Over at Inside Higher Ed’s “Survival Guide,” a nervous grad student and adjunct instructor writes:
Dear Survival Guide:
I am a graduate student and also teach as an adjunct. I was recently made aware a student may be filing a formal complaint against me because I sternly told him he was not allowed to leave the class to take a phone call. He is not disputing the rule or my enforcement of it, rather claiming abuse because of my tone.
What should I do to prepare? Should I seek legal representation? I’m not sure what steps to take and I don’t want to do anything in the beginning that could jeopardize my chances for an acceptable resolution.
C. K. Gunslaus replies with a lot of helpful general advice–stay calm, try to recall the incident clearly and honestly, know your institution’s grievance procedures, etc., and the commenters have other good ideas (make your telephone and class disruptions policies clear on your syllabus, for example) but it doesn’t sound to me like there’s a lot of there there in this particular story. The student “may be filing a formal complaint.” Fine–let him, and then you can worry if you want to, but only when a formal complaint has been filed. “He is not disputing the rule or my enforcement of it, rather claiming abuse because of my tone.” Oh, your tone? As if you were the instructor of the class or something? The student cedes your right to set the rules and to enforce them, and isn’t even complaining about the enforcement per se, he just doesn’t like your tone of voice?
Is there any sane department chair or administrator who wouldn’t laugh this student out of hir office? (I fully realize that there are in fact insane and evil department chairs and administrators–but I think they’re in the minority.)
My guess is that this student is just b!tching and moaning and has no intention whatsoever of filing a complaint–he just wants to push around the instructor with his empty threats, and so far, it’s working like a charm. Researching institutional grievance procedures and filing a formal complaint would take, like, some work, man, so my guess is it’s not going to happen. If the student’s phone call really was a life-or-death issue, then the student presumably would have left the room and taken the call. Would a student really permit a professor or instructor to dictate whether or not he would hear his father’s dying words, or receive a dire medical diagnosis, or find out if he was selected to be on American Idol? I think not. This guy’s playing you like a violin, friend.
Something tells me that this letter is more about how vulnerable contingent labor feel than anything else.