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Student Grievance Procedures

Recommended By: Academic Senate
Approved:
Ruben Armiñana, President
Date of Issue: May 1, 2000 (revises 2/3/88 policy)
Current Issue Date: September 17, 2001
Effective Date: August 25, 2001
Contact Office: Student Affairs

Policy #1988-2

Preamble

A grievance may arise out of a decision or action reached or taken in the course of official duty by a member of the faculty, staff, or administration of Sonoma State University. A grievable action is defined below. The purpose of the grievance procedures is to provide a process for an impartial review and to ensure that the rights of students are properly recognized and protected.

In the case of a grade appeal, students are directed to the Policy on Grade Appeal Procedures. The authority for the procedures followed in the case of a grade appeal is based on the Chancellor's Executive Order #320. In the case of sexual harassment, or discrimination on the basis of race, sex, creed, color, religion, sexual preference, national origin, age, marital status, pregnancy, Vietnam era veteran's status or disabling condition, the Managing Director of Employee Relations and Compliance

Services is designated as the person responsible for receiving student complaints. Student appeals relating to Financial Aid decisions, rules, and regulations are directed to the Financial Aid Office in order to initiate the Financial Aid Appeal Process which follows the guidelines established by the Chancellor's Manual of Financial Aid Procedures and Policies.

Under no circumstances will the filing of a grievance result in retaliation by the party being grieved against or his/her Department. A flow chart describing the Student Grievance Procedures is attached as Appendix A.

