Department retracts bad behaviour clause

Chair says professor’s penalties violate students’ rights and counters Faculty regulation

The department of psychology has rejected a civility clause for PSYC 300 that deducts 10 per cent of a student’s overall mark for bad behaviour.

Although Jill Jacobson, the professor of the course, had initially received permission to implement the clause from the department, the undergraduate chair went back on her decision when she read the sanctions included in the clause.

“I have talked with the Faculty of Arts and Science and I recognized that the sanctions at the bottom of the civility clause did not fit within those Faculty regulations and those four lines that describe the sanctions have been removed,” said Jill Atkinson, undergraduate chair for the department.

According to the course syllabus, students can receive a 10 per cent deduction for their first violation of the clause and can be dropped from the course depending on the severity of the violation.

Atkinson said according to faculty policy, civility clauses can be implemented in classrooms; however, sanctions usually consist of written apologies or make-up assignments. Students must also be given the right to appeal.

“They have a right to know what allegations are made against them and defend [themselves] and their right to seek support,” she said

Loss of marks or removal from a course can only be determined by the associate dean of studies, she noted. A full investigation into an offense must be conducted by the Faculty prior to imposing academic sanctions.

Although the clause has been in effect since September, Atkinson said she only became aware of the issue last week, after which she met personally with Jacobson.

She added that civility clauses in general raise important questions pertaining to academic freedom in the classroom.

“[Civility clauses] might work to quash more than disrespectful comments, such as disagreements that actually teach something.”

They might also be counterproductive in attempting to enforce good behavior, she added.

“Punishment in general doesn’t teach as well as talking to students about how a course can be more stressful than most and how they might feel frustrated,” she said.

“I don’t assume that at this age students don’t already know that it’s not okay to be racist, discriminatory or harassing.”

Jacobson said she doesn’t think the clause limited her students’ academic freedom in class.

“I also instituted a test enhancing [the] learning process and many students don’t like that and they’ve had no issue coming to me and emailing me or posting it on Moodle that they’re unhappy,” she said.

“That’s just evidence that it isn’t shutting down discussion down, but that we’re going to be respectful toward each other which will enhance discussion.”  

Jacobson implemented the clause after seeing an increase in enrolment in the class, which makes the learning environment more difficult, she said.

Enrolment for the class has risen from 90 to a 140 students since 2005. 

So far no students have violated the civility clause since PSYC 300 began in September.

Violations are determined by whether or not discriminatory, disruptive or racist remarks are directed personally toward the professor, TA’s or other students.

“It would have had to be quite large of an event to take it that far with it,” she said.

“I’d just like to say that bullying is not freedom of speech.”


All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.