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Expectations for Graduate Education, Complaints and Appeals

Graduate education is built upon establishing and maintaining strong, collaborative student-faculty relationships. As such, the university provides informal and formal means for graduate students to address concerns that arise in the academic setting, with the goal of resolving disputes in a fair, collegial manner. Concerns may arise in a number of areas, including academic evaluation and/or progress, assistantship requirements and/or termination, academic freedom, and professional misconduct, among others. In addition, graduate students may surface concerns about issues related to professional or scholarly expectations, such as authorship and civility. These issues involve subjectivity and, therefore, demand sensitivity and respect for all participants.

Informal Resolution

The university strongly encourages students to explore all available informal avenues for resolving concerns before filing a formal complaint/appeal. First, students are encouraged to familiarize themselves with university, Graduate School, and department-level polices that may affect or involve issues of concern. Graduate students may consult with the Graduate Deans, who have an open-door policy, the Graduate School Ombudsperson, and other offices for advice on polices and on resolving their concerns and communicating with other involved parties.

Informal Steps and Resources

Graduate students may use one or a combination of these resources at any point in the resolution process.

Discussions with involved parties

Whenever possible, graduate students are encouraged to discuss concerns directly with the person(s) involved. The university recognizes that these conversations can be difficult and, therefore, provides resources, such as the Graduate Student Ombudsperson and other offices to help students learn how to handle these situations.

Discussions with advisor, department head, or graduate program director

Students who feel they need help finding resolution or believe that departmental policy or practice is contributing to the issue of concern may discuss the matter with their advisor, department head and/or graduate program director.

Confidential Discussion with Graduate Student Ombudsperson

The Graduate Student Ombudsperson, with an office in the Graduate Life Center, is an advocate for fairness for graduate students who acts as a source of information and referral, aids in answering individual’s questions, and provides an impartial “safe place” for graduate students’ voices to be heard. Confidentiality, neutrality, informality, and independence are the core principles of the ombudsperson’s practice. The ombudsperson will not disclose names or other information about visitors without permission. However, the office does provide information on visitor statistics and issue trends to university administrators to foster improvements in policy, practice, and climate for graduate students. The Office of the Graduate Student Ombudsperson offers support for graduate students who want help developing options for addressing their particular concerns or who may wish to consider learning how to deal with problems on their own. The ombudsperson does not accept formal complaints or notice on behalf of the university but can provide information on how to submit them.

Discussion with Graduate School

The Graduate School, including staff, associate deans, and the dean, is a resource for graduate students for discussing any and all concerns. The graduate dean has an open-door policy and welcomes students to visit her to discuss their concerns, questions, and experiences. The dean will maintain confidentiality whenever possible.

Formal Resolution

If, after attempting to resolve a concern through informal avenues, the matter remains unreconciled, students have the option to file a formal complaint/appeal. For this process, a complaint/appeal is defined as a concern brought forward by a graduate student alleging a violation, misinterpretation, or incorrect application of a policy, procedure, or practice of the university that directly affects the student. Some examples of valid issues for filing a complaint/appeal include the following:

  • Improper evaluation of work
  • Excessive work requirements for assistantships
  • Improper termination from assistantship
  • Improper termination from academic program
  • Retaliation
  • Violations of academic freedom
  • Professional misconduct/mistreatment by a member of the faculty or staff that violates professional behavior as outlined in the Faculty Handbook or Human Resources policies.


Issues that are not open to complaint/appeal include the following:

  • Those items falling within the jurisdiction of other university policies and procedures (for example, complaints of unlawful harassment and discrimination, research or scholarly misconduct; see below for more information)
  • Policies published by the university
  • Routine assignment of university resources (funding, parking, etc.)

Formal Steps

Step One: Department-Level Complaint/Appeal

1. The graduate student must write a formal letter of complaint/appeal to the department head (the graduate program director may also be involved at this level). If the department head is a party to the grievance, the dean of the academic college will assume this responsibility.

2. The department head, in consultation with the college dean, shall take all reasonable and proper actions to resolve the question at the departmental level. The student shall be informed in writing of the results no later than one month after the appeal to the department head. In some matters, the Faculty Handbook provides additional relevant information, for example, “the assigning of grades is the responsibility of the individual instructor in every case. The basis on which grades are assigned rests on his/her judgment alone. …"

Step Two: University-Level Complaint/Appeal

Should students believe that their rights were abridged at the departmental level on procedural grounds, they may file a complaint/appeal with the Dean of the Graduate School.

1.   In a written statement to the dean, the aggrieved student must clearly state the substance of the complaint/appeal.

2.   The dean of the Graduate School shall take all reasonable and proper actions to resolve the question or refer it directly to the Graduate Appeals Committee for its review. As a standing committee of the Commission on Graduate Studies and Policies, this committee will consist of three faculty members and one graduate student. For each case, if necessary, the dean shall appoint to the committee one additional faculty member knowledgeable in the academic area of the complaint/appeal.

3.  The review by the Graduate Appeals Committee will have available to it all pertinent information in the student’s record in the university and:

  • the department’s policy statement concerning its degree expectations
  • a summary of the department’s action on the appeal
  • copies of the student’s statement to the dean of the Graduate School recording the student’s view of alleged irregularities (i.e., the basis for university appeal).

4. The Graduate Appeals Committee may hold a formal hearing on complaint/appeals referred to it by the dean of the Graduate School. The hearing will be conducted with the following procedural safeguards:

  • All parties to the dispute will be notified of the time and place of the hearing at least 48 hours in advance;
  • The aggrieved student will be permitted, if the student chooses, to invite a member of the faculty or student body to represent him/her in the hearing;
  • All parties in the dispute will be given full opportunity to testify and to present such evidence or witnesses as seem relevant;
  • All matters on which the finding will be based must be introduced into evidence at the hearing.

5. The Graduate Student Appeals Committee will make a recommendation to the Dean of the Graduate School, which will be acted upon by the Dean of the Graduate School in consultation with the provost. 6. The Dean of the Graduate School will convey the committee’s recommendation and the final disposition of the matter to all concerned parties.

Other University Policies, Processes, and Procedures

Sexual Harassment or Discriminatory Harassment

Concerns resulting from alleged sexual harassment and discriminatory harassment by a member of the faculty or staff should be addressed to the Office of Equity and Accessibility.

  • Concerns resulting from alleged sexual harassment and discriminatory harassment by a member of the student body should be addressed to the Office of Student Conduct.
  • Research or Scholarly Misconduct
  • Concerns resulting from alleged research or scholarly misconduct by faculty, staff, or students should be referred to the Office of Research Integrity.
  • Concerns resulting from alleged academic misconduct by graduate students should be referred to the Graduate Honor System.
  • Conflict of Interest