Union Institute and University

Student Complaints And Appeals

Effective July 1, 2014, as Revised

It is the policy of Union Institute & University to ensure that students have recourse to due process with regard to situations and decisions with which they disagree or where they believe they have been unfairly treated. Union Institute & University is committed to consistent and fair consideration of student complaints and appeals through processes that ensure that all parties involved in a dispute are given due consideration.

Applicability of this Policy and Procedure

This policy and procedure applies to the following persons:

    • Students enrolled in a Union Institute & University program.
    • Formerly registered students in those programs who have withdrawn or who were administratively withdrawn or dismissed. A former student’s complaint must be initiated within 30 days of the last day of her or his official registration.

This policy and procedure do not apply to the following persons:

      • Applicants for admission to a Union Institute & University academic program.
      • Formerly registered students who did not initiate the policy and procedure within 30 days of their last day of official registration.
      • Students or former students who have initiated any legal action related to the appeal or complaint. If legal action is initiated after a complaint has been filed, UI&U will immediately terminate the complaint investigation process.
      • University employees who are not students.

Areas where a student may initiate a complaint and, if necessary, a formal appeal are cited below. Most of these issues should be resolved at the program level, but a formal appeal to the VPAA will be considered if they are not resolved at that level. Typical reasons for a student complaint or appeal include, but are not limited to:

      • Course grades (students may appeal a grade for a single assignment within a course with the instructor, but may not invoke the appeal process with the vice president of academic affairs).
      • Non-responsive instructors or staff
      • Instructors who do not provide substantive feedback, or whose feedback is criticisms are not constructive.
      • Situations where the student perceives that an instructor or administrator has treated the student differently than other students.

This policy and procedure do not apply to some circumstances, including, but not limited to the following:

      • Student requests for waiver of published program policies. (A student should request a waiver from the program dean; the student may initiate the appeal process only if her/his request for a waiver is denied.)
      • Grades for single course assignments (e.g. quizzes, tests, papers). However, if the assignment in question is a major one that impacts the overall course grade (e.g. capstone, thesis, dissertation), then the student may appeal the course grade (see above).
      • Decisions regarding violation of university policies on academic integrity. (See Academic Integrity Policy and Procedure.)
      • Student complaints or grievances related to sexual or other discriminatory harassment. (See Discriminatory and Sexual Harassment Policy.)
      • Student complaints or grievances related to American with Disabilities Act issues. (See ADA Grievance Policy and Procedure).
      • Financial aid director’s decision to institute financial aid probation or termination. (See Student Financial Aid policy.)
      • Decisions made by the Institutional Review Board. (By federal regulation, decisions made by a registered Institutional Review Board may not be overridden by any other party.)

Definitions

Appeal: If a student

Dissatisfied with attempts to resolve her/his complaint informally, the student may file a formal appeal. A formal appeal may be instituted for any administrative or academic issue or decision not specifically excluded from this policy. All formal appeals must be submitted to the vice president for academic affairs (VPAA).

Complainant

A student making an informal complaint or filing a formal appeal.

Complaint

A complaint as defined under this policy is an initial written allegation by a student that there has been an arbitrary or unfair application of a policy of the university or a policy of the student’s academic program. Complaints may be administrative or academic.

  • An academic complaint is one that involves an academic decision and/or application of academic policy.
  • An administrative complaint is one that involves a non-academic decision and/or application of administrative policy.

If a student is dissatisfied with the resolution proposed at the program/departmental level, s/he may decide to file a formal appeal.

Involved Parties/Parties

The complainant and the person or persons against whom a complaint or appeal has been made.

Resolution

The outcome of a complaint or formal appeal.

Complaint and Appeal Records

A record of every student complaint will be maintained in the applicable department or program office. Records of student complaints and appeals related to academic issues may also be placed in the student’s academic record. By federal regulation, records of official student complaints must also be maintained in the President’s Office. At UI&U, it has been determined that only student appeals submitted to the VPAA (i.e. appeals that reach the institutional level of the process) will be considered as official complaints.

Confidentiality

UI&U will maintain confidentiality of student complaints and appeals within the guidelines of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Only the involved party/parties and university representatives involved in the review and resolution of a complaint or appeal will have access to information related to an ongoing complaint or appeal. Once the complaint or appeal has been resolved, this information will be placed in the student’s file.

Students who are considering filing a formal appeal or who have filed a formal appeal are expected to use discretion in discussing the issue with other students or with employees, keeping in mind that there are other parties involved. Depending on the nature of the issue under appeal, other involved parties could be damaged by a student’s public allegations. If a student is found to have discussed or publicized her/his pending or ongoing appeal in such a way as to potentially affect the outcome, the VPAA may immediately halt the appeal process and deny the appeal.

Procedural Guidelines: Complaints and Appeals

UI&U expects that every complaint should begin with a sincere attempt at an informal resolution. It is expected that most conflicts will be resolved informally. A formal appeal will not be considered unless such an attempt has been made. Students are advised to retain all documentation related to informal complaints and formal appeals. Documentation may include letters, emails, faxed messages, and notes of telephone conversations.

As noted above, the complaint and appeal procedure does not apply to situations where a student or former student has instituted legal proceedings. If at any stage of an informal complaint or formal appeal process the university becomes aware that a student has instituted legal proceedings, the process of complaint discussion, review, and resolution will be immediately halted, and all documentation of the process will be forwarded to the President’s Office.

