Related Policies and Additional References:
St. Mary’s University is committed to treating all members of the University Community fairly regarding their personal and professional concerns.
The primary objective of the student grievance procedure is to ensure that concerns are promptly dealt with and resolved. Students considering filing a written complaint under this policy should follow the procedures described below. This policy applies to all currently enrolled students who wish to file a complaint that falls within the “written student complaint” definition below and relates to actions or matters that affected the student while enrolled at St. Mary’s University. An enrolled student is an individual who has officially matriculated into the University.
A written student complaint, or “grievance,” is defined as dissatisfaction occurring when a student believes that any decision, act, or omission by a University employee, acting in an official capacity affecting the same student, is illegal or arbitrary, and creates unnecessary hardship.
Not every written inquiry or request from a student for University assistance or University action constitutes a written student complaint. Written student complaints typically involve requests for relief or redress after a student has been denied an action or service that the student believes is merited and after the student has exhausted the established procedures (if any) available for addressing the issue. Such grievances may concern, but are not limited to, the following: academic problems; mistreatment by any university employee; wrongful assessment of fees; records and registration errors; and concerns related to student employment. Complaints covered by policies and procedures already in place are excluded from this grievance process. The definition of “written student complaint” does not include (i) the allegation or processing of student disciplinary charges, (ii) routine requests for review of a financial aid package or a determination of satisfactory academic progress for purposes of financial aid eligibility, (iii) routine requests for review of educational records, and (iv) petitions or appeals of academic, disciplinary or administrative decisions that already have a defined appeal process.
For this policy, the term “student” typically includes all persons who are taking courses at or through St. Mary’s University, both full-time and part-time, are pursuing Intensive English Program, undergraduate, graduate, law or professional studies at St. Mary’s University, or who attend post-secondary institutions other than St. Mary’s University but reside in St. Mary’s University residence halls. Persons who have held student status and are not officially enrolled for a particular term but have a continuing relationship with St. Mary’s University (i.e., deposited new students, continuing students not enrolled for summer courses, etc.), are considered students. Individuals taking non-credit courses at the University have not matriculated into the University and are not considered enrolled students.
Before pursuing the procedures described below, the student is strongly encouraged to discuss his or her concern(s) with the person(s) whose action(s) gave rise to the concern. The discussion should be held as soon as the student becomes aware of the act or condition that is the basis of the concern. As an alternative, the student may wish to present the student’s relevant concern(s) in writing to the person(s) whose action(s) gave rise to the concern. In either case, the person alleged to have caused the concern must respond to the student, either orally or in writing, within ten (10) business days of being made aware of the concern by the student. If the student does not want to directly contact the person who gave rise to the concerns, the student may contact the University Ombuds to discuss alternative dispute resolution options.
Student Formal Grievance and Resolution Process
If the student’s concern is not resolved informally, or a student chooses not to pursue an informal resolution, the student may use the Student Grievance Resolution Process. This process includes the following steps:
- Submission of a written statement (either in paper form or electronic format) to the Vice President for Student Development and Dean of Students (or designee) (see footnote 1). The written statement should:
- Explain the circumstances fully, including specifying: (i) the action, practice or decision being challenged by the student, (ii) the name(s) of individual(s) involved in or knowledgeable about the issue, (iii) the impact of the action, practice or decision on the student, (iv) the resolution or action requested and an explanation of why it should be granted, and (v) current contact information of the student filing the complaint. The written student complaint should also include any relevant documentation that is available.
- Typically, written statements submitted by a student after more than 30 calendar days from the initial incident or when the student became aware of the incident will not be considered.
- The Vice President for Student Development and Dean of Students (or designee) evaluates the grievance to determine if reasonable cause exists to forward the grievance to the immediate supervisor for investigation. (See footnote 1.) Reasonable cause is defined as some credible information to support elements of the alleged offense, even if that information is merely a credible witness or a grievant’s statement. A grievance wholly unsupported by any information is not advanced to the next step of the grievance resolution process.
- If the Vice President for Student Development and Dean of Students (or designee) determines that reasonable causes exist for an investigation, she/he contacts the immediate supervisor of the employee and forwards the grievance for investigation. The immediate supervisor oversees the investigation. For grievances against faculty, the Dean (or designee) of that School oversees the investigation.
- The immediate supervisor (or dean) notifies the employee(s) identified in the grievance and appoints individual(s) to investigate the grievance, determine findings, and make recommendations on resolutions.
