Activities and Operations
Classroom teaching raises many different legal compliance issues. While not all of them are the responsibility of the faculty member teaching the class, it is important that everyone involved in teaching has a general awareness of the issues in play - so that if any of them arise or cause a problem in your classroom, you can identify it and initiate action to address it.
The compliance issues to keep in mind when teaching include:
- Students enroll, submit assignments and receive grades and any related information forms part of their "student record", which is protected by a Federal law called FERPA. Student records must be handled in accordance with that law, by all those who have access to student records. For instance, FERPA prohibits the posting of grades by the student's name or ID number; and a system must be used in returning student tests and papers to prevent access and/or release to anyone other than the student. Read more on our Student Records compliance page.
- Class materials - when creating and reproducing class materials, there are copyright compliance issues to consider. Refresh yourself on the legal limits of how you can and cannot use or hand out materials in your classes (or post them on CTools) by reviewing the U-M Library Copyright Office's page on using copyrighted materials.
- Teaching spaces must comply with facilities related safety and access laws. This includes respecting the maximum occupancy limits for fire safety, knowing where the nearest fire extinguisher is, and knowing how to evacuate the space you are teaching in. Consult the Provost's page on Classroom safety for instructors for helpful guidance.
- If the class has a laboratory component - the lab will have occupational safety and environmental health (OSEH) requirements, and there may be permits associated with the lawful use or supervision of certain equipment or chemicals: see OSEH's Biological and laboratory safety page for more information, and familiarize yourself and your students with any standard operating procedures in place in the lab being used.
- Faculty interaction with students - keep it professional and be aware of the Faculty-Student Relationships Policy (SPG 601.22). See the Provost's page on faculty-student relationships for more guidance, which includes FAQs.
- Having GSIs or graders - raises employment compliance issues, such as equity and tax laws; and immigration compliance issues if they are international students. It is also important that GSIs have an awareness of the various compliance issues that can arise in the classroom, as summarized on this page.
- International students and class attendance - if an international student is constantly failing to attend class or submit assessment activities, that may be inconsistent with their visa status, and may put them at risk of deportation (and put U-M at risk of non-compliance if we fail to report such a problem). If you are worried about the attendance of an international student, speak to someone in the International Center.
- Student support - ensuring equal access and treatment raises equity compliance issues. In particular, federal legislation mandates that the University provide reasonable accommodations that afford equal opportunity for all students, including those with disabilities. The Faculty Handbook developed by Services for Students with Disabilities gives an overview of disabilities that affect learning in a college or university setting and guidance on the adjustments that can be made to accommodate students with disabilities.
- Academic integrity - Students must comply with the Honor Codes of the University and academic integrity policies of the school or college where they are studying. If you suspect you have a case of academic dishonesty, consult your department's policies and seek advice from a supervising faculty member or your department chair.
- Incidents in the classroom, such as an assault by one student of another, need to be reported to the Department of Public Safety, so that U-M's crime reporting obligations can be met.
- Field trips or student placements - raise additional compliance issues, particularly around safety. Student placements can also raise credentialing and confidentiality issues that you should help the students familiarize themselves with before commencing any placement.
- New academic programs and courses - academic programs and courses must meet specific criteria (due to legislative or regulatory restrictions) in order to be eligible for financial aid. If a class is outside the normal teaching schedule or semesters, students may not be able to receive financial aid or assistance towards that class. When developing new programs or courses, you should always discuss your proposal with the Financial Aid Office, who can help you determine whether or not it is eligible for financial aid. If it isn't, you should clearly communicate that to students.
If you want to learn more, contact the Compliance Coordinator. We would be happy to come and talk to a group of instructional faculty and staff in your department about spotting compliance issues in the classroom.