Students chafe at disciplinary measures. Counselling may be the way to bring them around

Different colleges have different problems. But the age-old problem of trying to maintain student discipline is one of the most common and widespread on campuses across the world.

At the American University of Dubai (AUD), inappropriate clothing and, secondly eveteasing, particularly among students from different cultures, form the biggest problems, says Harsh Om Tiwari, president of the Student Government Association (SGA) at AUD.

Inappropriate clothing and culturally derogatory remarks, says Tiwari, are taken very seriously and are not settled merely through a verbal warning.

When a problem is detected, a council is conducted to study the case.

It comprises members from the SGA, the administration, faculty, and a representative from the student body.

They give different perspectives on the issue and reach a consensus. The action taken depends on the severity of the case.

"Severe cases could lead to expulsion," says Tiwari, 21.

Minor ones could be settled by having the student write an essay, publish an article in the college newsletter or notice board, or deliver a speech in the freshman orientation event on the importance of the rule they violated.

Patience and understanding

While AUD's disciplinary issues mainly stem from behaviour on campus, at the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) Abu Dhabi Men's College, classroom behaviour at times leads to conflict.

Faris Salem Al Ameri, former vice-president of HCT's Student Council (SC), said, "Generally we don't like to misbehave or act rudely towards anyone if a problem occurs, and most of the time it's just a misunderstanding."

According to him, disputes between students and their professors are usually because of cultural differences and misunderstandings. If it's between students, then impatience could be a reason.

"Arrogance largely contributes to conflict, since it prevents students from fully understanding the situation," Al Ameri said.

He said students generally complain against any kind of disciplinary action.

They do not consider the elaborate procedures that the college administration has followed before enforcing punishment.

When a problem is first detected, the student receives counselling, but is otherwise let off.

If the problem persists, he receives a warning, followed by expulsion if the student continues to misbehave.

Disrupting class and lack of attendance usually invite disciplinary action. A student with a bad attendance record is warned and if he is absent from a class 10 per cent of the semester, he is dropped from the class.

Cheating in exams or offending a professor results in immediate expulsion of the student from the college.

Al Ameri stressed that students are made aware of the college's rules and regulations right from their orientation day.

The college also evaluates every situation carefully and accordingly decides on punishment.

The Student Council, said Al Ameri , also plays a big role in resolving issues of bad behaviour and misunderstandings.

If the conflict is between students, the Student Council gets involved and tries to solve the problem amicably. The same happens if a professor is involved.

However, it stays out of issues involving the administration. "The Student Council tries to raise awareness [of these issues] by organising lectures for students by professionals in the field of student life."

Al Ameri also had a few words of advice for his fellow students. "Do not rush in making decisions, and try to think well and understand the situation before acting," he said.

A matter of respect

Dr Anna Hamilton, assistant professor of mass communications at AUS, said that misbehaviour most likely occurs "when a professor doesn't have the respect of the students".

Often, she added, lack of respect is not because of something the professor has done but because of "the student's general orientation toward education".

And if nothing is done about this, Hamilton warned that respect for the professor will "erode over time".

For her, one of the worst forms of misbehaviour is when a student comes for a lecture, doesn't take notes, and whiles away his or her time in the back of the class. He or she later takes the notes from a classmate.

Hamilton said this was unacceptable, and demoralising, too, for students who pay attention in class. Her response to such a student is "get serious or get out".

The psychological discipline

Dr Aisha Hamdan, clinical psychologist at the University of Sharjah (UOS) Girl's College, emphasised the importance of counselling in treating student misbehaviour.

She said that it is very important to "help the student understand the reasons for rules and regulations and why they are in place."

She said students need to "understand how their misbehaviour impacts other people", and that it really doesn't benefit the student in the end.

Cheating in exams and plagiarising, she said, when not detected, could get a student a good grade.

But then it defeats the whole purpose of coming to university, which is to learn.

Disciplinary action, she added, may only stop misbehaviour at the time. Unless it is properly explained, students won't internalise the lesson it teaches.

A student's opinion

Khalid Ramadan, an electrical engineering student at the American University of Sharjah (AUS), said "students disrupting class by talking or letting their mobiles ring or continuously walking in and out of the classroom" constituted bad behaviour.

On campus, "blocking pathways, littering, smoking indoors and being noisy in quiet, study areas" were actions that could invite disciplinary measures.

However, Ramadan said, most of the university's rules and policies ensured that such behaviour was prevented.

The writer is a student of journalism at the American University of Sharjah