- Daniel Boutilier
Student/Faculty Disputes: What are my options?
Not a big fan of one of your professors? Chances are you’re not alone – in almost every department there’s someone who spends two hours reading off their PowerPoint or emphasizing material that never seems to make it onto their tests. But let’s face it, between scrolling through Facebook newsfeeds, online shopping, packing up five minutes before class ends like it’s an evacuation drill, or even doing the reading that today’s lecture is focused on – the students can make a professor’s work pretty thankless as well. Most students are content to complain amongst themselves or to vent over social media, and occasionally use sites like RateMyProfessor (see some prime examples here).
But what happens when it seems like the feeling’s mutual? When your professor starts looking at you like they’re Gollum and you’re trying to take the ring?
When conflict arises between students and faculty, many students are afraid that if they complain it will adversely affect their marks and opportunities; after all, most classes have some form of project, professionalism/participation/attendance mark, or even tests with short and long-answer sections which can be graded subjectively. As a student, you might feel like it’s easier ‘grin and bear it’, achieve a passing grade, and move on to better experiences – taking care to avoid that professor when looking for electives. For some students, this will always be their personal preference; it avoids conflict, doesn’t impinge on their free time, and if their end-of-term mark is OK they’ll be thankful just to move on. While this attitude can be expedient to the individual, it may mean that students coming behind them will face similar difficulties.
So, you might ask, what are my other options?
They’re laid out in the Respectful Campus Procedures of CBU which can be found here, but we’re going to walk you through the most common situation step-by-step below:
1. Examine the situation.
What really happened/is happening here? Is this a case of discrimination directed towards you, or something else – perhaps just a particularly difficult class? Speak with a classmate or peer to get their perspective on the matter – they might confirm your thinking or offer you a different viewpoint.
2. Speak to your professor.
Have an open and respectful conversation with your professor about your concerns, ideally in person. If you feel intimidated speaking to them in person, still send them an e-mail from your CBU account outlining your concerns – in many instances you will be able to reach an understanding without involving any outside parties. The professor may be unaware of your feelings or may propose a solution you can both agree to. Keep a record of when you spoke and what was discussed, or any e-mails exchanged, in case of future issues. If you cannot reach an agreement, and still feel that you have been or are in danger of being discriminated against, move on to step 3.
3. File a complaint with the Human Rights Officer, Scott Thomas.
You’ve examined the situation and decided that yes, this is more than just a mutual dislike – this is affecting your performance in class and potentially the marks you are receiving. You’ve spoken with your professor but were not able to agree on a solution. A complaint can be filed within (6) months of an incident or series of incidents occurring. Make sure you continue to document what’s been happening and any correspondence between you and your professor. The more detailed your account the better. The Human Rights Officer will then begin a process of mediation where they attempt to reach an informal agreement between the two parties. If this is successful the agreement will be signed by both parties and the complaint closed – all documents and correspondence will remain confidential. If an agreement cannot be reached with the assistance of the Human Rights Officer, the process will continue.
4. Formal Complaint and Resolution Process
You will submit a written complaint to the Human Rights Officer and an investigation into the matter will begin, to be completed with 40 business days. It is important to note that while ideally most complaints would not proceed this far, the Human Rights Officer is able to implement some interim measures while the investigation process is ongoing, including “limiting access to facilities, making arrangement for alternative grading or supervisory relationships, or discontinuing contact between the complainant and respondent during the period of the proceedings.” So if you’re worried about your grades suffering, there are protections in place should this concern prove valid.
A couple more things to note are that if a complaint is found to be in “bad faith”, the person complaining may actually have a complaint filed towards them. An example of this would be making up an allegation because you didn’t feel someone’s exams were fair. If you make a complaint based on some valid concerns but the complaint is eventually dismissed, this doesn’t mean it was made in bad faith. Lastly, if you’re worried that after reaching an agreement your professor might turn around and rip your final paper to shreds in spite of it – this is called a ‘reprisal’ and is prohibited as part of the Respectful Campus Procedures as well.
CBU is full of great professors and such a close-knit community that hopefully any kind of dispute would be settled with a conversation. If by some unfortunate circumstance, however, you end up in a dispute that can’t be settled without outside help, then it’s important to know your options – and hopefully we’ve made those a little more clear for you going forward.