Grievances and Complaints
Conflict between graduate students and faculty members, while unusual, occasionally arises.
When conflicts occur, they can often be resolved through discussion that engages both parties who are directly involved. However, when such attempts are unsuccessful or in cases in which a graduate student feels the need for third party support in resolving a conflict with a faculty member, the Graduate School’s Grievance Procedure (PDF) provides a process for third party support and intervention toward investigating and rendering decisions fairly and promptly.
The process includes up to four steps as needed to reach resolution. The vast majority of graduate student grievances are resolved to the satisfaction of all parties within the first two or three steps of the process. In the past nineteen years, only two graduate students chose to move their grievance cases into Step 4 of the process with a Graduate Grievance Review Board.
The Graduate School Associate Dean for Academic and Student Affairs (Jan Allen) can answer questions about the grievance process or recommend other offices across campus that can help depending on the nature of the complaint (contact firstname.lastname@example.org).
Cornell’s Ombudsman’s Office provides a confidential, nonjudgmental space to discuss the situation and offer suggestions about how best to proceed.
- Complaints alleging sexual harassment or sexual misconduct by a staff member, a faculty member, or a student employee should be filed with the Office of Workforce Policy and Labor Relations at email@example.com.
- Complaints alleging student vs. student sexual harassment should be filed with the Judicial Administrator.
Summary of Key Steps in the Graduate School’s Grievance Procedure
At each of the steps described below, you may have a witness or support person accompany you to each meeting. In each phase of the process, clearly indicate the topic of your grievance and to the extent possible articulate what you believe a fair remedy would be. Each of the steps has a specific time frame associated with it, to encourage timely and fair resolution.
- Step One: Speak directly to the source of your grievance. If you are not satisfied with the outcome of Step One, go to Step Two.
- Step Two: Contact your Director of Graduate Studies (DGS). If you are not satisfied with the outcome of Step Two, go to Step Three. If the DGS is the source of the complaint, skip Step Two and go to Step Three.
- Step Three: Bring the case to the Dean of The Graduate School. If you (or the other party) are not satisfied with the outcome of Step Three, go to Step Four.
- Step Four: Refer the case to the Graduate Grievance Review Board (GGRB), composed of two students and three faculty members. The GGRB recommendations are reviewed by the Provost who will make the final determination.
All members of the Cornell community are expected to follow high standards of conduct and ethical behavior. When any Graduate School student feels that a faculty or staff member has treated him or her unfairly, Cornell has a number of policies and procedures to help navigate and resolve conflicts.
The Graduate School’s Grievance Procedure covers complaints related to graduate education and/or support such as, but not limited to:
- Alleged violations of the terms of written agreements and guidelines between faculty and student
- Unwritten expectations about issues such as financial support and joint publication
- Termination from a program
The policy does not cover the following:
- Bias incidents or discrimination
- Sexual misconduct, including sexual harassment
- Student to student conflicts
- Academic misconduct
The Grievance Procedure is designed to resolve conflict in a thoughtful, timely, and sensitive manner that respects the dignity and privacy of all participants.
The vast majority of graduate student grievances are resolved to the satisfaction of all involved parties within the first two or three steps of the process. In fact, less than a dozen graduate student grievances in the past seven years have needed to move past Step 2, to Step 3 for the Dean’s consideration (historical data beyond seven years are not available regarding Step 3). During the past 19 years, only two graduate students chose to move their grievance cases into Step 4 of the process with a Graduate Grievance Review Board.
At any time during the grievance process, Cornell’s Ombudsman office is available as a safe place for informal consultation. The Graduate School provides a complete list of confidential resources available to graduate students.
The Graduate School Grievance Procedure follows a four-step process summarized below. View the entire procedure (PDF).
Step 1. Speak Directly to the Source of the Grievance
Whenever possible, you should first speak directly to the person(s) who is the alleged cause of the complaint, or who bears responsibility for the cause.
Step 2. Contact the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS)
If you are not satisfied after Step 1, you can file a formal grievance by sending a letter or email describing the issue to the DGS in your field, and send a copy of this letter/email to the Dean of the Graduate School.
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.
If the DGS is the "source" of the grievance, Step 2 should be skipped and the grievance letter sent directly to the Dean of the Graduate School.
Step 3. Bring the Case to the Dean of the Graduate School
If you are not satisfied after Step 2, you can notify the Dean of the Graduate School in writing within 10 working days of receiving the decision. Upon receiving such notification, the Dean or her/his representative, will meet with both parties to discuss the issue.
Within 20 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 you are not satisfied with the Dean’s decision in Step 3, you should inform the Dean of the Graduate School of your intent to take the issue to the Graduate Grievance Review Board (GGRB), 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). This notification must occur in writing within 25 working days after receiving the Dean's decision.
Students may bring one person to the hearing to serve as a witness or support person.
Cornell’s multi-step grievance procedure has several analogs in higher education, but not all involve student peers as part of the review and decision-making process as Cornell’s does; some examples:
- Rutgers Grievance Procedures for Part-time Lecturers
- University of Pennsylvania Academic Grievance Procedures
- University of Rochester Grievance Procedure
Associate Dean for Academic and Student Affairs