Student Complaint Guidelines and Contact Information
The University of South Alabama has written policies and procedures governing student complaints. The following information details internal procedures for filing different types of complaints. Students are encouraged to follow these procedures. In the event that a student complaint cannot be resolved internally, contact information is provided for the Alabama Commission on Higher Education and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
If a student has a complaint, they must provide a written description of the complaint, including the date and time of the event, the person or group with whom the student has the complaint, and the names of any witnesses. The written complaint must be submitted to the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students within 30 days of the event. Complaints about academic matters also may be submitted to the deans and department chairs.
The Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students or his designee will then meet with the grievant to review the complaint, after which the Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students will determine if the complaint can be handled by that office or needs to be referred to other university officials. Examples of grievances that will be referred to other University officials include discrimination or sexual harassment complaints against faculty, which are referred to the Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs or Vice President for Medical Affairs and Dean of the College of Medicine, as appropriate, and complaints against University staff, including but not limited to discrimination or sexual harassment, which are referred to Human Resources.
Once it is determined that the Office of Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students is the appropriate forum for the resolution of the grievance, the Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students will contact the accused. At this point, every effort will be made to resolve the complaint through informal discussion with the parties.
Should informal discussion with the parties fail, and the grievant desires a hearing, the Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students will appoint an ad hoc group with two administrators, two faculty, and one student to hear the case and render a decision and recommend a remedy to the complaint. Members of the University Disciplinary Committee may be used on the committee. The ad hoc committee will meet within five (5) working days of the request for a hearing.
Should the grievance be determined by the committee to have merit, an appropriate remedy will be decided upon by the Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students and the accused’s supervisor. The accused shall have the right to appeal the decision to an administrator appointed by the Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students within seven (7) working days of the decision. The appointed administrator will render a decision on the appeal within seven (7) working days from receipt of the appeal. The decision is final.
For those complaints related to violations of the Code of Student Conduct, which are taken to the Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students, please refer to the policy in The Lowdown Code of Student Conduct for procedural steps that will be followed. If such a violation is not the basis of the complaint, the Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students will work with the complainant toward a resolution of the complainant’s issue, which may include Aid, referral to the Office of Special Student Services, etc.
A final grade grievance is defined as a student complaint regarding an academic action taken by instructional personnel is assigning a final grade for a course, qualifying exam or comprehensive exam. In addition to complaints against a particular instructor, students may also file complaints against a committee concerning academic evaluations that adversely affect them (i.e., the grade given on a comprehensive examination or a thesis or dissertation final oral exam.) Normally, such complaints can be resolved quickly through discussions with the faculty member involved. In some situations the matter cannot be satisfactorily resolved at that level. For such cases, a student may file a formal final grade grievance using the procedures specified below. (Note that while a grievance may be filed against a committee, the term “instructor” is used throughout the following description of procedure to refer to the person or entity against whom the grievance is brought.)
For a complaint about a final course grade or other academic evaluation to be considered, the complaint must be based on one or more of the following grounds and upon allegation that the ground(s) cited influenced the grade assignment to the student’s detriment:
- Arithmetical or clerical error
- Arbitrary or capricious evaluation on the part of the instructor
- Substantial failure on the part of an instructor to follow the course syllabus or other announced grading policies
- Extraordinary mitigating circumstances beyond the student’s control.
Students may not file a grade grievance until a final grade is received in a course. This procedure may not be used to complain about an instructor’s grading policy, assignments, the difficulty of a course, or other comparable matters. Finally, students may not file a grievance about a final course grade that was assigned as the result of an academic misconduct procedure.
A Final Course Grade Grievance must be filed no later than 20 class days into the succeeding semester to include summer term if the student is enrolled. Note: the term “class day” as used in this document means any weekday (Monday-Friday) during which the official University of South Alabama calendar indicates that classes are in session.
