Students

Grievance Policy

 

Introduction

Columbia University is an academic community committed to fostering intellectual inquiry in a climate of academic freedom and integrity. Its members are expected to uphold these principles and to exhibit tolerance and respect for others. Accordingly, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) condemns all forms of misconduct and works strenuously to assure that its students are accorded tolerance, dignity and respect. Any student in GSAS who believes that he or she is a victim of misconduct may make use of the mediation and grievance procedures developed by the Graduate School.

The GSAS Procedure for Student Grievances, which was most recently revised and approved by the Executive Committee of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in the academic year 2006-2007, governs cases in which a student has a complaint against any individual subject to the authority of the Dean, such as a GSAS administrator or a fellow GSAS student. Grievances against Arts and Sciences faculty members are governed by the procedures of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Note: In the text of this document "complaint" is used in the most general sense to cover all the types of issues requiring mediation and/or resolution that are addressed herein. Complaints as specific actions brought by a student are distinguished procedurally by "informal complaint" or "informal resolution" on the one hand and "grievance" or “formal grievance” on the other.

Students with questions about the procedures described herein should contact the GSAS Office of Student Affairs.

Complaints Concerning Non-Academic Matters lists the locations of the complete policies and procedures pertaining to issues primarily involving perceived discrimination, sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, or misconduct in research. Complaints Concerning Academic Matters describes issues that this document addresses specifically: those that directly and closely involve perceived unfairness in academic matters.

Students have recourse to the procedure that they feel is most appropriate for resolution.

Students should not lodge complaints in more than one office at a time.

Complaints Concerning Non-Academic Matters

Equal Educational Opportunity and University Policies on Discrimination, Discriminatory Harassment, or Sexual Harassment

The University’s Student Policies and Procedures on Discrimination and Harassment include definitions of terms, statements of policy, and a description of procedures regarding complaints of discrimination, discriminatory harassment, and sexual harassment. The preamble to that document states that Columbia “does not discriminate against or permit harassment of employees or applicants for employment on the basis of race, color, sex, gender (including gender identity and expression), pregnancy, religion, creed, national origin, age, alienage and citizenship, status as a perceived or actual victim of domestic violence, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, military status, partnership status, genetic predisposition or carrier status, arrest record, or any other legally protected status.” Supplementary information is contained in the Consensual Romantic and Sexual Relationship Policy Between Faculty and Students.

Where appropriate, students may use the University procedures relating to complaints of discrimination and harassment described above as an alternative to the GSAS Procedure for Student Grievances explained below in Complaints Concerning Academic Matters. Complaints of discrimination or sexual harassment may be lodged through the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, the Ombuds Office, or the Dean of the school of the person against whom the student has a complaint (if that person is a student).

If the complainant believes the matter involves criminal activity, he or she should contact the Department of Public Safety.

Sexual Misconduct

The University's Policy on Sexual Assault and the disciplinary procedure for sexual assault (PDF) apply only to charges brought against students. Complaints concerning sexual assault by a student may be brought to the attention of the Student Services for Gender-Based and Sexual Misconduct (212-854-1717; Wien Hall, Suite 108l; ssgbsm@columbia.edu).

Misconduct, Dishonesty or Fraud in Research

For the definition of misconduct in research and the procedure to be followed in allegations of misconduct, see Appendix C of the Faculty Handbook. Allegations of such misconduct on the part of a faculty member should be brought to the attention of the dean of the school to which the faculty member belongs.

Complaints Concerning Academic Matters

Section 70a of the Statutes of Columbia University states that “Academic freedom implies that all officers of instruction are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subjects; that they are entitled to freedom in research and in the publication of its results; and that they may not be penalized by the University for expressions of opinion or associations in their private or civic capacity; but they should bear in mind the special obligations arising from their position in the academic community.”

These procedures, in other words, treat academic matters pertaining to the individual student rather than those pertaining to the nature or quality of elements of a course, such as its content, method of instruction, instruction, assignments, etc.

