So, I have this one professor who refuses to let anyone use their phone. I understand this during class hours but now he’s saying he will give a demerit to anyone using their phone even if it’s before or after class.

I personally am at the school from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and his class is my last one for the day and I have a 2 1/2 hour wait until it starts. Most days I get into his class room anywhere from 30 mins to almost an hour before class starts. The teacher is in the room as students aren’t allowed in otherwise. In that time I’m generally on my phone as in my opinion it’s my free time and I’d like something to do or have people I’m talking to over text.

Everyone is of course adults as we are in college so it’s extremely irritating that another adult would tell me and other students to put a phone away when there is literally no one else in the classroom and no work is being done. Even after class he threatens to write me up for having my phone out whether it’s just to check the time or look something up. (I’m usually the last to leave as I don’t feel the need to rush out of the room and generally try to clean up pretty well before I go)

Maybe I’m just being unreasonable but I do believe some boundaries of respect are being crossed. I don’t talk back or stand up for myself when he tells me to put it away either as I grew up being taught to respect anyone in authority or older than you. Though, he’s the first to make this difficult as the respect doesn’t feel as though it’s being reciprocated.

  • 43
    What do you want to achieve here? I feel this is more of a complaint than a question. Commented Feb 18, 2020 at 9:35
  • 3
    Does your school have a policy forbidding the use of cellphones?
    – JRN
    Commented Feb 18, 2020 at 12:59
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    My assumption would be that if the prof didn't feel like your behavior was in some way interrupting his class, you wouldn't be hearing this request. Commented Feb 18, 2020 at 17:57
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    Can you use a laptop in the exact same situation (ie - an hour before class?) If so, then the policy is largely assinine unless your phone is on blast making all kinds of noise. If you are sitting silently texting or using headphones that should be no different from typing on a laptop or tablet. Just give this person their ego trip prior to class and sit outside the room
    – NKCampbell
    Commented Feb 18, 2020 at 19:56
  • 16
    Where would you be if the professor were not in the class room 30-60 minutes before class began? Use your phone there instead. University policy seems to vary on the availability of otherwise unscheduled classrooms, but the fact that you state you aren't allowed there without the professor present seems to imply that it's not for student use outside of class.
    – chepner
    Commented Feb 19, 2020 at 19:13

9 Answers 9


I think your description of what’s going on is misleading. The professor is not “telling you you can’t use your phone before class”. He’s telling you you can’t use your phone before class in the classroom when he’s also in the classroom.

Is that reasonable? I honestly don’t have a strong opinion. I can certainly see why it’s annoying to you on the one hand, but can also see things from the professor’s perspective - if he wants to use those thirty minutes before class to review the material he’ll be discussing, and is easily distracted by phones (yes, professors are prone to distraction just like other people), he may well think his need to have a distraction-free working environment so that he can deliver good instruction for his class overrides your personal need to use your phone during that time and makes it okay for him to decide what is and isn’t allowed in the classroom, even though the official lecture time hasn’t yet arrived.

It’s possible you can win this on a technicality by turning this into some kind of principled fight over individual rights. But I don’t see a point, it wouldn’t be a real “win” for you or anyone else in any meaningful sense. Your professor may be a slightly unreasonable person with a slightly rigid personality, but in my opinion the mature thing to do in this situation would be to respect his wishes and find some other place to use your phone before class.

  • 10
    "easily distracted by phones"....depends on the context and use. A dead phone, sitting in a corner silently bricked is hardly a distraction. Same for sitting silently reading. If OP is playing a video or game without headphones or it is constantly beeping and buzzing because of calls then sure...
    – NKCampbell
    Commented Feb 18, 2020 at 19:54
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    @NKCampbell perhaps, but OP didn’t mention a restriction on bricked phones, and in any case it seems counterproductive to get into that level of detail. The professor considered the question and decided on a policy. Regardless of whether you agree with his reasoning or not, he has authority to do so by a reasonable interpretation of the situation. That’s all there is to it really.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Feb 18, 2020 at 20:27
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    I believe this sort of power dynamic is important to address. If we allow professors, or anyone else, "their ego trip" as one commentor put it, it is enabling the behavior. I once had a professor tell me to remove my baseball cap as a courtesy to others and when I refused (I didn't say or do anything other than not comply), he threatened to take me to the dean. I was worried about my grade in that class and any future classes I might have with him - so I capitulated. While I get courtesy and conformity, it was a power imbalance that he exploited to enforce his personal behavioral norms.
    – CramerTV
    Commented Feb 19, 2020 at 1:23
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    @CramerTV good point. If you post a question about a professor asking a student not to wear a baseball cap, we can discuss that and the issues it raises. To clarify, my current answer is about OP’s specific question and does not necessarily extrapolate to other situations.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Feb 19, 2020 at 1:36
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    @FelipeVoloch perhaps his office is on the other side of campus. Or perhaps he is a low paid adjunct instructor with no office to call his own who has to walk to class from a far away parking lot and wants to collect his thoughts before lecture starts. Anyway, you may have a point technically but as with NKCampbell’s comment I think you’re overthinking the issue. Not every disagreement between a student and a professor is worth scrutinizing in microscopic detail. Sometimes one has to look at the bigger picture and accept that there are annoyances in life too minor to get upset about.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Feb 19, 2020 at 6:38