Meet with Instructor
As a prerequisite to filing a grievance and within the time frame allowed for filing a formal grade grievance (no later than 20 class days into the succeeding semester to include the summer term only if the student is enrolled), the student must attempt to resolve the matter with the instructor. In some cases, the student may make reasonable attempts to contact the instructor and be unsuccessful. If the student is unable to contact the instructor, this should be documented in writing by the student and the student must submit the written documentation to the instructor’s department chair (or dean if the department chair is either the party to the grievance or unavailable). In the absence of the instructor, the department chair/dean will act in the instructor’s stead.
Filing the Grievance Form
A Final Grade Grievance Form must be filed by the student no later than 20 class days into the succeeding semester (including summer if enrolled.) A blank Final Grade Grievance Form may be obtained on the University’s website www.southalabama.edu/, or from any departmental office, any college dean’s office, or the Office of Student Affairs. Page One of the Final Grade Grievance Form must be completely filled out and turned into the chair of the department in which the course is taught or the academic evaluation took place. The form will be dated and signed by both the department chair and the student and a copy given to the student.
If the department chair is the party against whom the grievance is being brought, the student should submit the Final Grade Grievance Form to the dean of the college in which the course is taught or the academic evaluation took place. In the event that the grievance is against the dean who is the instructor, the student should submit the Final Grade Grievance Form to the Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs.
The department chair will facilitate the grievance process unless replaced as follows:
If the department chair is the party against whom the grievance is being brought, the dean will then appoint another department chair to facilitate the grievance process.
If the dean is the party against whom the grievance is being brought, the Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs or Vice President for Medical Affairs and Dean of the College of Medicine will appoint an individual to facilitate the grievance process.
Initial Grievance Review
The department chair will arrange a conference with the student and the instructor to attempt resolution within ten (10) University class days of receipt of the Final Grade Grievance Form. For grievances filed during the summer term, instructors on nine- month contracts may not be available for a conference. In these circumstances, the department chair may schedule the conference during the following fall semester, unless the delay would unfairly penalize the student’s progress in the program.
Prior to the conference, the facilitator will ensure that both the student and instructor involved have copies of the grievance procedure. The instructor will be given a copy of the Final Grade Grievance Form filed by the student and will be allowed to examine any supporting documentation. Both parties will be informed that the purpose of the meeting is to attempt to resolve the grievance.
If a mutually satisfactory resolution is achieved during the conference, the process will end and no further action will be taken. A record of the outcome of the conference will be filed along with the Final Grade Grievance Form in the department chair’s office and the dean’s office.
If a successful resolution is not achieved at the conference, the department chair will conclude at the conference. The department chair will advise the student that he or she has the right to accept the original grade given or to request a hearing before the College Grade Grievance Committee. The student must request a hearing at the conclusion of the conference, otherwise the final course grade will stand and the student will forfeit the opportunity to appeal the grade to the Final Grade Grievance Committee. The student’s decision should be noted on the Final Grade Grievance Form. If the student accepts the grade at that point, the process ends and the form will serve as a record of that acceptance.
If the student requests a hearing, the department chair will notify the dean’s office who will convene the appropriate College Grade Grievance Committee within three (3) class days of the conclusion of the conference.
College Grade Grievance Committees
The dean of each College/school will appoint annually an Undergraduate and a Graduate Grade Grievance Committee. The Undergraduate Grade Grievance Committee will hear grade grievances of undergraduate students and the Graduate Grade Grievance Committee will hear grade grievances from graduate students.
A minimum of five faculty members and one alternate member shall be appointed from the full time faculty to each College Grade Grievance Committee. Faculty members must serve if appointed. Faculty appointed to the Graduate Grade Grievance Committee must hold graduate faculty status. A minimum of two students from the College will also be appointed by the Dean of the College to each committee. Students appointed to the Undergraduate Grade Grievance Committee will be undergraduate students. Students appointed to the Graduate Grade Grievance Committee will be graduate students.
The Dean will review the Grade Grievance Committee membership prior to a hearing to determine members who may have a conflict of interest. No member of the instructor’s department shall serve on the committee. Likewise, should a member of the Committee be a party to the grievance to be heard, an alternate should serve in their stead and they should absent themselves from any discussion of the grievance in which they are involved.
