Student Grievance Policy

Student Grievance Policy

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. The University Statutes and the general policies of the University describe the roles and responsibilities of faculty in their teaching and research. These policies can be found in the Faculty Handbook (Code of Academic Freedom and Tenure; Chapter 7: Obligations and Responsibility of Officers of Instruction and Research; Appendix E: Statement on Professional Ethics).

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 Executive 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 website describing individual School procedures is listed below for each of the Schools served by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Columbia College -- School of General Studies -- Graduate School of Arts and Sciences -- School of the Arts

School of International and Public Affairs -- School of Professional Studies

The grievance procedures available through the office of the Executive 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.

Students in a School not formally part of Arts and Sciences but enrolled in a course taught by an Arts and Sciences faculty member have similar access to Arts and Sciences Grievance procedures, but should consult with their own dean for help in identifying and understanding the appropriate procedures. If a student in an Arts and Sciences School wishes to file a grievance against a faculty member who is not a member of the Arts and Sciences faculty, the student should use the procedures of the School in which the faculty member is appointed. Students may, however, ask for help from their own School’s dean in identifying and understanding the appropriate procedures.

The Arts and Sciences Grievance Committee is a standing committee consisting of five faculty members in the Arts and Sciences who are appointed by the Policy and Planning Committee (PPC). Two of the members of the standing Committee will be members of the PPC. Should any member be unable to serve for any reason, PPC will appoint a substitute. The Committee schedules meetings monthly during the fall and spring academic terms and will consider requests for reviews and conduct reviews during those meetings. The Committee alone will consider all requests for reviews and normally will also conduct all appeals accepted for review, if necessary scheduling additional meetings in order to do. The Committee may, however, appoint subcommittees of tenured faculty, chaired by a member of the Grievance Committee, to conduct reviews in order to assure that they can be investigated in a timely manner. No final decision about a request for a review and no recommendation regarding a case accepted for review will be taken unless three members of the Grievance Committee, or of the subcommittee specially appointed to conduct the review, are present and voting at the relevant meeting.

The committee is charged with hearing those student grievances related to faculty misconduct in the performance of his or her duties in an instructional setting in which, in the judgment of the Committee itself, there were significant irregularities or errors in applying School procedures.

It should be understood, however, that certain cases which may involve faculty misconduct in an instructional setting do not fall under the jurisdiction either of the Schools or of the Executive Vice President’s office, but are subject to special investigatory procedures: cases involving sexual harassment or sexual misconduct; cases involving discrimination on the basis of race, color, age, national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, veteran’s status, or any other protected status; and cases involving allegations of fraud or plagiarism in research. For advice about how to pursue such issues, including advice about whether the student’s concern falls under one of these categories, students should consult either the professional staff of the School in which they are enrolled or the Ombuds Office.

Students who believe that they are able to demonstrate that the dean of their School did not ensure that proper procedures were followed in addressing their complaint about faculty misconduct in an instructional setting may ask the Arts and Sciences Grievance Committee to review the case. To do so, the student must submit a concise statement (no more than 1000 words) detailing the charge that the School officials did not follow procedures outlined in the School’s published policies and procedures, addressed to the Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs in the Arts and Sciences. In the same statement the student must summarize the original complaint and the procedures that the School followed in considering the complaint. The student’s appeal must be submitted within the first 30 working days of the semester following the semester in which the School procedures were concluded (but may be submitted earlier). (Here and throughout this document, “working days” are understood to exclude summer terms, weekends, and University holidays.) The student’s status at the time of filing the grievance is unaffected by the fact of having filed a grievance. At the same time the student files the appeal, he or she must notify the dean of the School of the filing and provide the dean a copy of the filing. Within 15 working days of the student’s submission, the dean will provide the Committee with a statement explaining how the student’s complaint was addressed and will provide the student a copy of that document. Both the student and the dean’s office should provide as precise an account as possible of the relevant dates, the names of individuals involved in discussion of the complaint, and the efforts made to resolve the issue.

The Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs will forward the request for a review to the Grievance Committee, along with the dean’s statement, and the Committee will determine if, in the judgment of a majority of the members present and voting, and on the basis of the documents submitted by both the student and the dean, the case itself merits review. The Committee may, in some instances, decide that the case should be returned to the School for further action, but if issues that fall within the purview of this Committee remain after the case has been sent back to the School, the Committee may consider the request again. In all cases, however, the Committee’s decision about whether to hear the appeal is final.

The Committee's examination of a grievance accepted for review is not an adversarial proceeding but an academic review consistent with University standards of conduct for faculty in their teaching roles adopted under University Statutes and other University procedures. Its sole objective is to determine whether School procedures were properly observed in hearing the case. The Committee may invite the dean of the School, the faculty member involved in the case, and the student to appear before the Committee, and each may be accompanied by a supporter of his or her choice from the Columbia community who, however, may not participate in the proceedings. None of the parties to the case will be obligated to appear, but if any of the parties to the case is invited, an invitation will be extended to all.

In addition to the written statements and testimony of the student and the faculty member, the Committee may collect and consider any information it deems relevant and hear from anyone it deems to have relevant information. Both the student and faculty member may suggest the names of persons with relevant information, but the Committee makes the final decision about whom to interview.

The proceedings and the Committee's deliberations shall be confidential and not open to the public.

The Committee’s report will be forwarded to the Executive Vice President for Arts and Sciences for action, who may adopt, reject or modify the recommendations. His or her action on the Committee report will be in writing and, along with a copy of the Committee's report, will be available to the dean, the faculty member and the student.

The Committee will consider requests for review in the order they are presented to the Associate Vice President. The Committee will make every effort to address requests for reviews during the first monthly meeting after they have been submitted and to inform students of its decision within 10 working days thereafter. (Note that the Committee meets only once monthly and only during the spring and fall academic terms.) Cases accepted for review will be dealt with in the order accepted, and the Associate Vice President will inform students about the expected timetable for the process of review itself.  The Executive Vice President will issue his or her decision regarding recommendations made by the Committee in a timely fashion, usually within 30 working days after having received the written recommendation of the Committee.

In the event that they are not satisfied with the decision of the Executive Vice President, either the student or the faculty member may appeal the Executive Vice President's decision to the Provost, whose decision is final. Both the findings of fact and any remedy or penalty assessed may be appealed. Where the sanction involves a recommendation for termination of tenure or termination of a term appointment prior to its specified term, such dismissal must be effected by the procedures contained in Section 75 of the University Statutes.