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Addressing Student Conduct Issues

By Luke Lara, FA Ombudsperson

I recently heard a colleague ask, “When is enough, enough?” You may have noticed or heard of increased incidences of student conduct issues after returning to an in-person presence since the pandemic. This is not unique to MiraCosta. Many factors are at play. Several recent articles in the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Education have highlighted this issue in higher education.


Whether in the classroom, the cafeteria, or in any other public or learning space on campus, it is unsettling when a student or colleague yells or behaves in an inappropriate manner. I have heard from faculty who say they and other students who witness such events experience emotional stress and feel emotionally threatened. One faculty member said, “My other students don’t want to return to class; they don’t feel safe.”

The pandemic has been exhausting for everyone, students and faculty alike. Mental health issues have been exacerbated and counseling centers have seen an increase in traumatized students needing support. In fact, the recent California State University California Faculty Association (CFA) strike in January included a demand for increased mental health counselors for students. Mental health resources are an essential service in support of learning.

Layered on top of this is the awkward transition from an online environment to an in-person environment where human interaction and norms are different. The lines between online behavior and in-person behavior are being blurred. A Chronicle article stated,

Jody Greene, associate campus provost for academic success at UC Santa Cruz … sees many issues driving these boundary-challenging behaviors, including a rise in mental-health challenges and a lack of interaction during the pandemic that left students underprepared for the social norms of college. Students’ growing use of social media, along with national political divides, has given some a warped view of appropriate classroom behaviors, Greene says. And a shifting power dynamic, in which students feel more comfortable advocating for their needs, has left some faculty members feeling uncertain about their authority. (para 5)

In the same article, a faculty member aptly stated, “The new generation understands reasons, but they don’t understand rules. When you put your rules into a context, some of them are really thankful for it. But authority just for the sake of authority this generation really hates” (para 41).

Our very own Faculty Assembly Council member and Mental Health Counselor Abby Burd, LCSW, acknowledged, "Many of our students come to campus with a history of trauma. Being trauma-informed means that we know that trauma can help explain or understand behavior. But it does not excuse or justify behaviors that harm others." There is tension between the need for colleges to embrace neurodiversity and balance the rights of individual students to be different and have big feelings with the rights of other students and faculty to have a safe and disruption-free learning environment. 

It is distressing to deal with behavioral issues and as our colleague stated, “When is enough, enough?” The reality is that recalibrating how we teach in-person will take time. We may never recover from this recent pandemic; however, the FA are listening and we're elevating this conversation, as it fundamentally impacts faculty working conditions. Please reach out to me if you want to share your thoughts and concerns.

Read the full article, which contains answers to frequently asked questions from faculty concerning student conduct issues and includes tips and resources on what faculty can do to mitigate these issues in partnership with the Office of Student Affairs.


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