported each educator and student have their own perceptions of uncivil behaviors.  Several studies have delineated various ideas of what constitutes perception of incivility and which behaviors are considered more or less uncivil.  Researchers have focused on either faculty or student perceptions and some studied both viewpoints.

In a small study conducted by Rowland and Srisukho (2009), most of the faculty (N = 68) and students (N =127) classified some of the same behaviors as uncivil.  “The majority of faculty members and students agreed that demanding special treatment (P = .69), making offensive remarks (P = .20), prolonged chattering in class (P = .12), talking out of turn (P = .05), and cheating (P = .09) qualified as uncivil classroom behavior” (Rowland & Srisukho, 2009, p. 124).  However, there were several behaviors faculty felt were uncivil and students did not agree or were neutral.  “For example, all but one of the faculty members said that cell phone use in class was uncivil behavior, whereas only 69 percent of the students agreed (P < .001).  With regards to surfing the web during class, 85 percent of faculty members agreed that this was uncivil behavior, but only half of the students felt the same way (P < .001)” (Rowland & Srisukho, 2009, p. 124) .

Altmiller (2012) conducted a study, using focus groups, with male (N = 4) and female (N = 20) nursing students to understand their perceptions of student incivility.  Results concluded the majority of the perceptions of both faculty and students were similar.  Students also expressed their concern over the growing problem of incivility in the classroom.  They gave valuable insight by explaining that faculty incivility necessitates student incivility (Altmiller, 2012).  Clark and Springer (2007b) conducted a qualitative and quantitative survey among nursing students (N = 467) and faculty (N = 36).  Students described six uncivil faculty behaviors including condescending remarks, poor teaching style, poor communication skills, arrogance, criticizing students in front of other people, and threatening to fail students.  Clark and Springer’s (2007b) and Altmiller’s (2012) studies revealed similar results associated with uncivil faculty behaviors including condescending remarks or belittling students (Clark & Springer, 2007a), poor communication skills, power gradient, and fear of retaliation through failing the class.

Boice’s (1996) study revealed educators and students felt tardiness, starting or ending the class late, and canceling class were irritating.   Faculty and students also concurred that students conversing during class, students using sarcasm towards faculty, and students displaying emotional episodes during class as the most irritating behaviors (Boice, 1996).  Both students and faculty also agreed the student discussions during class where students or faculty could not hear each other, sarcastic remarks by students, and “classroom terrorists” were the most disturbing uncivil behaviors (Boice, 1996).  Similarly, student behaviors most frequently reported by Clark (2008a) as uncivil by both faculty and students “included holding distracting conversations (78.3%); using a computer in class for purposes unrelated to class (77.8%); demanding make-up examinations, extensions, and grade changes (76.9%); being unprepared for class (76.2%); and making sarcastic remarks or gestures (70.8%)” (p. 461).  Social work students (N = 28) and faculty (N = 15) also reported the most troublesome behaviors were the same as Clark’s (2008a) behaviors (Ausbrooks, Jones, & Tijerina, 2011).

Using a 56-instrument survey consisting of a pre-test (N = 67) and post-test (N = 74) along with focus groups, Stork and Hartley (2009) conducted a study about students’ perceptions of offensive, faculty behaviors.  Results from the pre-test “on the Student Perceptions about Professor Behaviors (SPPB) indicated that students perceived the most offensive behaviors on the part of professors as; keeping students overtime, embarrassing a student, using a student’s work as a negative example, ‘hitting on’ a student, humiliating a student, acting superior, not helping a student with something that is unclear to him or her, and talking about a student who is not present” (Stork & Hartley, 2009, p. 18).  It is important to note several category scores changed during the semester.

Bjorklund and Rehling (2010) conducted a study (N = 3 616) of student perceptions of uncivil student behavior using a Likert scale.  Students ranked behaviors based on a scale.  Behaviors with a rating of four or more were considered very uncivil.  Talking in class after the instructor asked them not to, attending class intoxicated or high, cell phone ringing, and holding a loud conversation during class were considered the most uncivil behaviors.  Students also noted texting and packing up books, before class was complete, as the most frequent forms of uncivility (Bjorklund & Rehling, 2010).

