I've known some professors to ban laptops from their class. Students often complain about this, and one argument they make is based on a kind of transactional view of higher education. They argue that, since they are paying tuition for their courses, it is their right to conduct themselves as they wish (to use laptops, perhaps even to send text messages on their phones or take naps) so long as they do not disturb others. For similar reasons, many students complain that things like attendance requirements are also illegitimate. Is this reasonable? Do professors have a right to enforce a more demanding classroom ethic?

I don't know about this "transactional" model of college education -- for one thing, tuition doesn't begin to pay for the cost of higher ed, so a student is deluded if he or she thinks higher ed is a straightforward economic exchange -- but let's leave aside my scruples about that and examine the major premise here, which is that if one has contracted for something, one is not subject to any regulation in one's use of that thing.

This premise is obviously false. For one thing, it might be part of the contract that there are "terms and conditions" governing both the provider of the good or service, and the consumer. So in downloading a movie or some music, you agree not to show the movie or play the music for any commercial purpose. Similarly, a student who enrolls in a college agrees to abide by the regulations set by the school -- generally encoded in a student handbook. (Faculty, similarly, are required to abide by the regulations in the faculty handbook). I expect that, for almost all colleges, the faculty are given the right to determine some of the rules for their particular classes -- like whether or not students must raised their hands before speaking, and whether or not they are allowed to use electronic devices when class is in session. (An exception -- colleges and universities generally require faculty to permit the use of such devices if they are needed to accommodate a student's disability.)

Another reason the premise is false is that individual contracts cannot invalidate general, background laws. So for example, a professor has a copyright on any of the materials he or she produces for the classroom, unless he or she explicitly waives those rights. That means that if a student gives copies of a handout or an exam to a note-taking company, who then sells the materials, the company (and possibly the student) are liable for suit for copyright infringement. This may hold as well for photos of slides or chalkboards.

Maybe the students who make this argument would find their professors more receptive if they asked them, respectfully, whether they would consider a change of policy, and gave some pedagogical pertinent reasons for doing so.

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