Halted student appeal prompts recommendations for Senate

Lengthy appeals of dismissed student highlight 'inconsistency' between policies

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The appeals of a dismissed Queen’s student have prompted recommendations to fill gaps in University Senate policies after the student’s fourth appeal was halted.

According to a written report to Senate, the appeals of an anonymous student have highlighted “inconsistency” between Senate policies governing appeals. 

In response, the University’s Harassment and Discrimination Complaint Board recommended three solutions to the policy gaps.

The report recommended Senate write the principle of “double jeopardy” into policy, stating it will “prevent re-litigation of student complaints.” According to the report, Queen’s abides by this principle, though it isn’t reflected in written policy.

Double jeopardy maintains that if a student is charged under one policy, whether acquitted or found guilty and sanctioned, those events cannot be the basis of a later process under another policy like the Harassment and Discrimination Policy or the Sexual Violence Policy. 

The report suggests Senate “periodically review its policies” to ensure there isn’t “unnecessary overlap, duplication, or inconsistency between various policies, and that the relationship or priorities of policies is clear.”

According to the report, the unnamed student’s appeals stemmed from his poor academic performance in late 2015 and his failure of a qualifying exam.

In February of 2015, some members of the student’s department learned the student was facing a criminal charge for a sexual offence. As a result, the University barred the student from working as a Teaching Assistant, but maintained his funding support and allowed him to remain at Queen’s.

In November of 2015, a supervisor told the student his thesis proposal suffered “key and substantial weaknesses,” suggesting he defer his thesis defence.

According to the report, despite detailed warnings of serious academic concerns, the student proceeded with the qualifying exam on Nov. 20, 2015, which he failed. 

The student appealed internally, but failed his second attempt at the test on April 1, 2016. He then appealed to the department head, who reviewed the student’s case and maintained he must withdraw from the program based on poor academic performance.

The student then went to the University Student Appeals Board (USAB). In a written statement of appeal on May 19, 2017, the student wrote, “the primary basis of this appeal is that I have been treated to discrimination and bias/prejudice by not only the History Department, but the University as a whole.”

The USAB concluded while there was “limited evidence” to support an argument that some in the department had concerns about the student’s criminal charge, there was “overwhelming” evidence of his academic concerns which led to his failure of the qualifying exam and required withdrawal.

“The USAB concluded that “the evidence does not bear … out” the claims of [the student] about bias or discrimination, against either those on his Examining Committee or the Department Head,” the report read.

According to the report, the University Student Rights and Appeals document states decisions made by the body are final and not subject to further appeal. Despite this, the student sought further advice from the Human Rights Office. 

When consulting the Human Rights Office, the student was informed he could still make a complaint based on discrimination to the Harassment and Discrimination Complaint Board (HDCB). A complaint to the board isn’t “explicitly precluded” by the rights and appeals guidelines.

“As a result of his meetings at the Human Rights Office, [the student] came to “understand” his “unfair treatment,” in the words of his counsel at the HDCB hearing,” with a “new lens,”” the report read. 

The student decided to file a complaint with the HDCB, naming the History Department, the School of Graduate Studies, and seven faculty members who had been involved with the student during his time at Queen’s in the complaint.

According to the report, the student’s complaint to the HDCB contained “almost exactly” the same claims as his prior appeal to USAB.

“When asked at the HDCB hearing whether there was any new or different evidence from that presented at USAB, his counsel acknowledged that there was not,” the report read.

In response to the complaint, the University Counsel made a preliminary objection about “Issue Estoppel”—the reason for the report to Senate. Issue Estoppel applies where an issue in a legal action was decided in a previous action. 

The move follows the principle of double jeopardy that the University already abides by.

The board heard arguments about whether the University’s objection applied to the student’s case, finding eventually that it satisfied the conditions of Issue Estoppel.

The report to Senate acknowledges the potential for the student’s case to create a precedent for future cases within the university and submitted recommendations to Senate.

In a memo to Senate, Lon Knox, university secretariat, recommended that Senate refer the case document and recommendations to the Office of the University Ombudsman in order for it to conduct a policy and procedure review.

The Ombudsman will report back to Senate with recommendations by its March, 26, 2019 meeting.

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