Center for Teaching and Learning

Policies and professionalism

On this page you will find resources for dealing with situations that may arise in your classroom, online or in your interactions with students and faculty.

What would you do?

The following are a series of hypothetical scenarios that you may face in your interactions with students, faculty, or colleagues. Accompanying each situation is a list of helpful strategies and a video with recommendations.

Although the videos in this series were designed for teaching assistants (TAs), the information may also be useful for instructors.

Dealing with an unexpected student absence

Scenario #1: Mid-quarter is quickly approaching and you are busy designing and writing a midterm exam for your students.  Two days prior to the exam, a student who has done relatively well thus far sends you the following email:

Dear TA,

My father has had a heart attack and I have to leave for Florida tonight.  He is having open-heart surgery in the morning.  I know that the midterm is in two days but I won’t be here to take it.  I would ask you to let me take a make-up exam when I come back but I won’t be in class for at least two weeks while my father gets better.  Will missing class for two weeks affect my participation grade?  Can you email me my grade average for the first part of the quarter so that I know what my grade is right now?  What can I do so that my absence won’t affect my final grade? 





“A students absent from any examination or class activity through sickness or other cause judged by the instructor to be unavoidable shall be given an opportunity to take a rescheduled examination or perform work judged by the instructor to be the equivalent.” UW Policy Directory, Student Governance and Policies, Scholastic Regulations, Chapter 112 1.B.y.

The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) regulates disclosure of student information, including grades. Posting grades publicly or notifying students of grades via email without the student’s written permission violates FERPA.

Supporting students with disabilities

Scenario #2: While you are collecting your things after class a student approaches you and says, “I have a learning disability and am going to need extra time to take the final exam.”

  • What do you need to know to respond appropriately?
  • What can you say to this student and where can you point them for support?



Federal and state law require that reasonable accommodations be provided to students with disabilities. Accommodations for a student with a disability must be requested by the student in “a timely manner” but may be requested at any time during the quarter. A student registered with the Office of Disability Resources for Students (DRS) receives a letter to give to her/his professors and TAs. The letter verifies the students’ disability status and outlines the reasonable accommodations for which the student is eligible. It is helpful to include a statement on the class syllabus inviting students with disabilities to discuss their academic needs with you. Please consult with DRS before denying an accommodation. Respect the confidentiality of the students by not sharing your knowledge of their disability status and need for accommodation with anyone who does not have a need to know under FERPA.

DRS serves as a resource for professors and TAs as well as for students.

Student code of conduct (plagiarism and academic misconduct)

Scenario #3: While reading an end of quarter essay submitted by a senior in his final quarter, you discover that it has no relationship to a rough draft that was submitted two weeks ago. At that time, you provided the student with considerable feedback for improvement on the essays content, format and argumentation.  You become suspicious and do a brief Google search, using several key phrases.  Your Google search takes you to “ For a $25.00 registration fee, you too can have access to a million original essays.”

  • What do you need to know about UW’s policies on plagiarism?
  • If you are a TA how should you proceed?


Provide information in your course packet, syllabus, website that expresses your opinion on plagiarism and other forms of cheating. Instructors have the option of handling a case of cheating informally (the student must agree with your assessment and grading decision) or formally (the instructor must suspend his or her judgment until the Dean’s Representative returns a decision). If the student is found to be guilty of the charge, the instructor may lower the student’s grade on the assignment in question and factor that into the final grade. Instructors can use a number of strategies to reduce the incidence of plagiarism.


Violence prevention and student conduct

Scenario #4: A student in your section has been very disrespectful and rude to you. The student argues about assignments and turns them in late.  On the most recent assignment you told the student their paper would receive fewer points because it was late.  The student was extremely dissatisfied.  They became red in the face and grew increasingly agitated. You are worried because you will be handing the assignment back tomorrow and you are unsure how the student will respond.

  • What can you do to protect yourself and your class in case the situation escalates?
  • Where can you turn if you suspect there is a threat of violence in your classroom?