- The investigator(s):
- Conduct an investigation promptly, typically within 20 business days, and analyze all available evidence, including conducting interviews with relevant parties to the grievance and examining any evidentiary materials;
- Make finding(s), based on the preponderance of the evidence (whether the incident is more likely than not to have occurred);
- Draft a report that summarizes the incident, identifying consistencies and discrepancies in the perspectives of the parties to the grievance; and
- Make and document findings and recommendations of a resolution to be submitted to the immediate supervisor.
- The immediate supervisor:
- Receives the investigation report, findings, and recommended resolutions;
- Determines corrective actions and communicates the same to the parties to the grievance, typically within ten (10) business days of receipt of the report;
- Provides access to the investigation report and findings to the parties to the grievance;
- Implements corrective actions; and
- Notifies the senior administrator of the division (see footnote 2), Office of Human Resources, Vice President for Student Development and Dean of Students, and, in the case of faculty, the Office of the Provost and Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, of the disposition of the grievance. If the immediate supervisor overseeing the investigation and implementing any corrective action is the senior administrator of the division, then the outcome of the investigation is shared only with the Office of Human Resources.
- Either party may appeal to the senior administrator of the employee’s division (see footnote 3). The grounds for appeal are limited to the following: a procedural error or omission occurred that significantly impacted the disposition of the grievance (e.g., substantiated bias, material deviation from established procedures, etc.); to consider new evidence, unavailable during the original investigation, that could substantially impact the original disposition (summary of this new evidence and its potential impact must be included); or the sanctions fall outside the range of sanctions, if any, the University has designated for this offense. If no range of sanctions is specified, sanctions may be appealed on the basis that they are disproportionate to the severity of the violation(s).
- When any party to the grievance submits an appeal, the other party (parties) will be notified and joined in the appeal. The appealing party must show that the grounds for an appeal have been met.
- The original finding and corrective action(s) are presumed to have been decided reasonably and appropriately.
- Appeals decisions are to be deferential to the original decision, making changes to the finding only where there is clear error, and to the corrective action only if there is a compelling justification.
- Appeals are not intended to be a full re-investigation of the grievance. In most cases, appeals are confined to a review of the written documentation or record of the original investigation, and pertinent documentation regarding the grounds for appeal.
- Appeals granted based on new evidence should typically be remanded to the original investigator(s) for reconsideration.
- Corrective actions imposed are implemented immediately unless the appropriate senior-level administrator of the designated supervisor stays their implementation in extraordinary circumstances, pending the outcome of the appeal.
- The consideration of an appeal includes the following steps:
- Reviewing the appeal and any and all documents submitted by the grievant and/or respondent; and
- At the discretion of the university official responsible for considering the appeal, meeting with the grievant and/or respondent before making a final determination.
- The decision of the senior administrator of the division is final.
- The senior administrator of the division typically renders a written decision to all parties within ten (10) business days from receipt of the appeal. All parties are informed of whether the grounds for an appeal are accepted and of the results of the appeal decision.
- The offices of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Vice President for Student Development and Dean of Students, Human Resources, and the designated supervisor will be provided a written copy of the final disposition of the grievance, including appeals.
Regardless of the disposition of the grievance, no member of the University community may harass or retaliate against a student who has filed a grievance under the University Grievance procedure. The University explicitly prohibits any such actions of harassment or retaliation.
If a student needs assistance regarding the initiation or presentation of a grievance, he or she may contact the following St. Mary’s University officers for assistance:
Tim Bessler, Ed.D.
Vice President & Dean of Students
University Center, Room 232
Carolyn Tubbs, Ph.D.
Vice Provost for Academic Affairs
Charles Francis, Room 224
Executive Director, Human Resources
St. Louis Hall, Room 12
St. Mary’s University policies with primacy over the Student Grievance Policy include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Code of Student Conduct
- Equal Opportunity, Non-discrimination, Sexual and Other Forms of Harassment
- Financial Aid Appeal
- Grade Appeal
The grievant must file with the President if the grievance is against the Vice President and Dean of Students. If the grievance is against an Academic Dean, the grievant must file with the Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs.
For this policy, the senior administrator of the division is the Provost, a Vice President, a Vice or Assistant Provost, or the President, in the case of units directly reporting to the President.
If the senior level administrator of the division oversaw the investigation, the appeal is submitted to the Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs or the President, based upon to whom the senior level administrator of the division directly reports. If the President oversaw the investigation, the appeal is submitted to the Chair of the Board of Trustees.