The University Grievance Policy for Graduate Students establishes procedures by which graduate students can report and seek redress for actions that may constitute abuse of authority by University of Chicago faculty, other academic appointees, postdoctoral researchers, or staff.
Abuse of authority is the arbitrary or capricious exercise of authority for purposes inconsistent with the University’s educational and research mission. Expression occurring in an academic, educational or research context is considered a special case and is broadly protected by academic freedom. Such expression will not constitute abuse of authority unless (in addition to satisfying the above definition) it is targeted at a specific person or persons and serves no bona fide academic purpose.
Behavior that falls short of abuse of authority should be addressed through means of informal resolution. Complaints that involve allegations of abuse of authority can also often be addressed informally without needing to go through a formal grievance process. The University expects students to attempt informal resolution before proceeding to file a formal grievance. Graduate students are strongly encouraged to seek assistance from individuals and offices who can discuss individual situations, explain policies and procedures, and offer support.
The University is aware that issues will arise under this policy that were not contemplated at the time the policy was drafted. In those circumstances, the University will make its best effort to follow the intent and spirit of the policy. The policy will be periodically reviewed and revised as necessary to address issues that arise under the policy that were not previously contemplated.
Options for Filing a Formal Grievance
The first recourse for submitting a formal grievance should be within the graduate student’s academic unit (i.e., division or school). Each graduate unit posts policies detailing formal grievance procedures and informal resolution options. Further discussion and examples of abuse of authority are provided in each unit’s policy. A list of these policies can be found here.
If a graduate student believes that their grievance cannot be fairly addressed within their academic unit, they may request that the matter be addressed by the Office of the Provost. If a student wishes to submit a grievance directly to the Provost’s Office, they must provide supporting rationale that directly explains the basis for their concerns. Using reasoned judgment, requests will be reviewed by the Office of the Provost to determine if the case is appropriate for review. Decisions by the Office of the Provost are final and unreviewable.
Graduate students considering whether to file a grievance for review by either their academic unit or the Office of the Provost, are encouraged to discuss their options with the Associate Director for Graduate Student Affairs in UChicagoGRAD. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance.
Submitting an Anonymous Report
Graduate students who wish to notify the University of concerns about potential abuse of authority by faculty, staff, postdoctoral researchers, and other academic appointees, but who do not wish to have their individual concern acted upon, may submit anonymous reports through this online form.
Anonymous reports will be reviewed by the Office of the Provost and shared with academic units as appropriate.
This policy applies to currently enrolled graduate students and those on an approved leave of absence who allege abuse of authority by faculty, staff, postdoctoral researchers, or other academic appointees.
Allegations of sexual harassment, misconduct and unlawful discrimination are addressed exclusively under the University's Policy on Harassment, Discrimination, and Sexual Misconduct and Policy on Title IX Sexual Harassment. More information about these policies and options for reporting and support are available through the Office of Equal Opportunity Programs.
Complaints about student conduct involving possible violation of University policies and regulations and other breaches of standards of behavior should always be brought to the attention of the student’s Dean of Students. For more information, please see University Disciplinary Systems and Disciplinary System for Disruptive Conduct.
Allegations of academic fraud (e.g. plagiarism; fabrication or falsification of evidence, data, or results; the suppression of relevant evidence or data; the conscious misrepresentation of sources; the theft of ideas; or the intentional misappropriation of the research work or data of others) should also be brought forward in accordance with the procedures established in the University’s Policy on Academic Fraud.
Issues related to the conduct of members of the University of Chicago Police Department should always be directed to the University’s Safety & Security Complaint Process.
Faculty have the authority and the responsibility to assess the academic performance of their students. Only the instructor who gave the course, examination, or evaluation has the authority to change the assessment of the students' performance. Similarly, the evaluation of students' academic progress and standing in the program is the prerogative of relevant faculty.
