Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Student Calls Police After Instructor Confiscates Cell Phone That Rung during Class

Apparently, the police in West Lafayette, IN showed up at a business law class after a student reported the instructor for stealing his cell phone. The instructor (who is also a judge in Lafayette) confiscated the phone for ringing during class, but refused to return it immediately after the class ended. He said he was going to give it to the Dean of Students and that it could be picked up there. (Sounds good to me - inconvenience the student the same way he inconvenienced the entire class for letting his cell phone ring.) This idea didn't sit well with the student (I'm guessing a business major), who called the police. The complaint was turned over to a Lafayette prosecutor who dismissed the charges. You can read the story here.

I am left with several impressions after reading this news article.

1. The instructor showed great nerve in not only taking the phone, but also not giving it back immediately. I do hope he had the cell phone policy in his syllabus, however, since that seems to be the end-all-be-all of classroom disputes.

2. The student showed great nerve in calling the cops on his instructor. It must have been quite a sight to see the student's righteous indignation. Although, I think the student probably went too far and should have sucked it up and gone to the Dean of Students to retrieve his phone. I am kind of proud that s/he handled it himself and didn't call mommy or daddy to save him.

3. I imagine that next class session was pretty awkward. Do you drop the class after accusing the instructor of stealing and trying to get him arrested? Or do you sit tight knowing that you got a perfect claim for retaliation if you don't get the grade you wanted in class.

4. Where did the student get the phone to call the cops? Did s/he borrow it from a fellow classmate? Did the person who loaned the phone know what it was going to be used for? How awkward is it for this classmate to stay in the business law course?

Personally, I don't have a policy on cell phones in class. Inevitably a few go off every semester, but I just ignore them or wait until they have stopped ringing (maybe do a little dance if the tune is particularly good) before continuing with my lecture. I have a colleague, however, who takes 1% off a student's final class grade every time his or her cell phone rings in class. That is pretty hard core, but effective. I think he's only had 1 cell phone ring in the 3+ years he's had the policy.


Tim Lacy said...

Dr. H,

Great post. I agree that nerve was displayed by both parties.

The funny thing is that I'm just as annoyed when a cell phone rings in class as I am when it happens during church. That tells me that I have a problem with cell phones in general - such that my being put out might extend beyond the norms of today's youth.

This brings up an important point. What flies in the classroom has as much to do with what annoys the students ~on the whole~ as what annoys the professor. When the prof. gets annoyed and the students yawn, doesn't that make the prof. look a prig? That certainly won't get you a chili pepper on ratemyprofessor.

- TL

Anonymous said...

Last semester a cell phone went off in my class during lecture. I waited patiently for the embarassed student to dig it out of her backpack and silence it. I then proceeded to give a calm but stern lecture about turning off cell phones in class -- at which precise moment the cell phone in my briefcase began to ring. The class (including myself) erupted into laughter.

Anonymous said...

Yea, we have some profs at my school who make a big deal out of kids who wear baseball caps in the classroom. They consider it disrespectful. I think it is a non-issue and I assume most kids could care less whether their fellow students are wearing hats or not. But again, if it is in the syllabus the students really can't complain that you are being a prig.

Anonymous said...

I used to prohibit students from wearing baseball caps during exams, because the bills covered their eyes while they cheated from the person next to them. (They (wrongly) thought that since they couldn't see me, I couldn't see them.) Caught a couple of cheaters before I enacted that policy. Now, however, I have bigger fish to fry (see next paragraph).

I don't mind cellphones ringing during my lectures, as long as the owners turn them off immediately (no conversations, please!). This is just a cost of living in today's society. HOWEVER, I no longer allow students to answer ringing cellphones during exams, or even hold one in their hand or on their desk, because a few semesters back I caught a student using his cellphone camera to photograph my exam. He was sending the exam, page by page, to someone so that they could send him the correct answers. I took it from him and (thank goodness I had a GTA in the room) immediately took it to the dean, who called the student disciplinary people, who, in the face of the evidence, found him guilty of academic dishonesty.