  1. Definition of Grievable Actions
    A grievable action is an action that:
    1. Is in violation of written campus policies or procedures, or
    2. Constitutes arbitrary, capricious, or unequal application of written campus policies or procedures.
  2. INFORMAL PROCEDURES
    A party or parties to a dispute or grievance are defined as the grievant and/or the respondent(s). The Student Grievance Procedures rely on the good faith of all involved to achieve a reasonable resolution of grievable actions. Any student who believes he/she has grounds for a grievance shall make an attempt in good faith to resolve the problem through early informal discussion of the matter with the academic, administrative, or staff member directly involved. If the student is not satisfied, the student shall attempt to resolve the grievance through either of the following channels:
    1. In the case of faculty, through the chairperson of the department, and if resolution still cannot be attained, the Dean of the School.
    2. In the case of support staff or administrative personnel, through the employee's supervisor, and if resolution still cannot be attained, the Head of the administrative unit, that is, the Vice President of Student Affairs, Dean of the School, Vice President for Administration and Finance, Vice President for Development, or the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs.
      The Student Grievance Coordinator may be consulted for assistance at any point in these informal discussions if the grievant so desires.
  3. STANDING TO FILE A GRIEVANCE
    Any person who at the time of filing a grievance is a student enrolled in a course other than an Extended Education non-resident course, or was such a student during the semester (or summer/intersession) prior to the time of filing, has standing to file a grievance under these procedures, provided that person has attempted to resolve his or her complaint informally through those procedures discussed in Section II above.
  4. TIME LIMIT ON FILING A GRIEVANCE
    To be timely, a grievance must be filed with the Student Grievance Coordinator no later than the end of the semester following the occurrence of the action on which it is based.
  5. INITIATION OF FORMAL GRIEVANCE PROCEDURES
    If a resolution of the problem is not achieved through the informal procedures, the student may request an official examination of the facts by presenting a completed grievance form (see Appendix B) to the Student Grievance Coordinator. To complete the form, the student must prepare a specific statement of allegations made and remedies sought to redress the alleged grievance. A brief narrative (including the names of individuals and/or departments involved, dates, times, records, etc.) is required to support the allegations made. The Student Grievance Form may be obtained from the Student Grievance Coordinator. In addition, the Student Grievance Coordinator will determine the following: (1) standing to file a grievance (Article III); (2) timeliness (Article IV); (3) a determination that the grievance is not a resubmission of a previously decided grievance; (4) a determination that the grievance does not seek disciplinary action; (5) a determination that the grievance is not a grade appeal; and (6) a determination that the grievance does not relate to sexual harassment, or discrimination on the basis of race, sex, creed, color, religion, sexual preference, national origin, age, marital status, pregnancy, Vietnam era veteran's status, or disabling condition. Further, the Student Grievance Coordinator may assist the student in preparing the grievance document to ensure its clarity.
    Upon receiving the Student Grievance Form, the Student Grievance Coordinator shall forward a copy to each member of the faculty, administration, or staff named in the grievance, and the Student Grievance Coordinator will also send a copy of the Student Grievance Procedures to all parties.
    Within fifteen academic days of receipt of the completed form, the Student Grievance Coordinator shall secure signed statements on the Grievance Form from the Faculty/ Staff member, the Department Chair/Manager, and the School Dean/Head of Administrative Unit confirming that informal efforts have been made to resolve the issue. At each stage of this process the Student Grievance Coordinator will continue to attempt to secure a satisfactory resolution of the issue.
    When all efforts to resolve the issue informally have been exhausted and all signatures have been obtained, the completed form will be submitted by the Student Grievance Coordinator to the Chair of the Student Grievance Board. The unwillingness or unavailability of any members of the faculty or staff to sign the Grievance Form in accordance with these procedures will not prevent the normal processing of the form.
  6. STUDENT GRIEVANCE BOARD
    There will be a Student Grievance Board.
    1. Composition: The Student Grievance Board will be composed of nine members: three members of the teaching faculty selected by the Structure and Functions Subcommittee of the Academic Senate from the Grade Appeal Panel; three Student Services Professionals appointed by the Vice President of Student Affairs; and three students selected by the Board of Directors of the Associated Students from the Grade Appeal Panel.
      Term of Service: Members of the Student Grievance Board shall serve for one (1) academic year.
      The Chair of the Grade Appeal Panel shall serve as the Chair of the Student Grievance Board for a term of one academic year.
    2. Conflict of Interest: In the event of any conflict of interest which will be identified through self-declaration by any of the Board members regarding a particular potential grievance, the individual will absent himself or herself from the Board on that matter. The Chair will rule on any challenges regarding conflict of interest.
    3. Maintenance of Records and Logistical Support: The Student Grievance Coordinator will be responsible for maintaining all records of the Student Grievance Board, as well as providing the required logistical support for the Board. The records for each grievance will be maintained for a period of four years after the final recommendation has been rendered.