Learning how to communicate with instructors and other faculty about confusion or concern around fairness in grading and evaluation is an important skill, and students may respectfully request explanations of grading decisions and feedback about how performance can be improved. If a student feels that a grade has been assigned unfairly or improperly, they should discuss their concerns with the instructor directly, consult with advisers within their program or department, or bring concerns to and seek advice from their area Dean of Students. If an area or department has a prescribed formal grade appeal process, students can follow those procedures to contest a grade.
A grade dispute or complaints about other academic evaluations may be evidence in support of a formal grievance but these complaints cannot constitute a formal grievance on their own.
There is no time limit for filing a formal grievance, though a grievance may only be filed by a current graduate student or a graduate student on an approved leave of absence. Grievances should be filed as soon as practicable to maximize the University’s ability to respond promptly and effectively. Delayed reporting often results in the loss of relevant information or documentation and/or in faded and unreliable memories; it also impairs the University’s ability to interview individuals with knowledge of the circumstances, assess information, and, if appropriate, review and resolve grievances.
Grievances should be resolved informally whenever possible. The policy of the student’s division or school provides more detailed information and resources.
All members of the University community should be able to bring forward conflicts, concerns, and possible grievances in a respectful environment and are expected to do so in good faith. The University prohibits retaliation against any person who exercises their rights or responsibilities under this policy. Any act of retaliation may be a separate violation of this policy.
Recognizing that these can be complex and sensitive issues, graduate students are encouraged to seek the assistance of individuals who can discuss options for resolution and offer support.
- Student Ombuds Office serves as a peer resource to assist students in the resolution of conflicts, concerns, and other problems that they may encounter through the course of University life. Ombuds staff provide individual consultation and write reports to the campus community identifying recurring student concerns.
- The Associate Director for Graduate Student Affairs in UChicagoGRAD is an administrator who serves as a campus-wide resource for students on issues around graduate student grievance policy and procedures. The Associate Director can meet with students to discuss individual situations and provide information about options for resolution. The Associate Director also works to provide trainings and workshops to improve mentorship and advising relationships and support constructive conversations around student concerns. Email email@example.com for assistance.
Unit and Department Resources
- The area Dean of Students can meet with graduate students to discuss individual situations, provide an overview of the area’s grievance procedures, and offer guidance on options for informal resolution.
- As appropriate, graduate students can seek guidance on resolution from individuals within their programs and departments, including a Director of Graduate Studies, Department Chair, Program Director, faculty adviser, or Graduate Program Administrator.
- Some departments may also have peer resources such as departmental ombudspersons, student-faculty committees, or other student representatives who can bring concerns to area leadership.
- Any conflict or difficulty in a student’s academic life can have an adverse effect on mental health and wellbeing. Counselors at Student Wellness can provide critical support services to students navigating all manner of challenges.
- Sounding Board is a resource for helping graduate students negotiate work/life balance issues, navigate relationships, and create strategies for having difficult conversations with peers, faculty, and others.
- Students may find support in the spiritual advisers and programs available through the Office of Spiritual Life.
- Health Promotion in Student Wellness provides a range of services and programming to support students in managing stress and leading balanced and healthful lives.
Graduate students wishing to file a grievance directly to the Office of the Provost are required to formally submit a complaint using the University Formal Grievance Form. The form and any provided written documentation will be reviewed by a Vice Provost designated by the Provost to determine if:
- The case is appropriate for formal resolution pursuant to the grievance policy (i.e., it alleges an abuse of authority as defined above and is not covered by another policy);
- The case cannot be resolved by informal means;
- The stated reasons why the case cannot be fairly handled by the student’s academic unit warrants review by the Office of the Provost.
The Vice Provost (or designee) may contact the student with questions to discuss further. A student will generally receive written notification of whether the case meets the above stated criteria within 30 calendar days. If extenuating circumstances require a delay in notification, the student will be notified of a short extension.
If the Vice Provost determines that the grievance will not be reviewed by the Office of the Provost, the student will have the option to decide whether to pursue the grievance with their academic unit.
If the Vice Provost decides the complaint is appropriate for resolution pursuant to the University Grievance Procedures for Graduate Students, the respondent(s) will be provided with written notice and a copy of the complaint within seven calendar days.