Short answer: Yes, he can (unless there is a rule to the contrary)

If I understand your description correctly, you are present in the lecture room outside of the designated lecture time, and the professor is enforcing his no-phone rule while you are in that room, but outside of the time for the lecture. Assuming that this is an accurate understanding of your description, I see no reason why the professor would not be able to enforce this rule of ettiquette in the lecture room. It is generally accepted that professors have fairly broad discretion in setting the expected conduct of students while they are in lecture rooms, as they are the designated university employee with operational control of the room. Thus, it is generally considered to be reasonable for professors to impose rules of ettiquette in their lecture rooms, so long as those are not contrary to broader university rules.

In a technical sense, the classroom belongs to the university as an institution, and it is this institution that sets the rules. Your professor is one of the employees representing the institution, and his power is determined by the level of discretion and control granted to him by the university. Professors are generally expected to impose reasonable ettiquette on students while in university facilities, and they are given pretty broad discretion over how they run their classes, and the rooms they are using. Professors are expected to abide by university rules/policy, but within this range, they have quite a bit of discretion. The fact that you describe the room as "his classroom" (though it of course belongs to the university) shows that you have an appreciation of this circumstance.

Now, a professor would certainly have this discretion during the designated lecture time, and in a reasonable window around that time that is necessary for preparation/conclusion of the lecture. When you are talking about periods of time that are far outside the lecture time, there may be a circumstance where the professor loses control of the room in favour of some other university employee, student, or other user (e.g., if someone else has made a booking of the room). Nevertheless, in the absence of someone else having a better claim to use/control the room (and you do not), if that professor is the only staff member present using the room, then he is the representative of the university in control of that room. Absent some university rule/policy that grants you permission to use your phone in this circumstance, or some other more senior person at the university overruling him, it is likely that your professor can indeed prohibit you from using your phone.

I can certainly appreciate why you find this annoying, since "everyone there is an adult". Having said this, universities take in a lot of young students in the early part of their adulthood (many still in their late teens), and there is a huge difference in maturity between these students and their professors. Everyone may have attained the age of majority, but everyone is not equally adult in the sense of their maturity and life experience, so some professors have gotten into the habit of having to play a disciplining role with their students. Many professors find that young students have a tendency to be distracted by their phones in lectures, so some take a hard line. Of course, the most obvious solution here is for you to remove yourself from the lecture hall until you need to be there, and go out into the more general "public" areas of the university, where you are allowed to use your phone, free of the watchful eye of your professor.

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    I'd disagree with the understanding that any "representative of the university in control of that room" can impose arbitrary behavior rules on others. E.g. s/he could not require students walk on their hands or shed their clothes. There is a line somewhere between inadequate and arbitrary on one side vs. adequate and justified on the other. Examples for the latter, as always, would primarily be rules to protect the rights of others: Keep your voices down, keep the room clean etc. Commented Feb 18, 2020 at 18:20
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    No disagreement here. As you'll see, my answer refers to professors having "broad discretion" and imposing "reasonable ettiquette" on students; not unlimited discretion to impose arbitrary behavioural rules.
    – Ben
    Commented Feb 18, 2020 at 21:10
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    @FelipeVoloch The etiquette when you disagree with an answer is to post your own contrary answer and let other users vote on it.
    – CJ Dennis
    Commented Feb 20, 2020 at 2:48
  • 1
    @FelipeVoloch Comments with the aim to improve a post are helpful. But if you disagree with the whole thrust of the argument, better to post your own than try to bend the other to your way of thinking.
    – CJ Dennis
    Commented Feb 20, 2020 at 3:03
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    I don't have specific sources, but in my experience it's not the professor's prerogative to occupy or control "general use" classrooms unless the room is reserved specifically for their class (or some sanctioned activity like a scheduled study session). In other words, if there is no class in session the professor is "squatting" just as the student is, and doesn't have any particular authority to regulate use of the room.
    – BrenBarn
    Commented Feb 20, 2020 at 8:33

You are overstepping your boundaries: you don't bear the responsibility of teaching the class, and hence you do not set the standards of behaviour inside the classroom. Simply exit the classroom if you want to use your phone.