    4. Legal Advice: The Chair of the Board, on behalf of the Board, may seek legal advice from the Office of General Counsel of the California State University.
  7. DETERMINATION OF GRIEVABILITY
    The Chair will convene the Student Grievance Board within fifteen academic days, after receiving the completed Student Grievance Form (see Appendix B) from the Student Grievance Coordinator confirming that efforts have been made to resolve the issue informally. The Board will determine by majority vote of those present whether the grievant has standing to file and whether a grievable act, as defined in these procedures, is alleged in the grievance filing.
    This determination by the Board will be final. All parties involved in the grievance will be notified in writing, by the Chair of the Student Grievance Board, as to the determination of grievability. A finding by the Board that no grievable action is alleged or that the grievant lacks standing to file will conclude the proceedings. If the Board finds that a grievable action is alleged and that the grievant has standing to file, the Chair will schedule a hearing to be held by the Grievance Committee within ten academic days.
  8. THE COMPOSITION OF THE GRIEVANCE COMMITTEE
    The Chair of the Student Grievance Board will appoint three Board members, none of whom may have a conflict of interest, and including a teaching faculty member, a Student Services Professional, and a student member, to serve on the Grievance Committee. The Chair of the Student Grievance Board will communicate the names of the members of the Grievance Committee to each party. Either party will have the right to exercise one peremptory challenge, in writing within three academic days, against any of the chosen members of the Grievance Committee. If such challenges are employed, the Chair of the Student Grievance Board will appoint new members to the Grievance Committee. The Chair of the Student Grievance Board will designate one of the faculty or Student Services Professional members to chair the Grievance Committee as a voting member.
  9. HEARING PROCEDURES
    1. The full three member committee must be present for the hearing to proceed. The hearing will be informal in nature, and conducted in a spirit of mediation and conciliation. It will be open unless a party requests that it be closed. Witnesses are to be present only during the time in which they give their statement and will remain outside the hearing room until called. In a closed hearing, only the principals in the action, the advisors (see IX. B.), and members of the Committee may be present. The principals in the action will be provided with the dates and times of all meetings and given the opportunity to hear any evidence presented.
    2. Either party to the dispute may be accompanied by an advisor, with prior notification to the Chair of the Committee and the other party, provided that the advisor is a member of the campus community. A member of the campus community is defined as faculty or staff currently employed or students currently enrolled in the University. Advisors may speak on behalf of the party they represent.
    3. Either party to the grievance may bring witnesses to a hearing. The names of the witnesses will be provided to all parties prior to their appearance. Written statements may be permitted from witnesses unable to attend the hearing if the Chair of the Committee so rules with the concurrence of at least one other member of the Grievance Committee. Each witness will be questioned first by the party presenting the witness, then by the other party, and finally by the members of the Committee.
    4. Prior to the hearing, both parties will have the right to examine and copy documentation pertinent to the grievance. Questions of pertinence will be decided by the Chair with the concurrence of at least one member of the Grievance Committee.
    5. The hearing shall be conducted according to the established format. The hearing shall not be conducted according to technical rules of evidence and witnesses. The Chair of the Committee shall admit the sort of evidence on which reasonable persons are accustomed to rely in the conduct of serious affairs and shall exclude evidence that is irrelevant, unduly repetitious or cumulative. Evidence relating to past actions shall be admitted if shown to be relevant. The hearing shall be audiotape recorded.
      The hearing will be conducted in the following order subject to recognition by the Chair of the committee, with the Chair of the committee ensuring that each party be allowed a maximum of sixty minutes for all aspects of his/her presentation.
      Opening Statements. Both parties may make opening statements. The grievant goes first. The respondent may reserve the opening statement until the evidence of the grievant has been presented.
      Presentation of Evidence. The case of the grievant will be presented first and then that of the respondent. Documents submitted as evidence will be numbered by the Chair. Each side will have sufficient copies of each document provided by the Chair.
      Presentation of Rebuttal Evidence. Both parties may present rebuttal evidence. The grievant goes first.
      Closing Arguments. After all the evidence has been presented, both parties may make closing arguments. The grievant goes first and will have a final opportunity to rebut the closing argument of the respondent.
    6. The Chair of the Committee shall provide that the hearing be audiotape recorded. The cost of the audiotape recording shall be borne by the campus. The grievant or respondent may receive a copy of the audiotape recording at his/her own expense. The Chair of the Committee shall record the date, time and place of the hearing and shall require all participants to identify themselves for the audiotape recording at the beginning of the hearing and when speaking during the hearing. The tape will become part of the official record maintained by the Student Grievance Coordinator. Camera and video recorders shall not be permitted at the hearing.