The Vice Provost will convene a Grievance Review Committee to consider the case. The Committee will generally be composed of three faculty members, one student, one staff member, and the Vice Provost (or their designee). Generally, faculty, students, and staff serving on the Committee do not come from the academic department or program of either the complainant or the respondent(s).
All members of the Committee are required to maintain independent judgment and open-mindedness about the alleged grievance, free from material bias and conflicts of interest, or they must recuse themselves.
The student and respondent will be notified of the composition of the Committee as soon as practicable before the Committee begins its review. Either party may request a substitution if the participation of any individual on the Committee poses a conflict of interest. Such requests must be made to the Vice Provost (or their designee) within two business days of receiving notice of the members of the Committee. Requests must identify with specificity the alleged nature of the conflict of interest. Using reasoned judgment, the Vice Provost (or their designee) will decide whether the alleged conflict is genuine and material and, if so, whether it compels the Committee member’s replacement.
The Committee will designate a member or members to:
- Conduct interviews, as necessary, with individuals who may have relevant knowledge;
- Collect information, as necessary, including relevant documents.
The student and respondent(s) will be given the opportunity to provide relevant documentation, provide names of individuals who have relevant knowledge with whom the Committee could speak, and meet with the Committee or a designated representative of the Committee.
The Committee will review all information and make a recommendation to the Provost (or their designee).
The Committee will apply a preponderance of evidence standard in making its recommendation. Namely, the Committee will decide whether, in consideration of all the information before it, it is more likely than not that an abuse of authority occurred.
Role of Support Person
Both the student and respondent(s) may bring a support person of their choice to any meeting conducted as part of the formal grievance process. They must notify the individual(s) with whom they are meeting of the identity of their support person in advance. If the support person is an attorney, a representative of the University’s Office of Legal Counsel may also attend the meeting. The support person does not function as an advocate or participate directly in any way during the meeting. Both the student and respondent(s) are expected to speak for themselves, directly communicate with the Committee members, and submit their own written statements.
Grievance processes and outcomes are intended to give graduate students the opportunity to maximize their scholarly potential, to provide remedies for graduate students in need of support, and to facilitate productive conversations about challenging issues. In considering appropriate resolutions to grievance cases, the Grievance Review Committee and the Office of the Provost will be guided by the principle that outcomes should focus on addressing harm to the graduate student and preventing its recurrence.
The range of possible outcomes will vary according to the role of the individual found responsible for violating the policy and the severity of the violation. If any individual is found to have abused authority as defined in this policy, at minimum the Dean and/or other supervisor will meet with the respondent to discuss the finding and expectations regarding future conduct, and a notation regarding the finding and expectations may be made in the personnel record. Other possible outcomes include, but are not limited to, required trainings, amendments to teaching and advising assignments, removal from leadership positions or committee assignments, ineligibility for annual pay increases, and referral to applicable processes if further action is recommended. Outcomes will be based on the specific nature of the conduct, the particulars of the situation, and a pattern of violations if such exists.
The Provost (or their designee) will review the Committee’s recommendations and make a final determination that will be communicated, in writing, to the student and respondent(s), ordinarily within 90 calendar days after the case was initially submitted to the Provost.
The Provost’s decision is final and not reviewable within the University.
The Dean of the academic unit(s) of both the student and respondent(s) will be notified of the outcome of the grievance review process.
While the University will keep matters confidential to the extent possible, the University may have to disclose information related to the matter, such as in the following situations:
(1) to those to whom it is necessary to give fair notice of the allegations and to conduct the investigation;
(2) to law enforcement consistent with state and federal law;
(3) to other University officials in accordance with FERPA;
(4) to third parties as permitted or compelled by law (e.g., in response to a lawful subpoena or in compliance with federal privacy law).
The University will not restrict the ability of either party to discuss the allegations under investigation. A party may discuss the allegations under investigation and/or gather and present information. Retaliation of any kind, however, is prohibited under the Policy.