A guide to academic grievances

No consistent university-wide policy; grievance policies for faculties decided on an individual basis

The writing of grievance policies is left up to individual faculties but none have comprehensive guidelines. No faculty requires its professors to submit exams for approval before they are administered nor do they have policy regarding WebCT use. Other grievance procedures tend to follow a similar pattern from faculty to faculty.

Last semester, students taking NURS 403 were accused of academic dishonesty after it came to light that they had accessed practice questions that had accidentally been posted on the course’s WebCT site.

Nursing students aren’t the only ones who lack recourse when it comes to problems with tests and exams.

Cynthia Baker, director of the School of Nursing, said students who can’t resolve a disagreement over a grade with their instructor should then appeal to the department for the exam or assignment to be reread.

“Basically, the student writes to the school director requesting a formal review and the director appoints two examiners to go through all the course exams and assignments,” she told the Journal via e-mail. “The result is a final academic decision that can be appealed only on procedural grounds.

“Students may also appeal a final grade based on extenuating circumstances or on procedural grounds by writing to the director, who forwards it to the School of Nursing Appeals Committee.”

Academic appeals in the school of nursing are governed by the Procedures for Review of Student Progress and Appeals Process, which doesn’t have any specific rules referring to academic integrity on WebCT or any other online resource.

George Boland, associate director of the School of Business, said a disputed exam result would be re-evaluated by both the professor in charge of the course and a second faculty member, adding that exams for commerce courses are never marked solely by TAs.

Once the exam has been re-marked, Boland said, a decision would be made whether the original grade would be upheld.

Lynann Clapham, associate dean (academic) for the Faculty of Applied Science, said academic grievances that arise when engineering students take courses in Arts and Science have led to inconsistent practices.

“In light of this, we have recently begun to re-examine some of our procedures and will be making some changes in the near future.”

Clapham said she will be overseeing the re-examination in consultation with the Faculty of Arts and Science, adding that she plans to have the revised policies in place by the end of the summer.

Clapham said professors usually write new exams every year, but there are no rules requiring them to do so.

“Professors realize that exams are available on the exambank, so students have access to old exams. So professors generally create new exam questions every year,” she said.

The Faculty of Arts and Science Calendar states that students who want to challenge their grades or sanctions against them must first appeal to the associate dean (studies). If necessary, the student can then appeal to the Academic Integrity and Control Panel. The final level of appeal is to the University Student Appeal Board, which examines the previous decisions that were made and not the original appeal itself.

Vice-Principal (Academic) Patrick Deane said practices relating to academic grievances are generally set at the department level.

“Exams are very much a local issue,” he said. “The faculty tends not to have any direct involvement unless there is some sort of appeal.”

Deane said he doesn’t hear many complaints from students regarding the appeals process, and attributes this to the many available avenues for appeal.

He said faculties don’t keep track of professors against whom complaints have been made because protocol for addressing academic grievances dictates that no assumptions of fault be made before a decision is made.

“Grievances tend to be dealt with one by one,” he said. “These things are not monitored in any formal way.”

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.