Grievances and Complaints
Conflict between graduate students and faculty members 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 support and intervention through investigating complaints 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 20 years, only two graduate students chose to move their grievance cases into Step Four of the process with a Graduate Grievance Review Board.
The Graduate School Associate Dean for Academic and Student Affairs 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).
Note: Complaints alleging discrimination or harassment based on a protected-class status or sexual misconduct by a staff member, a faculty member, or a student employee should be filed with the Office of Institutional Equity and Title IX. Complaints alleging student vs. student sexual harassment should be filed with the Judicial Administrator.
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 a broad range of complaints related to graduate education and/or support such as, but not limited to:
- Alleged inequitable enforcement of graduate program requirements or unfair treatment of students
- Alleged violations of the terms of written agreements related to a graduate student’s enrollment in a program
- Disagreements over the handling of unsatisfactory assistantship performance as in University Policy 1.3
- Disputes over order of authorship in joint publications
The policy does not cover the following:
- Bias incidents or discrimination
- Sexual misconduct, including sexual harassment
- Student to student conflicts
- Academic misconduct
- Appeal of academic decisions such as decisions made by graduate faculty about a graduate student’s academic or research performance or progress
- Decisions about removing funding as a result of insufficient academic progress
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 10 years have needed to move past Step Two, to Step Three for the dean’s consideration (historical data beyond 10 years are not available regarding Step Three). During the past 20 years, only two graduate students chose to move their grievance cases into Step Four 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. 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.
- Grievance Policy FAQ
- Code of Legislation
- Policy 6.4, Prohibited Discrimination, Protected Status (including Sexual) Harassment, and Bias Activity Procedures
Graduate School Dean’s Office