Lasiter, Marchiondo, and Marchiondo (2011) also conducted a study to determine student (N = 94) perceptions of faculty behavior.  Students (23%) report belittling students in front of other people as an uncivil behavior.  Student remarks, from the open-ended questions, included that faculty laughed at them, yelled, and even cut them off in front of other people.  Out of the 94 students, six reported faculty members talked to other students about them including their physical characteristics (weight) and academic questions.

Clark (2008b) interviewed seven nursing students about perceived faculty incivility and found three major similarities among the responses: faculty belittling students, treating students inequitably, or expecting students to conform.  Because of these perceived faculty incivilities, Clark (2008b) reported students felt traumatized, vulnerable, and indignant.  Jenkins et al. (2013) reported students discussed incivility as working on other things during class, arriving late to class, holding a conversation during the lecture, and searching the internet.  Thomas (2003) also identified five common themes of nursing students’ anger.  “Foremost among them are perceptions of faculty unfairness, rigidity, or discrimination on the basis of gender, ethnicity, race, or other characteristics.  Other causes are complaints about unreasonable faculty expectation, overly critical teachers, reactions to unexpected changes, and unresolved family issues” (p. 18).

Lasiter et al. (2012) examined an analysis of nursing students’ responses (N = 152).   “Analysis of student narratives revealed the following 4 themes related to faculty incivility: incivility in the presence of others, talking about one student to others, comments making the student feel stupid, and comments making the student feel belittled” (p.125).

Multiple studies researching faculty perceptions on student incivility have come to similar conclusions.  Numerous perceived uncivil behaviors were disturbing the class by leaving early or arriving late (Alberts, Hazen, & Theobald, 2010; Clark, 2008a, Clark & Springer, 2007b); being unprepared for class, (Clark, 2008a, Clark & Springer, 2007b); students dominating class discussions (Clark, 2008a); cheating on exams and quizzes and academic dishonesty (Clark, 2008a; Clark & Springer, 2007a, 2010); holding private conversations that disrupts the class (Clark & Springer, 2007b; Clark & Springer, 2010); making sarcastic remarks towards faculty (Clark & Springer, 2007a, 2007b); using or playing with cell phones (Clark & Springer, 2007b); sleeping during class (Clark & Springer, 2007b); and not paying attention in class (Clark & Springer, 2007b).  Alberts et al. (2010) surveyed 397 educators and 27.6% of respondents reported inattentiveness as the most frequent student incivility.  Interestingly, Clark and Springer (2007a) described missing class was a behavior that was not considered uncivil.  Their conclusion was because it did not bother other students or disrupt the class.

Wahler & Badger (2016) surveyed 327 social work faculty about observed uncivil behaviors in the graduate and undergraduate level.  Educators noticed incivility in both the graduate and undergraduate level, but incivility was significantly greater in the undergraduate classes.  Observed uncivil behaviors reported were similar to other studies.  “The most frequently reported behaviors of incivility were those that could be categorized as disrespectful or inattentive, such as tardiness, texting, or talking in class.  More severe behaviors, such as behaving threateningly or violently, were experienced by respondents to a far lesser extent” (p. 348).

Classification of Uncivil Behaviors

After analyzing the research, there is not a consensus on how to classify incivility. Feldmann (2001) classified student incivility into four overall categories: annoyances, classroom terrorism, intimidation, threatening of violence, and attacks on the psyche.  Each of Feldmann’s classifications constitutes a certain level of incivility.  Annoyances describes less severe uncivil behaviors such as arriving late the class.  However, if these annoyances are not addressed they can escalate to more serious problems.  Classroom terrorism describes behaviors in which a student will try to dominate the class discussion or “hijack” the class.  The intimidation category includes students threatening an instructor or students giving negative feedback on an instructor’s evaluation as a personal vendetta.  Lastly, Feldmann (2001) notes he most serious of the categories includes threats or acts of violence.  Connelly (2009) uses a simpler approach and classifies incivility into two groups: more serious and less serious.  Less serious uncivil behaviors would include sleeping in class or challenging the instructor’s expertise.  More serious violations would constitute aggression or threatening an instructor.

