A Classroom Etiquette Question I’m Asking My Students in Administrative Law

Here is a classroom etiquette question…or is it an administrative law question in disguise?

1. Is it appropriate for students to chew gum in class?

2. Suppose an instructor believes that chewing gum in class is not appropriate. Assuming the relevant Student Handbook is silent on the issue of food (and gum) in class, and that there are no relevant precedents in formal disciplinary proceedings, what notice if any is required to make it fair to discipline students for this? Is there anything else you would need to know before answering this question?

3. Is your answer the same or different for gum chewers who blow bubbles in class? Why?

4. “In class” could mean a lot of things: high school, college, law school, bar review, traffic school. Would your answer to #1 & #2 be different in any of these circumstances? Why?

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8 Responses to A Classroom Etiquette Question I’m Asking My Students in Administrative Law

  1. Mackenzie says:

    1. Nothing disruptive should be allowed in class. If the gum-chewer is not discrete, it should not be allowed. See #3. Otherwise, it should be fine.

    2. Professors should be allowed to set a minimum standard. If gum-chewing will be distracting or disruptive to a professor, s/he should be able to restrict its use for that class. The professor may want to take into account some of the possible olfactory consequences in some cases, however.

    3. No Bubbles. Likewise, no snapping or any other externality.

    4. My answer isn’t any different for any of the classes, with the possible exception that perhaps students in high school may not be able to grasp the underlying policy reasons behind the no gum rule, or might test the limits, thus necessitating a global ban. Generally, though, I tend to take a pro-civil liberties position unless it becomes unworkable.

  2. emptywheel says:

    I used to have near-weekly (juvenile) battles with a math teacher in middle school. She had a no gum-chewing rule. So I would just hold my gum in my mouth, not chewing. Partly, I was just following the letter of the law. But I was also cognizant of the fact that she wouldn’t be able to tell if I had gum if I was chewing. But it got pretty bad, because she’d start searching for visible signs of the gum. Which got pretty darned disruptive. It wasn’t the gum–or even the chewing, when I did it. It was her attempts to police it.

    I think I would have been a whole lot less juvenile had the rule been, “no disruptive behavior,” and clear instructions that she thought the sound of gum chewing was disruptive. But then, I had a pretty big chip on my shoulder about algebra, so perhaps nothing would have helped.

  3. the “no disruptive behavior in class” rule is fine, but it has to be restricted to “general disruption” rather than just “annoying/distracting the professor”. If “disruption” can be defined in terms of the professor alone, s/he would be able to prohibit all sorts of things such as “no red shirts”.

  4. Max says:

    I’m a 2L. I will be completely honest: you might be the most interesting professor in the world, teaching important, fascinating material, and it will still be hard to pay attention to you. I had a Tax class I loved last semester–and yet I still checked my email in it, still looked at who was calling me on my (obviously silenced) cellphone and, yes, still drank my Diet Coke and once even chewed gum. It’s not an insult, it’s a way of dealing with the inefficiencies inherent in the format of law school classes. Chewing gum, by the way, has been shown to increase concentration by stimulating the metabolism (because your body thinks you’re eating). I chew gum in all of my exams.

    Some of the professors I have feel that class is particularly disrupted when a student gets up to, say, go to the bathroom. I’m not disrupted by that, but I can see why the professor, who has to see them get up and walk away, probably is, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable for the professor to ask us to please go to the bathroom beforehand and the like so that we don’t bother them.

    My advice to you is: BE HONEST! If you’re bothered by gum chewing, say upfront, “you know I can see all of you from up here, and I have to admit that it really bothers me if people chew gum. Sorry if you really like to chew gum, but it’s distracting for me, thank you.” If you arbitrarily say “don’t chew gum,” expect it to hinder student/teacher relations and encourage sly avoidance of the rule. If, instead, you make it not a matter of rule-observation but instead simple politeness/courtesy, then you’ll be fine.

  5. Michael says:

    It’s undoubtedly true that different things bug different people. For example, it was recently proposed that a letter be sent to all students warning them that laptops should not be used in class for anything except taking notes. I took violent exception to this idea as I’m not in the least bothered by people reading their email in class. And until we ban the use of pens for anything but taking notes, if someone wants to try to write the Great American Novel while I’m teaching, more power to them (although I sort of wonder about their final grade, but ultimately that’s their problem, not mine).

    My purpose in asking this question was twofold. First, to see if people thought that gum chewing was malum in se rather than a question of taste. Second, to invite my adlaw student to think about how rules get made fairly.

  6. Paul Gowder says:

    Laptop letters, eh? I never understood why law schools feel the need to baby their students. Back when I was at HLS (god, it seems like centuries ago), they actually instituted an attendance policy (ie. prof could kick you out of class if you didn’t show up often enough). As far as I know, it was never enforced, but why have the policy? Either you learn or you don’t. Either way, the tuition gets paid. The learning is available for those who want it… I tend to think that’s the only obligation schools have.

  7. hmm umm says:

    um, i think that this prof is talking about admin law. not gum so much. though gum may be an underlying issue, the point of it is agencies and congressional statutes and whether Congress directly spoke on the issue, etc.

  8. Tristian says:


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