  • This does not answer the question
    – user111388
    Commented Feb 21, 2020 at 23:16
  • @user111388 Not explicitly, but the implication should be clear: yes they can. Commented Feb 24, 2020 at 14:40

First of all, his room, his rules, so he gets to decide what he wants to allow. That said, try asking him politely what his concerns are about phone use before or after class. Maybe you can suggest an alternative policy that he's happy with, but keep in mind that his extreme policy is probably the result of past experiences with immature students abusing access to their phones.

  • I particularly like the suggestion to seek a dialogue and start a conversation about the subject matter and its rationale instead of embarking in a power fight. From a philosophical perspective, living together means to find rules which moderate our respective interests in a fair manner. It's legitimate to pursue one's own interests, both for you and your professor, and find a rule which respects both. Commented Feb 19, 2020 at 6:57
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    It's not, as you say, "his room". It's his during class hours but a professor can't commandeer a room at random times of the day and think he can make it his personal domain.
    – G. Allen
    Commented Feb 20, 2020 at 1:19
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    @G.Allen: Unless he can. For adjuncts with crappy working conditions, that room may double as both office (when not teaching) and classroom. Even beyond that, there is a reasonable period, particularly before class, when the room becomes "their room" for the purpose of setting up prior to class, which depending on subject could easily extend for over half an hour (e.g. lab set up for physical sciences). Or they're providing help hours before and after class that the phone disturbs. The OP explicitly notes the classroom is off-limits to students until the teacher arrives after all. Commented Feb 20, 2020 at 7:24
  • His room, his rules? I hope he can not impose arbitrary rules (students must be only in their underwear, are not allowed to write their notes on a gray sheet of paper, students must adress him as "my lord" etc.)
    – user111388
    Commented Feb 21, 2020 at 23:19

Even after class he threatens to write me up for having my phone out whether it’s just to check the time or look something up. (I’m usually the last to leave as I don’t feel the need to rush out of the room and generally try to clean up pretty well before I go)

Have you considered that this behavior of yours could be considered quite rude and might in fact be the root of the teacher's blanket "no phones before/during/after class" policy?

Because students aren't allowed in the room without a teacher present, your mulling about after class is the only thing keeping them from heading home to their family, dinner, hobbies, research, etc.

They are probably far less upset about the phone itself so much as the fact that you're choosing to waste their time with a personal activity could be done in a hallway, library, etc. on your own time.

  • This is a really insightful perception! Commented Feb 19, 2020 at 20:41
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    "Students aren't allowed in a classroom without a teacher present"? Not in my Uni in the U.S. Commented Feb 19, 2020 at 22:59
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    @paulgarrett: The OP explicitly says "The teacher is in the room as students aren’t allowed in otherwise", so it applies here. Commented Feb 20, 2020 at 7:28

The Professor needs a (relatively) quiet classroom before and after class:

  • Before class - to prepare, concentrate and/or relax before teaching - which is a stressful and demanding activity.
  • After class - to gather up his things and collect his/her thoughts and observations of the dynamics during class, and/or to attend to students who come up to him/her after class.

On the other hand, you can very well go outside the classroom to use your phone.

So, it is legitimate, justifiable, and moral for the Professor to expect of you, and demand of you, not to use your phone before and after class.

... but if it's 30 minutes or more before class, that's excessive, and I'm not sure s/he is within his rights to do that. Using an empty classroom for phone conversations is legitimate. In fact, as a teacher, I would avoid entering the classroom so long before class is supposed to start; I always felt it's kind of upsetting/annoying for the students.

  • Yep your last sentences hits it I think. In my years at university usually the professors and other teaching staff only entered the rooms like 3 minutes before lesson start - except they had something to build up (like experiment stuff) - then of course they'd arrive earlier - but were likewise busy that they would hardly take notice of students using their phone - especially like in your case, mostly typing messages. I see a point for the professor where your phone is loud ... like alarms or call-signs - I usually had my phone silenced.
    – eagle275
    Commented Feb 19, 2020 at 12:53
  • @eagle275: That gets into the questions of how large the class is, how loud the speaker's voice is etc.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Feb 19, 2020 at 13:07
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    Why should a teacher avoid entering a classroom long before class? Plus, the student is not allowed in without a teacher, so the point is moot anyway. Commented Feb 21, 2020 at 2:52
  • @CaptainEmacs: "the student is not allowed in without a teacher" - I was talking about my own experience; in my university there is no such restriction.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Feb 21, 2020 at 7:22
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    @einpoklum There are so many strange rules in various places (including ours) that I take the truth of this condition for granted. I do not think that OP wants to fight the random bureaucratic decree of their location (about rooms not being accessible without teacher), as it would be unwise. Commented Feb 21, 2020 at 11:43