In contrast to Feldmann’s classification, Hernandez and Fister (2001) categorizes uncivil behaviors as emotional or rebellious.  “Rebellious disruptive behaviors seem to be intentional, defiant, annoying, and disrespectful” (Hernandez & Fister, 2001, p. 49).  Students who exhibit rebellious defiant behaviors will directly question an educator’s expertise in their field.  “Although emotionally disruptive behaviors may also have annoying or disrespectful qualities, these behaviors seem to be unintended and to be precipitated by underlying emotional distress” (Hernandez & Fister, 2001, p. 49).  Similar to Hernandez and Fister, Berger (2002) Describes incivility as either passive or active.  “Passive incivility includes inattention, lateness, mild disruptions (shuffling papers, notebooks, or backpacks; wearing a headset; talking on a cell phone; walking in and out of the class; etc.)” (p. 12).  When a student challenges a professor or threatens the educator these are considered active uncivil behaviors.

Demographics and Academic Characteristics of Faculty

In a survey study conducted by Rowland and Srisukho (2009), there were some differences on what was considered academic incivility between male (N = 38) and female (N = 26) respondents.  “There was a tendency for female faculty members to regard missing deadlines and sleeping in class as uncivil behavior more than did male faculty (P = 0.03 and P = 0.01), respectively.  Over 70% of the female faculty members agreed that missing deadlines constituted uncivil behavior, whereas among the male faculty members, nearly 40 percent also agreed but 26 percent were neutral and 34 percent actually disagreed.  All of the female faculty members agreed that sleeping in class constituted uncivil behavior, whereas only 76 percent of male faculty members agreed” (Rowland and Srisukho, 2009, Results section, para. 2).  Luparell (2007) also suggested males did not elicit the same response from the female faculty when faced with uncivil behaviors.  However, Luparell’s study only had one male participant and 20 female participants. Alberts et al. (2010) concluded incivility was significantly higher for female instructors.  Researchers also found women were more likely to experience the most hostile of student behaviors.  In contrast, Wahler & Badger (2016) and Alberts et al. (2010) found no statistically significant difference between gender and student incivility.


Factors Contributing to Uncivil Behaviors

Researchers have demonstrated there are several different factors contributing to academic incivility.  Besides students demonstrating uncivil behaviors, faculty behaviors also contributes to academic incivility (Boice, 1996; Bray & Del Favero, 2004; Clark & Springer, 2007a; Knepp, 2012).  Educators can unintentionally can trigger student incivility “by publicly debasing, humiliating, or invalidating students (e.g., remarking that a question is ridiculous or unworthy of an answer) or by making snide remarks” (Morrissette, 2001, Setting a Good Example section, para. 2).  Another problem is when educators make unexpected changes.  When faculty change expectations, the syllabus, and/or course objectives during the semester it creates anxiety for students and causes antipathy (Clark, 2008b; Morrisette, 2001; Thomas, 2003).  Unfortunately, educators’ stress can contribute to academic incivility.  Stressors can include difficulties with students, various work pressures, and low salary (Clark & Springer, 2010).

Faculty-student relations can be abused by faculty because they are in a position of power (Clark & Carnosso, 2008; Tantleff-Dunn, Dunn, & Gokee, 2002).  Unfortunately, many instructors take this power to the extreme and abuse their power over students (Clark & Carnosso, 2008).

