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Academic Concerns, Complaints, and Grievances

Columbia University is committed to fostering intellectual inquiry in a climate of academic freedom and integrity. Its members, students and faculty alike, are expected to uphold these principles and exhibit tolerance and respect for others.

When a student believes that a faculty member has failed to meet his or her obligations in an instructional setting, the student has two principal sources of immediate assistance: the University's Ombuds Office and the professional staff of the School in which the student is enrolled.

The Ombuds Office is available to help students find solutions to a wide range of problems arising in the context of their association with the university, including those involving faculty misconduct in an instructional setting. Students may wish to consult with the Ombuds Office before taking their concerns to the School, or they may wish to consult with the Ombuds Office at any time in the course of their discussions with School officials or, eventually, with members of the Vice President's Grievance Committee.

Like the Ombuds Office, each of the Schools has a professional staff ready to help students with concerns and complaints of many kinds, including those involving faculty misconduct in an instructional setting. The staff works with students and faculty to resolve such issues, but should resolution not be possible, the student may avail herself or himself of the School's grievance procedures.

The following procedures are part of a process to ensure that student concerns about experiences in the classroom or with faculty are addressed in an informed and appropriate manner.

Due to the size and diverse nature of our scholarly community, each school maintains its own processes for addressing a variety of student life issues, including students' concerns about experiences in the classroom or with faculty at their school. Experience has shown that most student concerns are best resolved in a collaborative way at the school level, starting with the advising dean or dean of students, as explained below for your particular school.

The grievance procedures available through the office of the Vice President for Arts and Sciences are intended to complement, not substitute for, the procedures available in each of the Schools, and they treat a considerably more limited range of issues. They are designed to address only those cases involving professional misconduct by a faculty member of Arts and Sciences in an instructional setting in which there were significant irregularities or errors in applying School procedures. Information on this process can be found on the Faculty of the Arts and Sciences Website.

If the instructor at issue is not a member of the Arts and Sciences faculty, the student should consult the instructor’s particular school for its procedures.

Columbia College Process for Expressing Academic Concerns, Complaints, and Grievances

Columbia College students are members of a University community committed to fostering intellectual inquiry within a climate of academic freedom and integrity. Students and faculty alike are expected to promote these goals in the context of inclusiveness, mutual respect, and tolerance for others, as ideas are explored, facts gathered, opinions weighed, and conclusions drawn. We work together with the understanding that we are, first and foremost, an educational community with teaching and learning at the heart of our enterprise and many educational opportunities beyond the walls of the classroom. Central to all of our procedures is our educational mission, and it is this educational mission which also informs our process for dealing with academic concerns, complaints, and grievances. From time to time a student may have concerns about a particular classroom experience, a specific curricular matter, or a faculty member’s actions that seem not to be consistent with the highest ideals of our community. Different kinds of academic concerns and complaints will require different approaches to resolve them satisfactorily. The student should speak first with his or her advising dean who will help the student determine how best to proceed. It may, for example, be the case that the issue is best taken up with the student's instructor. If, after a discussion with the advising dean, it is clear that the student does not feel comfortable speaking directly with the instructor, the advising dean will then advise and support the student in a different course of action.

For all procedures that are handled in the College, we attempt first to resolve issues on an informal and educational basis, making sure that those involved
understand each other's point of view, before moving toward more formal procedures of complaint and redress.In every case we seek to address issues in a timely manner (see Timeframe for Proceedings) at the most immediate level available, before moving up to higher levels of authority and responsibility.

Concerns about Grades or Other Academic Assessments

The awarding of grades and all other academic evaluations rests entirely with the faculty. If a student has a concern relating to a particular grade or other assessment of his or her academic work, the student first should speak with the instructor of the class to understand how the grade or other evaluation was derived and to address the student's specific concern. If the student does not feel comfortable speaking with the class instructor about the matter, he or she should bring the issue to the attention of the department chair, the director of undergraduate studies, or his or her advising dean in order to seek advice on how best to address the issue.