Scenario #5: A student comes to you during office hours and tells you she recently filed a restraining order against her ex-partner. The student has recently moved residences but is worried that her ex-partner will try to find her.  She is also afraid that her ex-partner may try to find her at school and wants to make alternative class arrangements.

  • How can you accommodate the students request?
  • Where can you turn if you suspect there is a threat of violence in your classroom?


If you perceive anyone in your academic environment, particularly a student, displaying signs of distress (as listed on the SafeCampus website), or if you’re concerned about the possibility of violence, call SafeCampus. Notify your supervising faculty as well.

If you see the student’s behavior is disrupting the classroom, the Student Conduct Code gives you the ability to instruct the student to leave the class.

Encourage students to call SafeCampus if they have concerns about their physical safety. Explain that you have to report the matter to your academic supervisor and SafeCampus. A response specialist can discuss the situation with the student and provide specific referrals to assist in safety planning. SafeCampus can try to determine how to provide resources to the student even if the student does not call SafeCampus themselves. SafeCampus can also consult with you and the academic department about how to structure the academic environment to reduce the chances of violence occurring.


Sexual violence and discrimination

Scenario #6: Before class one of your students asks to speak with you privately after class.  In your office the student tells you that following a party a couple weeks ago, she had sex with another student in your department.  The two students had been drinking and your student feels as though she was forced into having sex without consent.  Although she is not currently in a course with the other student, she often sees him around the building which is very difficult. Your student says she “just needed someone to talk to” and does not want you to tell anyone else about the situation or do anything about it.

  • What are your responsibilities in reporting this type of incident?
  • How can you best support the student while maintaining her right to privacy?


Please note: The Sexual Assault and Relationship Information Service (SARIS) mentioned in the video is now part of Health & Wellness.

Health & Wellness provides support to the UW community by working directly with students as well as concerned faculty, staff, family, and friends to reach out and connect to students who may be in need of Health & Wellness services.

Health & Wellness programs include:

  • Alcohol & Other Drug Consultation and Education
  • Suicide Intervention
  • Sexual Assault, Relationship Violence, Stalking and Harassment Advocacy
  • Student Care Program


Unwelcome conduct (sexual harassment)

Scenario #7: You are grading papers in a conference room when the program coordinator appears in the doorway and asks if you’d like to go out and get something to eat. You have felt uncomfortable with this staff member recently because the person has repeatedly complimented you on your appearance and asks a lot of personal questions including whether you are dating someone. You say you are busy and need to finish grading but the staff member remains and persists. Finally, you collect your things and get up to go. For a moment the staff member blocks the doorway but then says “okay” and you leave the room.

  • Where can you go if you feel uncomfortable with a university’s employee’s behavior towards you?
  • How do you define sexual harassment?


Policies and Resources:

Student/faculty relationships: Where can you go if you have an issue?

Scenario #8: Your advisor invites you to work on compelling research project. While flattered, you decline once you learn that you’d have to work on the project in the evenings, off campus, alone with your advisor. Soon after, your advisor withdraws promised funding for conference travel, giving it instead to the student who accepted the project invitation. Is the advisor mad at you? Another student tells you to let it go. You would bring it to the chair, but a trusted faculty member says that the chair and your advisor are long-time colleagues. Should you pursue the matter? What if your advisor is on the TA selection committee and you need a TA-ship?

  • Where can you go if you have an issue with your advisor or a faculty member on your committee?
  • Will your concerns be kept confidential?


TAs and RAs are students as well as employees and concerns can arise in either role. Sometimes concerns are not clearly defined or don’t seem to fit neatly within existing complaint mechanisms. The University Ombudsman is a resource for when concerns arise and you don’t know who to contact, don’t know how to assess the situation, or you are hesitant to raise a concern and want to evaluate options. The Ombudsman is a resource for both academic and administrative concerns. A reliable and comprehensive source of information about university rules and policies, the Ombudsman can help you assess your experience and determine the appropriate resources and processes. The Ombudsman also offers interventions to address disputes informally such as facilitation, conciliation and mediation.