Many students feel as if the academic institution should provide good customer service because they have paid their tuition (Delucchi & Korgen, 2002).  This mentality leads the student to believe it is a consumer-driven market which leads to increased academic incivility (Nordstrom et al., 2009).  Because of this perception, students’ “focus is on convenience, quality, service, and cost” (Levine & Cureton, 1998, p. 5).  Nordstrom et al. (2009) noted, students with a “consumer orientation may feel that they are entitled to act in whatever manner they choose (including incivility) since they have paid for the privilege” (Consumerism section, para, 2).  Delucchi and Korgen (2002) surveyed sociology students (N = 195) and 42.5% agreed that they are entitled to a degree because they are paying for college.  Even more surprising, “almost a quarter (23.6%) of respondents expect faculty to consider non-academic criteria (e.g., financial and personal needs) when they assign grades.  Consequently, when students do not receive the grade they ‘need,’ they are apt to simply demand it” (p. 104).

Stressful times during the course of the semester also can increase student incivility (Boice, 1996).  For example, uncivil behaviors can escalate during exams and major deadlines for projects or papers (Boice, 1996).  Many college students are also supporting a family, possibly working full-time or part-time, along with their academic workload (Clark & Springer, 2010; Kuhlenschmidt & Layne, 1999).  Class size is also a contributing factor (Kuhlenschmidt & Layne, 1999).  Students in a large class feel anonymous and this can lead to an increase in uncivil behaviors (Berger, 2002; Knepp, 2012).  Educators note incivility increases as the class size increases (Carbone, 1999).  Elder, Seaton, and Swinney (2010) surveyed faculty and 77.7% felt incivility increases with larger classes.  Results indicated a significant difference (p < .001) between incivility in large accounting classes compared to small accounting classes (Elder et al., 2010).  Disturbingly, faculty “report a startling array of innovative disruptive behaviors during class, including talking on cell phones, watching portable televisions, sitting through the lecture with headphones on, having pizza delivered during the middle of class, fraternity pledges pretending to have a nervous breakdown during an exam, and passionate making out in the back of the classroom” (Carbone, 1999, p. 35).



Impacts on Faculty

Dealing with academic incivility can have several impacts on educators including stress, loss of confidence, and burnout (Clark & Springer, 2010).  Because of the stress associated with the anticipation of incivility in the classroom, faculty strategize coping mechanisms to deal with unexpected situations (Morrisette, 2001).  This energy takes times away from planning material for lectures (Morrisette, 2001).  Dreading the uncivil behaviors from students can discourage faculty, and they can become less confident in their teaching abilities and quickly lose hope (Luparell, 2004, 2007; Morrisette, 2001; Thomas, 2003).  Luparell (2007) conducted a study of faculty members (N = 21) to understand effects of student incivility.  One of the most frequent consequences was lack of sleep from one night to several days mainly because they were lamenting over the incidence(s) of incivility (Luparell, 2004, 2007).  Luparell (2004) andLuparell (2007) also reported faculty feel a sense of post-traumatic stress.  Many times, faculty have to witness and tell the story multiple times to several different people, and this can bring back strong memories and emotions.

Educators reported that significant time must be devoted to documenting incidents or behaviors, meetings with administrators, and several follow-up procedures (Luparell,2004; Luparell, 2007).  Faculty members from Luparell’s (2007) and Luparell’s (2004) studies explained there were significant personal and legal costs associated with incivility.

Educators have also admitted to decreased motivation or lack of caring for educating students and increased grade inflation due to an increase in student incivility (Boice, 1996; Luparell, 2007; Thomas, 2003).  Many have even questioned why they continue to remain in academe (Boice, 1996).  In response to incivility, one faculty member stated, “It is demeaning and disheartening to have a lecture ignored in favor of chitchat or to have students milling into and out of the lecture hall as if it were a hotel lobby” (Carbone, 1999, p. 36).  “Some faculty are known to adopt the policy of DBM (Doing the Bare Minimum) and counting the days toward retirement.” (Thomas, 2003, p. 21).  Ultimately, educators decide to leave the profession altogether (Thomas, 2003).  Three of the 21 nursing, faculty members in Luparell’s (2007) study left the profession, and one of the main reasons was due to increased student incivility.

