This paper addresses both ‘student engagement’ in contemporary universities, and student ‘disengagement’ – where the latter is often seen as a failure of performance, or absence of will. In a bold move, the paper asks whether students should be engaged in their university education, and whether there is value in forms of disengagement. It finds an original way in which student disengagement can be understood by drawing on the writings of Stanley Cavell – on the philosophical appeal to what we say, our search for criteria, and on ideas of acknowledgement and avoidance in his work on Shakespearian tragedy. It shows what is at stake in our attunement with, and dissent from, criteria, and how such dissent can be educative. The paper considers the film ‘Stella Dallas’, in which Stella’s aversion to, her disengagement from, her culture’s criteria, is not a passive withdrawal, but rather the finding of voice, her education as a grownup. The paper concludes that disengagement, understood as aversion, dissent and refusal of voice, is not to be seen always as a lack of action or of care, but as the opposite: the active voicing of what we will, or will not, consent to in our education.