If the student is unable thus to resolve the matter to his or her satisfaction and believes that a procedural issue is involved, the student should bring the matter to the attention of the Dean of Academic Affairs. The dean will work with the student and the faculty to determine whether there has been a procedural breach and, if so, take immediate steps to remedy the matter. If relevant faculty other than the instructor, together with the dean, decide that the grade or other academic evaluation was appropriate, given class assignments and circumstances, the student will be informed and the decision will be final.

Complaints Involving a Faculty Member

The Columbia faculty hold themselves to the highest professional standards, but from time to time there may be concern that their professional conduct is not consistent with the standards that the faculty have established for themselves. Those rights, duties, and obligations are delineated in the University Statutes and in the Faculty Handbook and can be found on-line at: http://www.columbia.edu/cu/vpaa/fhb/main.html.

Consistent with those duties and obligations, conduct that is grievable under these procedures include:

  1. failure to show appropriate respect in an instructional setting for the rights of others to hold opinions differing from their own;
  2. misuse of faculty authority to promote a political or social cause within an instructional setting;
  3. conduct in the classroom or another instructional setting that adversely affects the learning environment.

If a student believes that a faculty member has acted in an unprofessional manner, he or she should first speak with his or her advising dean who will work with the student to review the claim, establish the substance of the complaint, and come to a decision about how best to address the concerns raised by the student. If appropriate, the advising dean will refer the student to the Dean of Academic Affairs who, working with relevant faculty, will investigate the matter fully and attempt to resolve the matter. If the matter remains unresolved and the dean decides that further action is warranted, he or she may refer the matter to the Vice President for Arts and Sciences.

If at any time a student believes the process is not working in a constructive or timely fashion, the student may always call the Dean of the College.  If the instructor is not a member of the Arts and Sciences faculty, the advising dean will assist the student to identify the appropriate faculty and the right procedures. Each school has its own grievance procedures and they are posted on individual schools’ Web sites.

The University has alternate procedures to address other specific concerns.

If the alleged misconduct involves discrimination or harassment by a faculty or staff member, the complaint should be filed with the Office for Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action in accord with the University’s Employment Discrimination and Harassment Policies and Procedures.  Information on the policies and procedures for handling such complaints may be found online at: http://eoaa.columbia.edu/employment-policies . The use of the term “discrimination and harassment” under these policies and procedures includes discrimination, discriminatory harassment, gender-based harassment, sexual harassment, and sexual assault.

Complaints against the school's faculty that allege scientific or scholarly misconduct are also evaluated using other procedures. These are contained in
the Obligations and Responsibilities of Officers of Instruction and Research, available on-line in the Faculty Handbook

It is the policy of Columbia University that no faculty member shall have a consensual romantic or sexual relationship with a student over whom he or she exercises academic or professional authority.  The University’s Consensual Romantic and Sexual Relationship Policy Between Faculty and Students may be found on-line at http://eoaa.columbia.edu/consensual-romantic-relationships .

Timeframe for Proceedings

A student should ordinarily bring any concern or complaint within thirty (30) days of the end of the semester in which the offending conduct occurred or by the beginning of the following semester. The school process will ordinarily take thirty (30) days.

Confidentiality

At every level, those involved recognize and respect a student’s need for confidentiality when addressing certain kinds of concerns. If the student wishes complete confidentiality, any concern may be raised with the University’s Ombuds Officer, a neutral complaint handler for the University. The office offers a range of options and communication channels. Students, however, must be aware that the Ombuds Office has no authority to adjudicate a complaint; it is there as a confidential resource to students, faculty and administrators to advise on various avenues of redress and to mediate disputes, if both parties agree.

Sexual Assault, Sexual Harassment and Gender-based Harassment Policies

Complaints where students are alleged to have engaged in gender-based misconduct are processed by Student Services for Gender-Based and Sexual Misconduct  in accord with the Gender–Based Misconduct Policies for Students at: http://www.columbia.edu/cu/dpsa/docs/policy/.  The use of the term “gender-based misconduct” under these policies and procedures includes sexual assault, sexual harassment, gender-based harassment, stalking, and intimate partner violence.