I'm going to take a contrary position here and say the professor is being unreasonable. He gets to set the rules during his class but, as I've pointed out in several comments, a professor can't just commandeer a room. If peace and quiet are important to him then he could always just deny students access to the room until just before class starts and make sure everyone leaves promptly afterwards.

With that said, I don't know that you have a lot of options here. You could always complain to the dean or department chair but is this really a fight that you want? You're going to be antagonizing someone who has some influence over your immediate future so you might just be better off putting the phone away until you're out of the room.

  • 3
    Wait. So it's reasonable to deny access to the room, but unreasonable to allow access without cell phone use? I would think the latter is more reasonable than the former.
    – user81899
    Commented Feb 20, 2020 at 16:06
  • @Richter65 Honestly, I think it would be a little unusual for a professor to take over a room for his personal use. However, trying to order students around outside of the classroom environment without a compelling reason should clearly be out of bounds.
    – G. Allen
    Commented Feb 21, 2020 at 21:47
  • Actually, I do believe that it would be easier to defend (say, in court) "I don't allow access to a room" than "I do not allow phones in the room". For the latter, one could always claim one has to prepare (even, if this is not true).
    – user111388
    Commented Feb 21, 2020 at 23:23
  • Agreed: ordering students outside the classroom environment is unreasonable. The question (which has been explored in many of these answers) is whether this counts as a "classroom environment". Clearly the professor thinks it does. If we agree he's within his rights to deny access, to me that adds more weight to his viewpoint. I also agree that a blanket "I don't allow access" may be easier to defend bureaucratically, but to me that's kind of a sad reflection on our bureaucracy. So I can understand a willingness to "compromise" and allow access without cell phones. (Just my $0.02)
    – user81899
    Commented Feb 23, 2020 at 21:32

He's joking. There is no such thing as a demerit in college. If he wanted to penalize you, he would say, I'm taking 3 points off your grade every time I see you with that phone out. Read the syllabus for his class policy on phones.

  • 7
    That's quite the sweeping statement. A quick google search for "university demerit" seems to indicate that at least some universities in the USA do have demerits.
    – Maaark
    Commented Feb 19, 2020 at 12:21
  • 2
    Whoa, demerits in college in the U.S.? I may (facetiously) start threatening demerits to the grad students in my dept... Long ago, I did give literal, physical gold stars... Commented Feb 19, 2020 at 23:03

The limitation isn't one of "time," but rather of "space."

Basically, as long as the professor is in the classroom, it is his "room," even though class is not in session. So he can set the rules for the classroom during his time there.

He can't forbid you from using your phone, before, after, or during the class as long as you are outside the classroom. (He may prevent you from entering or leaving during class, but that's a different matter.

  • 1
    No, it isn't. I can't wander into a random room at an arbitrary time of the day and claim it as my own. The room is his during class and that's where his authority should end.
    – G. Allen
    Commented Feb 20, 2020 at 1:21
  • @G.Allen If he has multiple lectures in a row, I would argue that it's still his in the 10 minutes or so between them. Alternatively, sometimes a classroom or lecture theatre is allocated to a specific Professor, especially if they require specialist equipment either for their demonstrations, or as a result of a disability. Finally, some Universities (certainly among older ones in Europe) even have the classroom, office, and the Professor's private apartment all linked together - you're basically having classes in their oversized sitting room. Commented Feb 20, 2020 at 20:14
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    @G.Allen: "The teacher is in the room as students aren’t allowed in otherwise," according to the OP. The University has told the professor when he may/should be in the room at such and such times. and given him control over the room while he's there. I don't agree with it, but that appears to be university policy.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Feb 20, 2020 at 23:11
  • @TomAu "The University has told the professor when he may/should be in the room at such and such times" I didn't get that from the original post. My reading was that the professor has just taken up residence outside of regular class hours.
    – G. Allen
    Commented Feb 21, 2020 at 21:50
  • @Chronocidal You made several valid points, none of which are stated in the original post. In fact, the asker specifically referenced getting to the room upwards of an hour early so this doesn't appear to be a case of the professor staying in the room between consecutive classes.
    – G. Allen
    Commented Feb 21, 2020 at 21:52

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