    7. If the grievant does not appear within one half -hour of the time agreed upon for the hearing, the hearing will be canceled and the charges dismissed, unless a valid excuse (as judged by the Grievance Committee) is presented within 48 hours. If the person(s) grieved against does(do) not appear, the hearing will proceed without them. Failure of an advisor to appear for either party shall not constitute grounds for postponing or delaying the hearing.
    8. Members of the Student Grievance Committee shall meet in executive session (with all other persons excluded) following the conclusion of the hearing. In this session, the Committee shall consider the evidence and reach its decision, basing that decision only on the evidence and exhibits received at the hearing, arguments made in accordance with these procedures, and any opinions received from the Office of General Counsel. The Grievance Committee will determine by majority vote whether a preponderance of the evidence presented demonstrated that a grievable action was committed, and if so, will recommend remedies. The Committee will then prepare its written Report which will consist of the Committee's detailed findings of fact, any conclusions resulting from those findings, a finding for or against the grievant, and its recommendations for resolving or terminating the matter. A minority position may be expressed either as a section in the Committee's Report or as a separate Report. Within ten (10) academic days of the conclusion of the hearing, the Chair will ensure that the Student Grievance Committee Report is completed, and shall send copies to the parties involved in the grievance, the President of the University, and the Student Grievance Coordinator.
  10. DUTIES OF THE CHAIR OF THE GRIEVANCE COMMITTEE
    The Chair of the Grievance Committee will be responsible for the coordination of the activities of the Committee.
    1. The Chair will ensure that the parties have received notification of the hearing.
    2. The Chair will ensure that the conduct of the hearing conforms to the procedures prescribed herein.
    3. The Chair will arrange for and maintain custody (see XI. And XII.) of the records of the proceedings until the President has rendered a final decision, after which the records of the proceedings will be placed in the custody of the Student Grievance Coordinator. Records will be maintained for a period of four years.
    4. The Chair will see that copies of all statements and documents considered by the Committee are accessible to all members of the Committee and to each party of the grievance. The Chair will also ensure that each party of the grievance will have the opportunity to be present when any testimony is given.
    5. The Chair will decide all procedural issues that arise during the hearing with the concurrence of at least one member of the Grievance Committee.
    6. The Chair, on behalf of the Committee, may seek legal advice from the Office of the General Counsel of the California State University.
    7. The Chair, if necessary, may require that participants creating disturbances absent themselves from the hearing area.
  11. APPEALS
    Within five working days after the Grievance Committee Report is sent to the President, either party to the grievance may appeal the decision to the President or the President's designee.
    The notice of appeal will clearly state the grounds for the appeal. The President or designee will make a final decision on the grievance within 15 working days of receiving the appeal. The President's decision will be in writing and based on the record of hearing. There will be no new hearing.
  12. FINAL ACTION
    Final action in the Grievance will be taken by the President or designee. The President or designee will accept the recommendation of the Grievance Committee unless:
    1. The Committee findings of fact or conclusions are not supported by a preponderance of the evidence presented at the hearing or are contrary to law; or
    2. The Committee recommendations are not consistent with, and supported by, the findings; or
    3. The Committee has so departed from or erroneously applied these Procedures as to have had a substantially prejudicial effect upon the Committee's findings of fact, conclusion, or recommendations, or all of these; or
    4. The Committee has recommended a remedy or remedies beyond the authority of the President or contrary to the laws of California or the United States; or
    5. Any or all of these.
    6. The President may accept, reject, or modify the recommendations of the Grievance Committee for reasons based on the record of the hearing or system policy or state or federal law. The President's decision will be in writing and it will be final. Copies of the decision will be sent to the parties of the grievance and to the Student Grievance Coordinator.
  13. CONFIDENTIALITY OF GRIEVANCES
    1. Every level of a closed grievance will be considered confidential and information relating to a grievance will not be divulged to individuals or organizations not involved with the grievance, except by the grievant or respondent. Those involved with the grievance include the grievant, the person about whose actions the allegations are made, advisors for either of the former, members of the Student Grievance Board reviewing the grievance, administrators processing the grievance, and those staff members with designated responsibilities for handling grievance materials.
    2. All materials developed in the course of the grievance investigation and hearing will be placed in a confidential, non-personnel file, to be maintained by the Student Grievance Coordinator (pursuant to Section VI.C. of these procedures). None of these materials may be removed from the file or copied unless needed for compliance with appropriate administrative or legal requirements.
  14. PROVISIONS FOR AMENDING THE GRIEVANCE PROCEDURES
    1. Authority to establish and revise the Student Grievance Procedures rests with the Sonoma State University Academic Senate.

Related Links: Flow Chart: Student Grievance Procedures - Appendix A
Student Grievance Form - Appendix B
Student Grievance Committee Report - Appendix C

Updated September 24, 2001 by SSU.policies@sonoma.edu