Complaint/Resolution Procedure—Departmental/Program Level

A student may initiate a complaint through a letter or email. Verbal communication of a concern is not a complaint under the terms of this policy. In the written communication, the student must specifically identify that he or she is submitting a complaint within the terms of this policy. Written complaints must be submitted to the individual in authority of the unit involved in the complaint (e.g., program dean or a director of an administrative unit). To avoid possible delays, written complaints should not be submitted to faculty or support staff, assistant or associate deans, or assistant or associate directors. Any such employee who receives a written complaint from a student must immediately forward it to her/his departmental or program head. Similarly, written complaints submitted to the VPAA or president will immediately be referred to the appropriate dean or director. Upon receipt of written complaint, the dean or director will provide a copy of this policy and procedure to the student filing the complaint.

If the complaint is about an academic issue and the program has an academic appeals policy and procedure, the dean or director will invoke that policy, supplanting this policy’s departmental/program level procedure. If there is no program-level academic appeals policy and procedure, then the dean or director will follow the procedure outlined herein.

For complaints regarding academic issues or decisions where there is no written appeals policy, and for complaints regarding non-academic issues or decisions, the dean or director, in consultation with all involved parties, will evaluate the situation and propose a resolution. Proposed resolutions may range from denial of the student’s complaint to reversal of the initial action or decision. At the conclusion of the process, the dean or director will prepare a written report that will include: the student’s written complaint, description of the complaint review process (interactions with involved parties), and the dean or director’s proposed resolution. The dean or director will provide this report to the student and other involved parties, placing a copy of the report in the student’s record. The dean’s/director’s report will be submitted within 30 days of receipt of the initial complaint; if additional time is needed to conduct a review, the dean or director must notify all involved parties. The student will be invited to respond to the report by filing a formal appeal in the event that s/he disagrees with the resolution. (See “Appeal and Resolution—Institutional Level” below.) The invitation will include a 30-day deadline for submission of a formal appeal. If the student does not respond within the 30-day deadline, the complaint will be considered to have been resolved.

Note: In the event that the student’s complaint is against the dean or director, the student may submit the written complaint directly to the VPAA. In such cases, the VPAA will follow the informal resolution procedure outlined above. If the complaint is against the director of a non-academic unit not within the academic affairs division of the university, the VPAA may forward the complaint to the executive responsible for the unit, who will, again, follow the procedure for informal resolution outlined above.

Appeal and Resolution—Institutional Level

If the student is not satisfied with the resolution proposed by the dean or director, the student may choose to submit an appeal to the VPAA. An appeal will not be considered unless there has been a documented complaint/informal resolution process. Students should be aware that an appeal should not be undertaken lightly or frivolously. Every appeal must include a compelling argument from the student, beyond simple dissatisfaction with a situation or proposed resolution. Appeals must be submitted within 30 days of the conclusion of the departmental/program-level complaint resolution process.
Appeals are submitted to the VPAA in writing. An appeal must include:

  • All documentation related to the program-level complaint/resolution process
  • Additional information that the student deems pertinent to the issue

The student’s appeal must be in the form of a letter, clearly marked “Formal Appeal,” and it must be dated and signed by the student. An appeal may not be submitted as an email, but the signed document may be submitted as an email attachment. Students choosing to submit appeal documents as email attachments should insert “Formal Appeal” in the email subject line.

Upon receipt of the appeal, the VPAA will notify the dean or director responsible for the initial review of the student’s complaint, and will conduct a brief review of the materials provided by the student and the dean or director. The VPAA will then constitute a Grievance Review Committee (GRC). The preliminary review and formation of the GRC will typically be concluded within 20 working days of receipt of the initial appeal; the VPAA will notify the student if the initial review will take longer than 20 days. At the conclusion of the preliminary review, the VPAA may refuse to accept the appeal. If an appeal is not accepted, the VPAA will notify the student, in writing, citing the reasons for the decision. An appeal may be refused for a number of reasons, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • The issue being appealed is not covered by this policy and procedure (see above)
  • The appeal appears to be motivated by a desire to punish or retaliate, rather than by a desire to resolve the situation

A student whose appeal is not accepted may resubmit the appeal to the VPAA with additional documentation or information. If the appeal is not accepted after the second submission, the student may not appeal again.

Appeal Review and Resolution

If the VPAA accepts the student’s appeal, it will be Appeals are considered by the GRC. The GRC will review all documentation related to the appeal, including the student’s written appeal, the dean/director’s report on the program/departmental-level complaint review/resolution process, and the student’s initial complaint. During the review, members of the GRC will have no direct contact with any of the involved parties: any requests for additional information or clarification will be made through the VPAA, who may consult with any or all involved parties and/or the responsible dean, director, or vice president, advising the GRC of the results of those consultations. At the conclusion of the review, the VPAA will determine a resolution and prepare a written report that will include: information related to the initial complaint and resolution; the student’s written appeal; a description of the review process (such as interactions with involved parties); and a recommendation for resolution. The VPAA will provide this report to the student and other involved parties, placing a copy of the report in the student’s record. The VPAA’s report will be submitted within 40 days of receipt of the initial complaint; if additional time is needed to conduct a review, the VPAA must notify all involved parties. The VPAA’s decision is final: no further appeal will be considered.