‘Laddish behaviour’ forces university to abolish lectures

Academics report being heckled, undermined and interrupted in book that questions association of loutish conduct exclusively with alcohol and sports teams

March 12, 2020
Source: iStock

Disruption caused by “laddish behaviour” was so bad that a UK university had to stop teaching via lectures on one course.

The case was disclosed by researchers who have explored the pervasiveness of lad culture in higher education and found that its prevailing association with alcohol consumption and sports teams meant that other forms of sexism and misogyny were going unrecognised.

Interviews with staff in six UK universities conducted by Carolyn Jackson and Vanita Sundaram, authors of Lad Culture in Higher Education, found that loutish behaviour was widespread in teaching and learning contexts, not just in social situations.

This included students – predominantly young men – arriving late, frequently interrupting lecturers, undermining or heckling tutors or other students and being unprepared for class discussions.

In one case identified by the researchers, this behaviour was so extreme that a university gave up large group lectures on one course and switched to seminars and group project work because, “try as they might”, they could not get students to engage properly. Other programmes at the same institution witnessed more misconduct – “quite serious disruptive behaviour” – but lacked the flexibility to alter their course design, an interviewee said.

The interviews confirmed that such behaviour was aimed predominantly at female lecturers, particularly in subjects that were considered more “masculine”, such as sports science and business and management.

This included sexist comments being called out during lectures and sexualised comments being left on student feedback forms.

The interviews also showed that different types of laddish behaviour were found in different contexts. Laddish disruptions to teaching and learning were more frequently reported in post-92 institutions, while in pre-92 institutions misconduct was more likely to be found in social contexts.

In social situations, laddish behaviour was most commonly associated with white, middle- and upper-class, heterosexual men. Those who engaged in it seemed to have an “entitled approach” to life and a sense that they could get away with it, according to the authors. The attitude was epitomised by men’s rugby teams, although this was by no means the only place it was found.

In teaching and learning contexts, the disruptive laddish behaviour was seen to come from “non-traditional” students, ie, learners who were not middle or upper class, the authors say. However, they add, the distinction was “not clear cut”, with examples of classroom disruption in pre-92 institutions from “traditional” students also emerging.

Professor Jackson, professor of gender and education at Lancaster University, said the research showed that the strategies often adopted by universities, such as targeting student drinking or curbing the behaviour of certain sports clubs, “would not solve the problem”.

“We need to see this as a gender-based problem, rather than individualised, and to think how we can challenge those gender norms that are underpinning it,” she said.

Without recognising that it occurred in different contexts and in different ways, laddish behaviour was “trivialised and rendered less visible”, she said.

Universities would need to enact culture change, she said. “The first step is acknowledgement and recognition that this is not a small issue. Universities need to understand it and take it seriously across the whole institution,” she said.

“From the sexualised imagery students are presented with on flyers for club nights to all the ways that the hierarchy of gender works within an institution, such as senior management teams that are largely made up of men, it’s all inextricably linked.”

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Too crass for class: ‘laddish behaviour’ forces university to end lectures

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Reader's comments (16)

Yobs are yobs, whatever their IQ. In any other environment they would be chucked out and their fees refunded. There's a lot to be said for rustication.
It's sad to think that I may have to recall classroom management techniques honed over a decade-plus of teaching 16-19 yo students before I slithered into a university setting.
In the University I went to for a professional course- I say that with out a hint of sardonic tone - the behaviour of all students was abysmal. Come on why pick out the white males, it was everywhere. The large lecture situation is over as a viable teaching vehicle, I would have heard more of the lecturer if I had been sitting at home with the vacuum cleaner running. These huge campuses are unnecessary. Bring the students in within manageable cohorts. That means small class sizes.
If these students are evidently not benefitting from the opportunity of an education, why are they still there?
£9,250/year. Universities are loathe to remove such valuable sources of revenue.
Is it 'lad' or 'pack' culture? I may not be qualified in social science, but several years of informal study has shown (to me) that human behaviours are predictably different when we move from small groups to large 'crowds'. Disruptive behaviour will arise in situations where 'pack mentality' overcomes individual inhibition and self-regualtion. It also spreads quickly without rapid and aggresive (but not hostile) preventative measures.
Confirmatory bias - I have female undergrads coming in late and continuing their own conversations before and during my lecture at a volume that completely ignores me. How is that kind of behaviour any less disruptive? Stop making classroom disruptive behaviour a gendered issue - in-class disruptive behaviours are such regardless of gender, they just manifest in different forms.
I agree, too much confirmatory bias, as for 'sports' most feminasti's don't seem to appreciate young males need both the group bonding and challenge they get through playing physically hard sport, Rugby being one of the best outlets for controlled aggression release. What is astounding and confounding to them is the number of female students attracted to Alfa men who play such sports, natural selection in action, survival of the fittest at it's finest.
I can’t believe some of these comments. Is confirmatory bias where you decide if a piece of research is valid based on whether it fits your own experience rather than actually reading it? Or am I confusing it for something else?
I think it is unfair to say that it's 'all white males'. My institution has taken some large overseas cohorts recently and the the tutor reports much rudeness. Other tutors report that the girls are just as bad as the boys and in some cases worse. I think Martin@Bristol has a point about pack mentality and I have certainly felt that the young are getting more rude and disrespectful. It's a complex issue that need proper research & analysis.
Maybe you just need to introduce some strict rules instead of the warm and fuzzy gender discussion?
I think universities have become progressively less willing to support staff who challenge students' poor behaviour. Basic stuff like asking students to stop talking, stop using their phones etc. can get a negative reaction from students (not always of course), and I no longer feel confident staff would be backed up if a student complained.
Informal, pack. crowd, yob, male, whatever, it is called these days does not matter. The students do not value where they are and those that there to facilitate their learning period .
But why has no one mentioned Brexit?
No one has mentioned the spot price of tea in China, either. Why? Because it's irrelevant to the discussion, as is the "Brexit"issue.
As a social scientist, researcher and someone who has taught primary, secondary and tertiary levels, I can say for sure where students display very uncaring behaviors, it is very likely that the institution never tried to reach them, probably never cared to reach them. Such institutions usually assume that we would just do what we have to do and students likewise...if students learn they learn if they do not learn well so be it. The essence however of getting positive responses from all individuals irrespective of their background is to show them that you care about them, have activities/projects for them to participate in, let them suggestions implement some of their own, find out what they are interested in and adjust policies, procedures and priorities...let them find community outreach projects that some university academic staff can get involved in along with a few students. Remember when we show people including students that we do not care about them, they will show us that they do not care about us. The university like any other educational institution must demonstrate and be the change that we want to see. Such campuses must look at themselves first...then you will find a solution to this issue. Even at the individual level, I have to deal with self first before I can deal with others.Your solution is not far away. Reexamine what your university is and is not doing for these students.

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