Magnitude of the Problem

Hernandez and Fister (2001) and Morrissette (2001) noted faculty may fear reporting uncivil behaviors because they do not want to seem inadequate or humiliated.  Faculty are also very anxious about student evaluations which can be upsetting and embarrassing (Boice, 1996).  In Boice’s (1996) study, educators noted “the most devastating were incidents where students went to departmental chair people to complain about a teacher – and where faculty perceived that chairs assumed them guilty until proven otherwise” (p. 473).  Educators also resist reporting incivility because administration may feel uncivil behaviors are not important (Hernandez & Fister, 2001).  In Luparell’s (2004) study, several faculty members noted the lack of support from administration.

Tools and Strategies to Address Student Incivility

There are several mechanisms educators can utilize to try to manage and curb incivility.  Policies and procedures, in student handbooks and syllabi, are considered the first line of defense.  It is important for faculty to go over the syllabus, behavioral expectations, and grievance policies on the first day of class.  Hopefully the institution provides training on academic incivility.  If not, faculty members need to educate themselves on incivility in the classroom.  If incivility occurs, it is imperative faculty address the behavior quickly and constructively to curtail other uncivil behaviors.  Educators also should promote civility by setting a good example and using immediacy as a common practice.

Student Handbooks

Bayer and Braxton (2004) discussed many student handbooks address plagiarism and academic dishonesty but not student incivility.  Student handbooks need very specific language that states all of the possible uncivil behaviors for face-to-face and online classes, including how to deal with each situation, and a clause stating the list is not exhaustive (Bayer & Braxton, 2004; Clark, Ahten, & Werth, 2012; Ehrmann, 2005; Hernandez & Fister, 2001; Luparell, 2005).  It is also beneficial to include a section, in the student handbook, on acceptable behaviors for faculty (Bayer & Braxton, 2004).  Inclusion of faculty standards gives the student a guideline of expectations and needs to include a pathway for students to address such issues (Bayer & Braxton, 2004).

Authement (2016) went beyond the student handbook and developed a Code of Conduct for their nursing program as a pilot study.  The Code of Conduct included basic rules, what constitutes misconduct, and consequences.  Faculty distributed the Code of Conduct at the beginning of the semester to 72 students and noted students’ behavior throughout the semester.  The data noted a significant decrease (P < 0.001) in uncivil behaviors associated with the Code of Conduct.  Descriptive analysis from the faculty (N = 6) noted a 58% decrease in perceived incivility.  Luparell (2005) also suggested adding a Code of Conduct to describe specific procedures for disciplinary actions.  Codes of conduct need to be clear and concise and needs to be reviewed by faculty on a consistent basis (Amada, 1997).

Williams and Lauerer (2013) also developed a code of conduct for their nursing program.  Their goal was to implement the code of conduct and measure if the document contributed to a decrease in uncivil behaviors.  The researchers suggest reviewing and have students sign the document on the first day of class.  The code of conduct also needs to explain the repercussions for not abiding by the code.


The syllabus is a great tool to communicate acceptable behaviors in the classroom (Amada, 1997; Berger, 2000; Kuhlenschmidt & Layne, 1999; Luparell, 2005; Morrisette, 2001; Nordstrom et al., 2009).  Providing academic and behavioral expectations, policies, and guidelines sets the foundation for the course and gives the opportunity for students to review the information at a later time (Alberts et al. 2010; Carbone, 1999; Ehrmann, 2005; Luparell, 2005; Morrisette, 2001; Nordstrom et al., 2009).  Ensuring the syllabus is complete, accurate, and not vague keeps the students from guessing what is expected from them (Ali & Gracey, 2013; Downs, 1992; Hernandez & Fister, 2001; Matejka & Kurke, 1994).  Matejka and Kurke (1994) describes four key components of a syllabus: a contract, a communication tool, a plan, and a cognitive map.  If students have unanswered questions, this can lead to unnecessary anxiety and potential uncivil behaviors (Downs, 1992).

