Grievance Procedure FAQ

What is a grievance?

A grievance is a formalized process through which an individual graduate student can file a complaint for which the student is seeking resolution regarding issues of graduate education or support involving the student and one or more faculty members.

Is the Grievance Procedure new?

The grievance procedure was developed and written by the General Committee of the Graduate School in May 1992, amended in May 1997 and March 2013, and last updated April 2020.

How does the Procedure work?

If the issue cannot be satisfactorily resolved at one step in the process, then it moves to a subsequent step. 

The first step involves the student speaking directly to the person(s) who is the alleged cause of the complaint, with subsequent steps, if needed, involving the Director of Graduate Studies, the Graduate School dean, the Graduate Grievance Review Board (GGRB) composed of students and faculty, with final resolution by the Provost.

The vast majority of grievances are resolved to the satisfaction of all involved parties without ever escalating to a Review Board (fourth step). During the past 19 years, the involved parties have resolved all cases, but one, through the first one, two, or three steps of the process.

What do I do if I have a grievance or complaint about a colleague or professor?

The type of complaint will determine which action you take.

Graduate education and support complaints by individual students against faculty will follow the Graduate School’s Grievance Procedure. View the full procedure (PDF).

Reports Against Students (Ithaca-based locations & Cornell Tech campus):

Prohibited Conduct: Where the respondent is a student who is alleged to have committed dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, sexual exploitation, sexual- and gender-based harassment, stalking, aiding prohibited conduct, attempting to commit prohibited conduct, retaliation, or violating an interim order.

Applicable Procedure: “The Procedures for Resolution of Reports Against Students Under Cornell University Policy 6.4”, available as an accessible and printer-friendly PDF version of the Student Procedures. The Procedures apply equally to all students regardless of sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.

Reports Against Employees alleging Sexual or Related Misconduct and Protected Status Harassment (Ithaca-based locations & Cornell Tech campus):

Prohibited Conduct: Where the respondent is an employee (member of the faculty or staff) who is alleged to have committed sexual or related misconduct; or sexual and protected-status harassment; or retaliation.

Applicable Procedures: “Procedures for Resolution of Reports Against Employees Under Cornell University Policy 6.4,” available online.

Reports Against Faculty alleging Prohibited Discrimination (Ithaca-based locations & Cornell Tech campus):

Prohibited Conduct: Where the respondent is a faculty member who is alleged to have committed prohibited discrimination or retaliation.

Applicable Procedures: “Procedures for Resolution of Reports of Prohibited Discrimination Against Faculty Under Cornell University Policy 6.4,” available online.

Reports Against Staff alleging Prohibited Discrimination (Ithaca-based locations & Cornell Tech campus):

Prohibited Conduct: Where the respondent is a staff member who is alleged to have committed prohibited discrimination or retaliation.

Applicable Procedures: “Procedures for Resolution of Reports of Prohibited Discrimination Against Staff Under Cornell University Policy 6.4,” available online.

For confidential help, please visit our list of confidential resources.

For all reports, contact the following:

Office of Institutional Equity and Title IX
150 Day Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
(607) 255-2242
titleix@cornell.edu
biasconcerns.cornell.edu (online report form)

Who is covered under the Graduate School’s Grievance Procedure?

All graduate and professional students enrolled in the Graduate School.

What is covered under the Graduate School’s Grievance Procedure?

Most complaints are likely to concern alleged violations of the terms of written agreements and guidelines related to graduate education and support. Some may address subtler matters involving unwritten expectations about issues such as remuneration and joint publication. 

What is the procedure if I have a grievance or complaint?

The Graduate School Grievance Procedure follows a four-step process summarized below. View the full procedure (PDF).

Step 1. Contact the Subject of the Grievance

When possible and appropriate, students should attempt to resolve the problem with the other person or persons who are the alleged cause of the complaint.

Step 2. Contact the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS)

If a student is not able to reach a satisfactory resolution at Step 1, the student should send a letter (via email or hard copy) describing the issue to the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) of the student’s field. If the DGS is the subject of the grievance, then the student should skip Step 2 and send the grievance letter directly to the Dean of the Graduate School as in Step 3.

If the grievance involves issues described in University Policy 6.4, the Graduate School will notify the Office of Workforce Policy and Labor Relations, which will investigate that aspect of the complaint.

Step 3. Bring the Case to the Dean of the Graduate School

If either party is not satisfied with the resolution at Step 2, the party should notify the Dean of the Graduate School in writing within 10 business days of receiving the Step 2 decision. The date at which Step 3 is considered invoked shall be the date the notification is received by the addressee.

Within 10 working days of having received notification, the Dean shall issue a decision. If, under extraordinary circumstances, this deadline is not met, then the Dean shall notify all parties of the delay.

Step 4. Refer the Case to the Graduate Grievance Review Board (GGRB)

If one of the parties is not satisfied with the Dean’s decision in Step 3, the party shall inform the Dean of the Graduate School of their intent to take the issue to the Graduate Grievance Review Board (GGRB). This notification must occur in writing within 20 business days after receiving the Dean’s decision. The date at which Step 4 is considered invoked shall be the date the notification is received by the addressee.

Who is on the Graduate Grievance Review Board (GGRB)?

The GGRB is composed of a faculty chairperson, two faculty members, and two students from the academic area that corresponds to your field (arts and humanities, social sciences, life sciences, physical sciences and engineering).

Can I bring anyone with me to the GGRB?

Yes, students may bring one person to the hearing to serve as a witness or support person. 

At any time, you can talk to the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman Office offers a safe place where students, faculty, and staff may discuss problems or issues within the university. The Ombudsman does not take a side in disputes. The Ombudsman treats all inquiries as confidential.

Do I have to use all four steps?

The vast majority of grievances are resolved to the satisfaction of all involved parties without ever escalating to a Review Board (fourth step). During the past 19 years, all cases but one have been resolved by the parties through the first one, two, or three steps of the process.

Do other universities have grievance procedures?

Four step grievance procedures similar to ours are common in higher education, but not all other processes involve student peers as part of the review and decision-making process as Cornell’s does:

Where can I learn more about the Grievance Procedure?

Review the Grievance Procedure (PDF) to learn more. You also may contact Associate Dean for Academic and Student Affairs Jan Allen (jan.allen@cornell.edu) to ask questions, discuss the process, or learn more about strategies for resolving conflict.