The Dean will appoint the chair and vice chair of the Grade Grievance Committee and will convene the appropriate Committee prior to a hearing to review the grade grievance process and answer any questions regarding the policy. Four faculty members and one student will constitute a quorum. The vice chair will preside in the absence of the chair.
Majority rule will apply to decisions, with the student members having full voice and vote.
Grade Grievance Committee Hearing
Upon receipt of the materials and request for a hearing, the Chair of the Grade Grievance Committee will conduct a hearing within ten (10) class days of receipt of the request. The College Grade Grievance Committee hearing process will afford both parties the right to submit any documentation, supporting witnesses, or relevant information at the hearing. Legal representation at the hearing is prohibited. The Committee will review the evidence presented by both parties, interview both parties, and make a decision in the grade grievance.
Decisions may: uphold the grade given or academic action taken, or find the grievance is valid and assign a new final course grade or impose another appropriate action. The student, instructor, department chair, and dean will be notified in writing of the Committee’s decision within three (3) class days of the conclusion of the hearing.
The only grounds for an appeal of the Dean are violation of due process or rendering a decision in conflict with University policy. Either the student or the instructor may appeal the Committee’s decision to the dean of the college in which the course is taught or the academic evaluation took place. The appeal must be in writing and must be made within ten (10) University class days of notification of the grade Grievance Committee’s decision. The dean will review the evidence presented to ensure that the Grade Grievance Policy was followed, that due process was provided, and that the decision of the committee is consistent with University policies. If the dean determines errors were made in the process or the decision rendered is inconsistent with University policies, the decision will be rescinded and the grievance will be sent back to the committee for corrective action.
The student, instructor, and department chair will be notified in writing of the dean’s decision regarding the appeal within ten (10) class days following receipt of the appeal. The dean’s decision is final and no further appeal is allowed.
Implementation of Grievance Outcome
The department chair will implement the outcome(s) of the grievance conference or appeal, as required, at the conclusion of the grievance procedure.
Throughout the entire procedure, from filing of a formal complaint to final resolution, all information related to the grievance must be kept confidential. Once a final decision has been made and implemented, the original copy of the completed Final Grade Grievance Form and related Grievance documentation will be placed in the official confidential Grievance File of the department or other academic unit in which the grievance was recorded, for a minimum of five (5) years.
The following summarizes the timeline and procedures for a Final Grade Grievance.
A final course grade grievance cannot be filed until a grade has been received in a course. A Final Grade Grievance Form must be filed by the student no later than 20 class days into the succeeding semester to include summer term if the student is enrolled.
Prior to filing a grade grievance, the student must meet with the instructor to attempt resolution. If the instructor is unavailable, the student documents the attempts to contact the instructor in writing. The student contacts the instructor’s department chair in the event a meeting with the instructor cannot be arranged. If there is no resolution, proceed to step 4.
The student completes a Final Grade Grievance Form, files the form with the department chair within the required time frame.
A facilitated grievance conference with both the student and instructor present is conducted by the department chair within 10 class days of receipt of the Final Grade Grievance Form.
If a resolution is reached in the grievance conference, resolution will be noted and the process ends.
If the student requests review by the College Grade Grievance Committee, the department chair will forward all materials within three (3) days of the request to the dean’s office. The dean will convene the appropriate College Grade Grievance Committee (i.e. the Undergraduate Grade Grievance Committee if the student is an undergraduate student or the Graduate Grade Grievance Committee if the student is a graduate student).
The Grade Grievance Committee holds a hearing within ten (10) days of receiving the request from the dean. The student and the instructor will be provided opportunity to present evidence and supporting materials.
The Committee’s written notification of their decision is made within three (3) class days to the student, instructor, department chair, and dean. The department chair will implement the decision if there is no appeal.
The student or instructor may appeal the Committee’s decision to the Dean within ten (10) class days. The only ground for an appeal are violation of due process or the rendering of a decision that conflicts with University policy. The decision of the Dean regarding the appeal is final and the process will end.