Types of Complaints

Types of complaints that may be addressed by the GSAS Procedure for Student Grievances include, but are not limited to:

  • Violation or misapplication of departmental academic rules and regulations so as to be unfair or in conflict with Graduate School or University policy.
  • Unfair or inappropriate decisions concerning financial aid or teaching or research fellow assignments.
  • Excessive or unreasonable demands on a TA or RA made by a faculty member or department. University and academic holidays must be observed, as well as reasonable requests for time off made with sufficient notice.
  • Violation of Graduate School or University rules and regulations or misapplication of Graduate School or University policy.
  • Disrupting, refusing to comply with or preventing another's free expression or dissemination of ideas in the performance of his or her responsibilities as a student or faculty member (e.g. conducting research, teaching).
  • Other interpersonal conflicts that negatively and unfairly affect the student’s academic environment and progress.
  • Retaliation against a student arising from bringing a complaint or concern to an office, program, or department of the GSAS.

In some cases, an initial review of the complaint may determine that the matter is more appropriately addressed as a violation of University policies on discrimination, discriminatory harassment, or sexual harassment (see above).

For a grievance that consists only of a grade appeal, please refer to the Grading System page.

GSAS Procedure for Student Grievances

Informal Resolution

If possible, the student should first discuss the matter with the individual(s) directly involved. If no resolution results, the student should consult his or her advisor, Director of Graduate Studies, Chair, the Ombuds officer, or an appropriate dean or administrator in GSAS. The GSAS Office of Student Affairs may help with informal resolutions and offer suggestions about resolving the matter within the student's department or program, if applicable. Every effort should be made to resolve the matter at an informal level before escalating the complaint to the status of a formal grievance. Discussions aimed at informal resolution must remain confidential and generally last for no more than 30 working days.

Mediation

Any student who has not reached an informal resolution and prefers to avoid escalating the complaint to the status of a formal grievance may request a mediation session at the Graduate School. Mediation is an informal and confidential process through which the grievant and the accused student can participate in a search for a fair and workable solution. Mediation requires the consent of both parties and suspends the grievance procedure for up to 30 working days, which can be extended at the discretion of the Graduate School upon the consent of both parties. Complaints that are addressed through mediation need not be made in writing. The parties may agree to a variety of solutions ranging, for instance, from the modification of a TA or RA assignment to an apology. A written document, which will remain confidential to both parties, may be produced to memorialize the agreement.

Filing a Formal Grievance

If no informal resolution occurs and the student wishes to make a formal grievance, the student should, within two weeks of the abandonment of attempts at informal resolution, inform in writing the Office of Student Affairs that he or she has rejected any offer made during the informal process of resolution (if such was made) and that he or she intends to file a formal grievance. Within two weeks following such notice, the student should submit a written statement to the Dean documenting and describing the source of the complaint, its consequences, and the informal efforts at resolution made to date. This statement must also include a description of the remedy sought.

Review of the Grievance Statement

The Dean will review the written statement and consult with the Office of Student Affairs to suggest the appropriate action: either (a) to refer the grievance to the Grievance Committee (see below) or (b) with the agreement of the grievant, to refer the complaint to the appropriate department or office if the issue seems not to be one that falls within the purview of the Dean's office of the Graduate School.

Formation and Proceeding of the Grievance Committee

If the complaint is forwarded to the Grievance Committee, the Office of Student Affairs convenes the committee to review the written statement. The proceeding may involve one or more meetings, depending on how long it takes to collect, present, and evaluate the evidence needed to review the grievance.

A GSAS associate dean will chair the Grievance Committee, which will consist of a second GSAS student affairs staff member and, depending on the nature of the case, a faculty member included for expertise and present through the hearing until the point of deliberation.

The grievant attends the proceeding and, if he or she wishes, may select a faculty member, graduate student or Graduate School administrator to attend the meeting and serve as his or her advocate. The advocate may not pose questions or intervene in the proceedings, but may talk quietly or pass notes to the grievant in a non-disruptive manner. The advocate is not privy to deliberations and does not vote. If the grievant chooses not to attend, he or she will be informed that the committee will proceed to a decision.

The merits of the grievance are evaluated within the context of the University and Graduate School policy, a consensus is reached by a majority vote and, when appropriate, a remedy is recommended. The Committee responds with a written decision in a timely fashion, that is, no later than the end of the semester following that in which the grievance was filed.

Appeal

If the grievant is not satisfied with this decision, he or she may appeal in writing to the Dean. This appeal must be submitted within 30 working days of the decision to the Dean who will decide the matter, ordinarily within 30 days.

If the student is unsatisfied with the School resolution in a matter related to faculty misconduct, he or she may consult the grounds and procedures for appeal to the grievance committee of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.