Several researchers have mentioned many disruptive behaviors involve grading discrepancies (Thomas, 2003).  It is important that grading is fair and consistent across the board to curb aggression towards perceptions of unfairness in grading (Alberts et al. 2010; Thomas, 2003).

Educators are responsible for setting expectations, and the first class is the best time to set the tone of the entire course (Carbone, 1999; Feldmann, 2001; Luparell, 2005; Nordstrom et al., 2009).  Student incivilities usually manifest in the first couple class sessions (Boice, 1996).  It is also important to state why specific behaviors are unacceptable (Carbone, 1999).  This helps students to understand the rationale behind the expectation and hopefully will get students to “buy in” the request (Carbone, 1999).

Grievance Policies

It is essential to have grievance policies in place.  This is a formal process where the university/college will investigate complaints (Amada, 1997).  Morrissette (2001) noted institutions might have grievance policies in place, but it might be perceived as a facade and complaints are quickly set aside.  Administration “must provide a safe and hospitable climate throughout the college for the reporting of disruptive incidents” (Amada, 1997, p. 63).  Every complaint/dispute needs a complete, timely review and assessment from administration (Amada, 1997).

Faculty and students should also be trained about the grievance policies and procedures (Amada, 1997).  Privacy and right-to-know problems associated with the grievance policy needs to be addressed (Morrissette, 2001).

Incivility Awareness and Quickly Addressing Incivility

Boice (1996) noted if a faculty member is consciences of academic incivility, then they are less likely to experience these behaviors in the classroom.  Faculty members who are not aware of incivility can become shocked when it occurs (Luparell, 2004).  This can lead to undesired outcomes and puts the instructor on the defensive.  It is crucial for educators to take a proactive measure and educate themselves on academic incivility and proper procedures (Kuhlenschmidt & Layne, 1999).

Student incivility in the classroom must be dealt with immediately (Clark & Springer, 2007b; Hernadez & Fister, 2001).  It is imperative to not ignore the behavior, because the problem will not go away (Berger, 2000).  Waiting to address incivility will only escalate the problem and give students the impression that the behavior is acceptable (Hirschy & Braxton, 2004; Feldmann, 2001).  Educators who explain their syllabus and policies at the beginning of the semester will hopefully prevent uncivil behaviors (Tantleff-Dunn et al., 2002).  Even a rare incidence of incivility needs to be addressed, and the student needs to be counseled on faculty expectations (Luparell, 2005).  In the late 90s, Amada (1997) described instructors complained about tardiness in the classroom but never took measures to curtail the behavior.  The instructor must immediately decide to deal with the behavior or risk several repercussions such as compromising a difficult learning environment for other students, eventually other faculty, or increasing the risk of a dangerous situation (Carbone, 1999; Clark & Carnosso, 2008; Ehrmann, 2005; Feldmann, 2001).

When students partake in behaviors that are considered uncivil, it devalues other students’ education.  Other students are not able to learn when faculty, which violates student rights, are constantly interrupted due to undesired behaviors (Clark & Carnosso, 2008; Morrissette, 2001).

Several educators are intimidated by tackling incivility in the classroom (Hernandez & Fister, 2001).  But not addressing the uncivil behaviors, even small occurrences, can have far more severe consequences than taking appropriate measures to curb the behavior (Clark & Springer, 2010; Luparell, 2005).  Tantleff-Dunn et al. (2002) conducted a study and almost 75% of the students explained they communicated with their professor in order to try to resolve an issue.  The students’ perception was their professor ignored the problem.

Hernandez and Fister (2001) suggests forming a training program that specifically addresses systematic techniques on how to deal with uncivil behaviors in conjunction with counseling services.  The training approach would include input from faculty, a handbook including policies and procedures, and a complete training program.  The training program needs to include current, student characteristics and tools and skills to handle incivility.  DalPezzo and Jett (2010) suggests training needs to include warning signs associated with potential violent students.  A training program can also give faculty the opportunity to openly discuss student incivility amongst colleagues.  It also opens dialogue between educators about successful and unsuccessful experiences with disruptive behaviors (Hernandez & Fister, 2001).

