Exploring Faculty Perceptions of Student Incivility in Social Work: Results from a National Survey


  • Elizabeth A. Wahler Indiana University
  • Karen Badger University of Kentucky




Incivility, social work education, student uncivil behavior


The literature suggests that incivility is a growing problem in college classrooms, but few studies have examined incivility within social work programs. Using a national sample of social work instructors (n=327), this study examined faculty experiences with social work student incivility in both undergraduate and graduate education. Results showed that some behaviors often deemed disrespectful or inattentive do occur in social work classrooms, and they occur more frequently in undergraduate classes than graduate classes. Although rare, hostile behaviors were also reported by faculty. Discussion of these findings includes recommendations for addressing incivility in the context of preparing social work students for professional practice.

Author Biographies

Elizabeth A. Wahler, Indiana University

Assistant Professor in the Indiana University School of Social Work

Karen Badger, University of Kentucky

Associate Dean and Assistant Provost in the Division of Undergraduate Education

Associate Professor in the College of Social Work 


Abbey, L., Willett, R., Selby-Penczak, R., & McKnight, R. (2010). Social learning: Medical student perceptions of geriatric house calls. Gerontology & Geriatrics Education, 31 (2), 149-162.

Alberts, H. C., Hazen, H. D., & Theobald, R. B. (2010). Classroom incivilities: The challenge of interactions between college students and instructors in the US. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 34(3), 439-462. doi:10.1080/03098260903502679.

Alexander-Snow, M. (2004). Dynamics of gender, ethnicity, and race in understanding classroom incivility. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 99, 21-31. Doi: 10.1002/tl.155

Ausbrooks, A.R., Jones, S.H., Tijerina, M.S. (2011). Now you see it, now you don’t: Faculty and student perceptions of classroom incivility in a social work program. Advances in Social Work, 12 (2), 255-275.

Baker, S.D., Comer, D.R., & Martinak, M.L. (2008). All I’m askin’ is for a little respect: How can we promote civility in our classrooms? Organizational Management Journal, 5, 65-80.

Ballen, A. O. (2015). The selfie generation: Students’ perceptions of classroom incivility in social work education (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from PQDT Open. (Publication #3705580)

Bjorklund, W. L., & Rehling, D. L. (2009). Student perceptions of classroom incivility. College Teaching, 58, 15-18.

Boice, B. (1996). Classroom incivilities. Research in Higher Education, 37(4), 453-486.

Bray, N.J., & Del Favero, M. (2004). Sociological explanations for faculty and student classroom incivilities. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 99, 9-19.

Caboni, T.C., Hirschy, A.S., & Best, J.R. (2004). Student norms of classroom decorum. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 99, 59-66.

Clark, C.M., & Springer, P.J. (2007). Thoughts on incivility: Student and faculty perceptions of uncivil behavior in nursing education. Nursing Education Perspectives, 28 (2), 93-97.

Clark, C.M. (2008). Student voices on faculty incivility in nursing education: A conceptual model. (25) 5, 284-289.

Connelly, R. J. (2009). Introducing a culture of civility in first-year college classes. Journal of General Education, 58(1), 47-64.

Council of Social Work Education. (2015). Educational policy and accreditation standards (EPAS). Retrieved from http://www.cswe.org/File.aspx?id=81660

Delucchi, M., & Korgen, K. (2002). “We’re the customer—we pay the tuition”: Student consumerism among undergraduate sociology majors. Teaching Sociology, 30, 100-107.

Elder, B.R., Seaton, L.P., & Swinney, L.S. (2010). Lost in a crowd: Anonymity and incivility in the accounting classroom. The Accounting Educator’s Journal, 20, 91-107.

Fink, L. D. (2003). Creating significant learning experiences. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco, CA.

Knepp, K. A. F. (2012). Understanding student and faculty incivility in higher education. The Journal of Effective Teaching 12(1), 32-45.

McNaughton-Cassill, M. E. (2013). Is it incivility or mental illness? Understanding and coping with disruptive student behavior in the college classroom. The Journal of Effective Teaching, 13(2), 94-108.

Meyers, S.A., Bender, J., Hill, E.K., & Thomas, S.Y. (2006). How do faculty experience and respond to class conflict? International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 18 (3), 180-187.

National Association of Social Workers (2008). Code of ethics. Retrieved from http://www.socialworkers.org.pubs/code/code.asp

Nordstrom, C.R., Bartels, L.K., & Bucy, L. (2009). Predicting and curbing classroom incivility in higher education. College Student Journal, 43 (1), 74-85.

Paik, C., & Broedel-Zaugg, K. (2006). Pharmacy students’opinions on civility and preferences regarding professors. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 70(4), 1-9.

Pascarella, E.T., & Terenzini, P.T. (2005). How college affects students, volume 2: A third decade of research. San Fancisco CA: Jossey-Bass.

Swinney, L.S., Elder, B.R., Seaton, L.P. (2010). Incivility in the accounting classroom. American Journal of Business Education, (5), 1-16.

Royse, D. (2001). Teaching tips for college and university instructors. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Suplee, P. D., Lachman, V. D., Siebert, B., & Anselmi, K. K. (2008). Managing nursing student incivility in the classroom, clinical setting, and on-line. Journal of Nursing Law, 12(2), 68-77.