Setting a Good Example

If civil behavior is the expectation in classrooms, then faculty must demonstrate proper etiquette (Carbone, 1999; Ehrmann, 2005; Lemos, 2007; Williams & Lauerer, 2013).  Educators are considered role models and must emulate civil behavior on a daily basis (Clark & Springer, 2010; Ehrmann, 2005; Kuhlenschmidt & Layne, 1999; Lemos, 2007; Williams & Lauerer, 2013).  Lemos (2007) suggests common behaviors educators should demonstrate including using appropriate language, being prepared for class, starting class on time, etc.


Educators can reach out to students to find out why they are interested in the course (Downs, 1992).  These discussions can promote a platform from which to discuss personal likes and dislikes from the class (Downs, 1992).  Sometimes students need one-on one attention (Downs, 1992).  Many times, students are just angry and faculty can sometimes figure out the reason just by sitting down and having a face-to-face conversation with the student (Thomas, 2003).  Having a conversation with the student can help faculty to understand the root of the problem, because the behavior may not have anything to do with the instructor or the class (Kuhlenschmidt & Layne, 1999).  Downs (1992) suggests using “direct confrontations as a last resort” (Use direct confrontation as a last resort section, para. 1).  Clark and Springer (2010) suggests creating a survey or conducting an open forum for students to discuss incivility.

If instructors have an issue with a student, try to calmly and unemotionally talk about the problem in a private, neutral area without defending or blaming the student (Berger, 2000; Downs, 1992; Feldmann, 2001; Kuhlenschmidt & Layne, 1999; Thomas, 2003; Tiberius & Flax, 1999).  It is the instructors job to intently listen to the student without interrupting and respond to the student by paraphrasing what he or she said (Boice, 1996; Kuhlenschmidt & Layne, 1999; Thomas, 2003; Tiberius & Flak, 1999).  Tiberius and Flax (1999) and Thomas (2003) suggests actively listening to the student and try to understand their perceptions.  There may be a rational explanation to why they are angry, and they need someone to listen to their feelings.  Thomas (2003) and Tiberius and Flak (1999) also mentioned it is vital understand the student’s perception.  Empathetically respond to the student and offer a remark about how you understand where they are coming from (Thomas, 2003).

Luparell (2005) describes a similar approach, she suggests addressing the behavior right after class.  “Emphasize that the student is not in charge.  Discuss the basis of the action or offer to do so at a later date” (Feldmann, 2001, Instructor Response to Student Incivility section, para. 4).  If either party becomes aggravated, schedule another time for discussion (Downs, 1992; Thomas, 2003).  If the instructor fears the conversation will escalate to violence, Feldmann (2001) suggests leaving the door open and informing a close colleague of the situation.

Luparell (2004) reported 23 of the 36 reported incidents of incivility started because the student was given criticism about his/her performance.  Luparell (2005) suggests to think about verbiage and the environment before meeting with the student.  It is also beneficial to think about all the possible student responses and scenarios.

It is vital to document all conversations, not only for documentation purposes but to inform other potential instructors and administration (Amada, 1997; Feldmann, 2001; Hernandez & Fister, 2001).  When educators document the incident is must be factual and without opinions or emotions.  Researchers recommend writing the incident right after it happens while the event is still fresh in the faculty member’s mind (Amada, 1997; Feldmann, 2001; Hernandez & Fister, 2001).  Faculty must also must inform their superiors of the situation (Feldmann, 2001).

Immediacy Skills

Boice (1996) describes immediacy as “the extent to which the teacher gives off verbal and nonverbal signals of warmth, friendliness, and liking (e.g., forward leans, smiles, purposeful gestures, eye contact)” (p. 459).  When students have the perception that their instructors care about them and their learning, then there is a pronounced decline in student incivilities (Boice, 1996; Goodboy & Myers, 2009).  Conversely, Tiberius and Flax (1999) noted “students who interpret their teachers as lacking caring may react with hurt, disappointment, and anger” (p. 6).  Many educators have a natural tendency to exhibit a nurturing and caring persona (Luparell, 2005).  Simple proactive steps can be taken to improve immediacy including arriving to class before students to give them time to approach the educator if needed (Carbone, 1999; Luparell, 2005).  Another step is to try and learn student names (Carbone, 1999).  This creates a more personal relationship and lets the student know that you care enough to learn their name (Carbone, 1999; Knepp, 2012).


Researchers have noticed a significant increase in academic incivility (Amada, 1997; Clark & Carnosso, 2008; Clark & Springer, 2007a; Ehrmann, 2005).  Both faculty and students contribute to incivility in the classroom (Boice, 1996; Bray & Del Favero, 2004; Clark & Springer, 2007a; Knepp, 2012).  Student uncivil behaviors constitute anything from leaving class early to violent, emotional outbursts (Alberts et al., 2010; Clark & Springer, 2007b; Wahler & Badger, 2016).  Criticizing or embarrassing a student in front of others and threatening to fail students are considered faculty incivility (Clark & Springer, 2007a, 2007b).

Every educator perceives student incivility differently.  One faculty member might think a student arriving late to class, whereas another professor might feel it is not a big deal (Carbone, 1999).  As a whole, students and faculty view different forms of incivility as more or less gregarious.  There are several classifications of uncivil behavior, and unfortunately there is not a general consensus on how to classify different levels of academic incivility.

There are several factors that contribute to uncivil behaviors.  Faculty can be a contributing factor to academic incivility and most of the time they do not realize their contribution(s) (Boice, 1996).  Faculty are inherently in a position of power over students, and this can create problems in the learning environment (Clark & Carnosso, 2008; Tantleff-Dunn, Dunn, & Gokee, 2002).  Another increasing phenomenon is students feel higher education is a consumer-driven market (Delucchi & Korgen, 2002; Nordstrom et al., 2009).  Students have purchased their grade and they deserve the corresponding “A.”  Exams and major due dates for tests or projects are taxing for students and these stressors can trigger incivility (Boice, 1996).

Student incivility can have substantial impacts on faculty.  Over time, stress can result in sleepless nights and overall physical and emotional problems (Luparell, 2004, 2007).  Faculty also report a decrease in motivation to produce high quality teaching and an increase in grade inflation (Boice, 1996; Luparell, 2007; Thomas, 2003).  Several educators describe they are burnout and ultimately leave the profession (Clark & Springer, 2010; Luparell, 2007; Thomas, 2003).

Unfortunately, the educational system will never be able to grasp the magnitude of academic incivility because of underreporting.  Several faculty members do not want their disciplinary actions to negatively reflect on their student evaluations which impact educators’ livelihood (Boice, 1996).  Administration support is another key factor in incivility reporting.  Faculty report administration is not always supportive (Boice, 1996; Hernandez & Fister, 2000; Luparell, 2004).

Several articles suggest tools and strategies on how to mitigate academic incivility.  Policies and procedures in student handbooks (Bayer & Braxton, 2004; Clark et al., 2012; Ehrmann, 2005; Hernandez & Fister, 2001; Luparell, 2005) and syllabi (Amada, 1997; Berger, 2000; Kuhlenschmidt & Layne, 1999; Luparell, 2005; Morrisette, 2001; Nordstrom et al., 2009) are an effective tool to decrease incivility.  Researchers also recommend faculty educate themselves on student incivility and how to mediate conflicts (Kuhlenschmidt & Layne, 1999).  It is also imperative faculty set a good example by practicing civility (Carbone, 1999; Ehrmann, 2005; Lemos, 2007; Williams & Lauerer, 2013).  Reports also stress good communication (Downs, 1992; Kuhlenschmidt & Layne, 1999) and immediacy skills (Boice, 1996; Goodboy & Meyers, 2009) for dealing with academic incivility.


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